Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bad Ideas and How to Avoid Them

The other day my wife, who ordinarily gives jaw-dropping gifts, gave me a new toothbrush. It was a battery powered jobbie that does the heavy tooth stroking for me. Not only did it clean my teeth with a minimum of effort from me, but it also played the classic Queen hit "We Will Rock You."

It's a clever idea. Each time I bend the toothbrush against my teeth Freddie Mercury starts singing. In my mouth. And since my mouth is usually closed while brushing (to minimize dripping white crap all over my shirt) it sort of sounds like he's singing from a great distance. The words are muffled and there's just this boom boom BOOM rhythm in my mouth.

I am sure some genius somewhere in the vast toothbrush industry rushed breathlessly into a bigger Someone's office with this idea: people could brush their teeth and listen to music at the same time. (I can only assume said genius has never heard of a radio or an iPod.)

It's a cool idea that turned tragically stupid in execution.

There are a lot of things like this. Not far from where I live, the desperate Allies in World War II launched Operation Habukkuk -- an idea to build battleship firepower into iceburgs. This turned out to be a disaster because they forgot that iceburgs melt and there wasn't a lot of combat activity where the polar bears live.

For years the US government was working in a plan for "Dehydrated Water." Think about it.

Why am I talking about Bad Ideas?

We all get them.

Think about the last Great Graphic you were working on. If you are like me (and who isn't?) you spent several hours chopping and selecting, re-coloring and filtering what was essentially a piece of crap to start with -- all the while trying to convince yourself it was, in fact, under all that drool -- an amazing graphic.

Nah. Remember the David's Ten Rules of Photoshop created here in this very blog? One of them is "Thou shalt not attempt to pass off thy poop as art for yea verily, poop is poop."

Here are Five Tips for Avoiding Wasting Effort on a Bad Idea:

1) HAPPY ACCIDENTS are rare. This is why they are called "accidents." We're talking about trying to do something, when something else happens and it's way cooler than your original idea. They happen, of course...but don't depend on them. You'll know with half a second if this works or not. Don't waste your time trying to talk yourself into the notion that it's good when it's poop.

2) HAVE AN IDEA BEFORE YOU START. Every good image has an idea behind it. They are good ideas because the creator and the graphic hold hands and become greater than the sum of their parts. You should have some plan for where you are going. Try doodling on paper, rough out the image and jot down some ideas that might work.

3) THINK ABOUT IT. We are often in situations where the clients or deadlines are hanging over us...or we're putting pressure on ourselves to produce "something." We tell ourselves that as long as we are actively working, this is a good thing. Not true. Take some time to THINK.

If you launch into a visual without clear vision, you are going to get poop.

4) FOLLOW THE TRAIL. Almost without exception, the good stuff I have done is a direct result of getting excited about a GOOD idea and refining it. Photoshop lets you work on multiple layers so if you mess something up, you can delete the layer and try again without ruining your whole image. Like a detective following clues, you need to follow the trail of processes that lead to a finished graphic.

5) GET EXCITED WHILE YOU WORK! Bland people turn out bland stuff , otherwise known as "poop." Excited people create new trails and new ideas. Having been both, excited is MUCH better than bland. Trust me.

You may be wondering why there is a ship's prow at the top of this blog. That ship took us down the Amazon River. And I remember thinking that this ship could take us anywhere. We could see ANYTHING. We were on a journey. In the graphic, I'm not showing any of the surrounding countryside. The journey is the thing.

Jump onto the boat, steer around the bad ideas and set a course for the Cool Stuff.
In the immortal words of one of my childhood heroes, Stan Lee, "Nuff Said."

1 comment:

Kevin Mullins said...

Wow! I'm not sure I'd want Freddie Mercury doing anything to the end of my toothbrush! ;-)

That said, be excited while you work is very very true. Excitement for what you do makes you do it better. A very good philosophy indeed.