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We highlighted different viewpoints and definitions of creativity in previous posts. Just like creativity, the creative process is also not a clear path. Those who take that path can testify that exploring an idea and bringing it to reality is a journey that bounces between joy and despair. In this post, we breakdown the creative process from a research perspective as well as from other creative professionals.

Four phases of the creative process


This is closely tied to executive functions in the brain for attention and focus. At this point, something grabs your attention. You start to pull on a string that leads to deeper research. This question or problem may be something people are aware of but accepted as the norm. For some reason, it has your focus to learn more about it. You begin to do research on this idea.


When you fill your brain with deep knowledge around the idea, you crave a break-state and need to let go. This is an important stage where you do something to relax and let your unconscious brain make the connections you cannot do consciously. Go for a walk, sleep, or doodle. Let your mind wander to do better creative work. Research has found that after people take a break from a subject, they return with more ideas and feel more productive.


Commonly referred to as the ‘eureka’ moment, this is when the big idea comes to the surface of your consciousness. Sometimes this never happens. You have to be prepared to move on. However, when it does, it is just the beginning of creativity. The next step is the actual work.


Now, comes the difficult part of starting the work to bring the idea to life. In this phase, you have to package your idea and work in a way that other people can absorb. It is a test to see how close the community resonates with this work. Some work is easy for people to latch on to and add to. Others fall flat. You can also evaluate if you need to stop, adjust, or need to find a different community.

The Creative Process as well experience it

The Creative Process as well experience it.. by our emotions

The creative process as we experience it

1. Asking – how do I do this?

There is something that is compelling for you to create. However, it is pushing you into a realm that you feel you lack the experience or skills.

2. Chase down ideas – some will fail

To start you explore ideas on what the focus is or how to execute. The first few, dozen or hundred ideas fizzle out. You question if this is worth it and look for clues that moving forward is a fruitful exercise.

3. Develop tools and prompts for creativity

New ideas will fuel your path forward. You create, borrow, or steal ways to generate new inspiration.

4. Do work – learn from failure and lessons that come from this

You need to do more than think up ideas. Start working on them. Start creating. Writing, drawing, drafting, cutting, and cropping will help make this more tangible.

5. Keep at it

Even if this idea and work do not bear fruit. Keep working. There are things that you can create if you keep working.

More lessons on creativity from Austin Kleon in “Steal Like an Artist.”

Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just get to work. -Chuck Close

The creative process by other creative and artists

Creative people have their own version of the creative process for their work. Here is a collection of snippets of professionals in different industries and how they interpret parts of the creative process.

Getting started

“You can’t look down and see there’s water in the pool. You have to take this leap and really not know. Risk really means risk.”

-Dani Shapiro

Controlling the process

“Now I’ve learned that you try to control things too much and you miss the magic. So that’s just been an evolution and a process.”

-Alicia Keys in Noteworthy

Understanding the problem space

“If you can’t explain (the problem) simply, you don’t understand it enough.”

-Albert Einstein

Sharing to process to build trust

“Document the process and how you understood the problem and approached the solution. This increases your credibility as a designer.

-Design Crispy, product design and brand strategy agency

Slowing down first

“Take more time beforehand to fully develop a clear concept. You will need less time to execute it.”

-Scott McDowell in Tribe Pictures

Bringing awareness of the creative process can help you define how you approach your own work and how you bring it to the world. Instead of riding the emotional tidal wave of inspiration, trial, failure, and occasional success prepare yourself for the journey and growth you will experience.

Read more about creativity here.

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Matt Eng

Matt Eng

DesignOps Manager. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ogilvy, RBC, Deloitte, Whirlpool, Polycom, Symantec, and Pebble. Matt teaches, mentors, and speaks about design, creativity, and fostering stronger connections within teams.