Even though the designs which we produce at BK have naturally evolved, our process has not. That is because the process allows us to expand our creative output without changing how we design as a team. To describe our process, I use a term from the field of biology called “Cross-Pollination,” and it is the topic I would like to share with you here.
In its original context (the field of biology), “Cross-Pollination” simply refers to the process of one plant being pollinated by another plant. The benefit of this is greater biodiversity and hence stronger resilience. In the design field, “biodiversity” can be seen as being synonymous with “creativity.” It is worth noting here that some plants need to self-pollinate (for example, due to the absence of pollinators such as bees), but they are the exception. In contrast, some plants have evolved to actively prevent the possibility of self-pollination to ensure greater genetic diversity.
If we think about the term “self-pollination” in relationship to the creative process, it is similar to the idea of designing in a vacuum, without any outside influences. While it is sometimes necessary to have focused time alone (I love to have hours on end to myself to finish my designs), it is ultimately not advancing the concept beyond its initial creative DNA. If the creative process is left unstirred for too long, original thought diminishes. We can compare this phenomenon also to the agricultural practice of monoculture: Just as growing too much of the same crop in the same field will deplete the soil, developing too many of the same designs can drain the soul.
For a small team like ours at BK, we recognize that to cultivate creativity, we systematically share our progress and invite feedback to prevent the design from getting “stuck.” Thus, we switch between two modes: creation and critique (the “pollination”). While our design team members (myself included) create individually, the outcome is presented in a group session to receive feedback. As a result, we believe the creativity that is shared will flourish.
Our internal feedback loops are core to the foundation of our creative process and vital to helping our ideas turn into concepts and ultimately into designs that we like to share with our community. Perhaps not surprisingly, the past 18+ months of designing remotely have allowed us to expand the diversity of ideas being developed into products. Challenged by the need for our team to be working from home, we asked: What if all of us create new designs?
One of these projects resulted in our “Travel Within” series. During the pandemic, Wakako and I realized that while physical travel would be paused for a while, the need for expanding our horizons is always welcomed. With the shift of the global Zeitgeist in discovering what is truly important to us, we developed quotes that expressed the current state of mind such as “Embrace The Stillness” and “Find Your Tribe.” We conceived a total of six quotes that were very dear to our hearts. Too close, it turned out, for either of us to develop them into designs.
In the spirit of Cross-Pollination, we invited Emil to translate the content into visual ideas. What happened next was the part of the design process that surprised me the most, even though it happens every single time: He came back with perspectives to the project that I could not see myself. Yet by seeing them, I intuitively knew they would become the concept.
His idea was to introduce subtle patterns into the designs that would serve as the visual structure for each concept. There was one for each quote, and they all started to gel except for one that got “stuck” in the design process. It was the visual for “Ride Your Wave,” In the reverse mode of Cross-Pollination, I took one of Emil’s sketches back to the beach in Malibu to observe surfers riding their waves. Seeing the behavior of the foam in the water made me realize what to add to the design, and I made small doodles to communicate the observations, which were returned into the design process.
As a part of design process, Cross-Pollination flourishes in environments that celebrate constructive feedback. I describe this type of environment in the chapter called “Crit Culture” (Crit is short for Critique) in my “Creative Strategies” book. In that chapter, I use the example of the relationship between an athlete (either an individual or a team) with their coach: Their symbiosis creates a successful outcome, and neither one is successful without the other.
Likewise, if you are interested in practicing Cross-Pollination, seek individuals that can take on the role of a “coach.” This could be a family member, a friend, a teacher, or a team member. The key ultimately is finding someone who can tell you what you need to hear instead of what you want to hear. Cross-Pollination of ideas should be a horizontal process, not a vertical one. This is not about being told what to do but rather inspiring each other. Sometimes the best advice is in the form of a question (such as: “have you thought about this?”).
Happy creating and make sure to ride your wave!