Design Team

3rd December 2015

Creative Obsession: Limiting or Beneficial?

by Stephanie Mathena, Designer

Obsessions are time-consuming, thought-consuming and they can be unhealthy but could the restrictive nature of obsessions also help to yield creativity?

A couple of weekends ago I attended a regional design conference here in Minnesota called Design Camp. The three-day conference featured a number of creative speakers, among them James T Edmondson and Jacob Escobedo being a couple of my favourites, as well as various hands-on workshops. Roughly 350 designers from all over the region attended (and a young Justin Bieber!) and it was, frankly, AWESOME!!

Sky at Night at Design Camp Minnesota

Design Camp Group Photo 2016

Justin Beiber Cardboard Cutout

The keynote speakers offered a wide range of perspectives on many design topics but amidst my note-taking madness, I noticed there was a recurring theme: obsession. Every single speaker at the event mentioned the importance of diving deeply into one thing. The idea of having a creative obsession was drilled into my mind in school, but I don’t know that I ever consciously followed through with it. Obsessions are time-consuming, thought-consuming and they can be unhealthy. However, with each reinforcement of this idea throughout the conference, I felt guiltier and guiltier. Why didn’t I have an obsession? Do I have one that I just haven’t recognized? Do I search for one or does it come to me?

Design Camp Minnesota Phrases

I understand this need for obsession. Being able to focus on one, very specific thing for all creative projects, almost to the exclusion of everything else, helps confront the dreaded blank page, which in turn helps combat creative block. It has the potential to turn into a very interesting body of work. Also, in a world crowded with creative imitation and plagiarism passing for originality, it’s less likely to have already been created by a million other people. It can, as in the case of revered typography guru Alan Kitching though, lead to your obsession being followed and imitated by, if not millions, then certainly many, many thousands of people.

If you look at some of the figures who have shaped modern society in fields like the arts, science and technology, apart from having an enormous amount of obvious talent they all have one other thing in common, they’re utterly, completely, unswervingly obsessive. Steve Jobs is the perfect example of such a figure. Jobs had a laser-guided vision to make all Apple products the way HE wanted and he can be considered as nothing other than a complete and utter obsessive.

As much as a lot of us probably wish we could be as dedicated as Jobs, Einstein, Warhol etc. and do something so remarkable with our lives that it leaves an indelible mark on some part of society, there is often a darker side to obsessives that is less desirable. Whether your obsession is creating or collecting, obsessive nature can sometimes be accompanied by a complete intolerance of anyone doesn’t understand their drive and who can’t keep up, leaving those around them with mixed feeling of awe and hatred in equal measure. For us ‘normal’ people who value balance in their lives, would that be a price worth paying?

I’m still a little unsure about whether having an obsession would be beneficial or limiting for me, but as Kate Bingaman-Burt mentioned during her presentation, “Constraint yields creativity”, and there’s no denying that.

Obsession graphic

Stephanie Mathena, Designer

Creative Obsession: Limiting or Beneficial?