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Mad Men and the creative process

I have to admit that I am starting to watch more TV now that the fall season has started. One of my favourite shows right now is Mad Men. If you haven't see it, it's a show that takes place in the early '60s and follows characters who work in an ad agency in New York.

One of my favourite parts of the show is when they show elements of the creative design process. Don't get me wrong, this isn't the main focus of the show (the stories between characters definitely take precedence), but it's fun to see the ideas they come up with at work and little snapshots of how they got there.

Here are some observations I had while watching some recent episodes — which I think still ring true in the design work we do today:

Ideas can happen anywhere

I loved seeing on a recent episode all the napkins that Don Draper (a creative guy who is the main character of the show) scribbles on to collect his ideas. His wife was rummaging around in a drawer and digs up all these napkins from different bars, restaurants, etc. All of them had sketches or ideas for tag lines — and not phone numbers! It was a fascinating glimpse into how the creative process works for Don and gives me more reason to carry around my little Moleskine everywhere.

Don't be afraid to talk about your own story

I also enjoy how Don ties his own personal experiences into the products he markets. A memorable scene in a show from last season was his pitch for the "Carousel" or the circular slide projector. Don was trying to sell his idea for the Carousel by using his family and personal photos to tell a story. The dramatic tension in the episode had been built up by that point too, but it was an interesting take on the vulnerability of our own stories and how they can often create connections between strangers and of course, clients. There is a fine line in bringing up personal references during a design review for say, a website, but the stories that come from real anecdotes can be quite powerful if used appropriately.

The "AHA" moment takes time

On some episodes, the characters are shown going through a series of brainstorming meetings to talk about ideas and review collateral. It's pretty typical that a team meets regularly and shares ideas, but it's also fun to see all the evolutions it takes to get to a final product. You regularly see drawings and slogans ripped up, product names change (remember the Relaxicisor > Rejuvenator?), and Don leading his team to the "A-HA" moment at the right time. You also see client meetings where ideas don't go over so well, which in the end results in a better product as the team is forced to go back to the drawing board. You can't rush the design process sometimes!

Mad Men is a show that has me addicted — if you haven't checked it out yet, I highly recommend it.