How to Get Visual with Your Creative Projects
Enjoy this guest post from Amanda Kaestner of LucidChart. She saw my post about list-making as a creativity generator and knew this tool could help us take creative listmaking even further. As an artist and a writer I see a lot of ways I could use this tool so I asked her to share with all of us.
We’ve all been completely stuck!
You know what I mean.
Whether it was a poem, a quilt, a painting, an award-winning novel, or even plans for your next family reunion, you found yourself spinning your wheels on a project and getting nowhere.
Creative blocks are frustrating, maybe even panic-inducing if you’re working with a deadline. But they don’t have to be. Take some advice from Dr. Lamb, my college chemistry professor:“When you find yourself getting stuck, think with your pencil.” It may sound simplistic, but my chemistry final proved there’s definitely truth in this advice.
One of the best ways to get out of writer’s block is just to start writing; to create the perfect design for your quilt, you’ve got to start sketching. Even if your first attempts look nothing like your final product, the process of doing something or “thinking with your pencil” will help your wheels find traction and get you out of a creative rut.
The trick is to find a medium for risk-free creative thinking. I say risk-free because the finality of putting a physical pen to physical paper and physically writing or sketching my ideas is one of my biggest creative blockers. When I write, I prefer to use Google Docs so I can start over as many times as I need to without feeling like I’m wasting paper and killing another tree.
A Visual Approach
But what happens when I need a more visual approach to problem solving? Google Docs is an absolute flop—nothing visual about it. PowerPoint is clunky beyond belief. Photoshop and InDesign take way too much time to make a simple sketch. Pen and paper? I can hear the chainsaws revving in the Amazon as I crumple up sheet after sheet of rejected sketches. That’s when I turn to Lucidchart.
Lucidchart is an online diagramming software.
The product originally targeted software engineers and IT professionals, but it has such a wide expanse of functionality that its uses are virtually limitless. It’s easy to use and always accessible, but mostly I love it because even if I’m just brainstorming or writing a to-do list, the visual nature of the product requires me to think more creatively. Now getting organized is a creative project.
For example, here are a few of the diagrams you might use to spark new ideas or organize your current to-do list.
Mind maps are prime for list making. I use them to brainstorm by myself or in groups and to make daily or weekly task lists. Lucidchart provides a series of hotkeys that make mind mapping super speedy (with a little bit of practice) so that you can record ideas without losing your rhythm. Once you’ve dumped your brain onto the canvas, you can organize your thoughts using a personalized color scheme or by dragging related ideas into groups.
With a little creativity, mind maps are also highly versatile. For example, this is a template version of a valentine I wrote for my coworkers (not in a creepy way, I promise):
Every shape contained a separate reason that I loved working with my team. It was a resounding success!
Setting goals? Making plans? Timelines are your go-to. Lucidchart’s time intervals are flexible so you can use them to plan anything from a day trip to a five-year plan. You can also use them as an alternative to mind maps for making to-do lists. I like them because you can stack multiple timelines on top of each other to simultaneously represent several individuals or projects.
More creative uses for timelines include mapping the chronology of your next novel or of your own life. You can totally use timelines as a journal to document your goings-on from one day to the next—just add some text boxes and a few pictures, and you’re golden!
3. Org charts
Yes, you can use org charts the way they were intended, to diagram your company. Or you could diagram your favorite TV show.
Or a friendly foosball tournament.
Or a family tree (historical or fictional).
Like mind maps and timelines, uses for org charts are only limited by your creativity. Any time you have hierarchy of information, you have fodder for an org chart. Other uses for org charts might include planning sleeping arrangements for your next family reunion, making a budget, or building Fibonacci’s number pyramid (hey, some people think that’s pretty cool).
Of all the diagrams mentioned, flowcharts are the most basic and the most flexible. The sky is really and truly the limit. I’ve seen my colleagues use flowcharts for everything from story-boarding their next plot line to creating impactful presentation slides to working through complicated logic puzzles. Just recently, I made a flowchart thank-you note for writers that contribute to our blog:
It’s easy to customize for each individual, and I can send it as a full document, a url, an image, or a PDF.
Some of my favorite Lucidchart projects aren’t diagrams at all. For example, one of my friends used Lucidchart to do some interior decorating. She and her husband wanted to build shelves but disagreed about how to put them on the wall. To solve their disagreement, she imported a picture of their wall into Lucidchart and used basic flowchart shapes to show both options for a quick comparison. Here’s the picture she showed me:
Another of my creative friends decided to test the bounds of the Lucidchart editor by recreating Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” Although not an exact replica, the results were pretty impressive:
In a word, Lucidchart is a fantastic diagramming tool for organizing and planning your life, but it’s also inherently visual and creative. Not to mention, it’s so easy to use that you’ll find yourself turning to it more and more for tasks that you previously did elsewhere.
How to get LucidChart
If you’re interested in trying Lucidchart for yourself, I recommend starting with a free account. You can save three documents, and you have access to the most common shape libraries. Once you’ve realized how invaluable the tool is, you can easily upgrade to a basic or pro account.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about the tool and see the creative ways you put it to use. Feel free to comment below! Happy diagramming!
Thanks, Amanda. Great ideas here!