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The world has traditionally categorized people into two camps: left-brained and right-brained - logical versus creative. Even if that theory has long since been debunked, there's a presumption that has annoyingly stuck around. That developers, engineers, and STEM types are not creative thinkers - when, in fact, the opposite is true.
It's time to think about development as an art form. Given the importance of creativity in developing new ideas, now is an ideal time to reexamine the similarities between artistic and engineering processes. Finding new outlets to enhance our own creativity will allow us to continue innovating new products that can change how we live and move through the world. This all comes down to a practice called creative development. So what is creative development? And how can developers integrate it into current work processes?
Creative development is the practice of integrating empathy and imaginative thinking into engineering and design work. A great way of looking at this process comes from engineer-writer Carl Selinger. He defines creativity as "the quality of making, inventing, or producing - rather than imitating - and it's characterized by originality and imagination." Selinger goes on to explain, "One reason engineers [often] aren't considered creative is that they don't start with the proverbial blank sheet of paper each time they do something. Rather, they build on existing technology." Yet this is our great advantage, since the more tools we have available, the more we're able to do with them.
Ask the Right Questions
So how do you begin to think creatively with "originality and imagination?" It all comes down to asking the right questions - in particular, "Why?" In a recent QDN blog post, we shared a story of the relationship between Saura Naderi, lead engineering teacher and designer of the Qualcomm® Thinkabit Lab, and Jaymee Ngernwichit, a costume designer with UC San Diego Theatre & Dance Department, where they worked together to create a robot dress. Saura likes to share the story of how Jaymee helped her ask the right questions to get to the heart of the dress' purpose, asking about each proposed feature and design element, "Why? Why are we doing that? And what's the story behind it and what are we really trying to evoke?" Ultimately, this helped Saura see the project was about taking her personal feelings and dreams and turning them into an empowering opportunity for connection - that's much more meaningful than a list of the project's innovative tech specs.
It is this human element that helps us develop innovative products that change our lives. Jaymee had a great piece of advice for engineers looking to improve their creative development. She says to "find yourself in the projects that you're working on, find the humanity in that work." It's only when we start from a place of empathy, both for ourselves and others, that we can develop things that can change people's lives in big and small ways. There are a lot of issues and challenges in this world - what's one that you understand well enough to try to solve?
A great example of this is Amy Green's video game, 'That Dragon, Cancer." The game was inspired by her family's journey after her young son Joel was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, and designed to help people cope with grief. The game flips traditional video game dynamics on its head - instead of a player's moves changing the potential outcomes of the game, players gradually see there is nothing they can do to change the conclusion. They're able to feel what Amy and her family felt, and connect with grief in a new way.
Amy became more involved in the game design process once her son passed away. As she became involved in the creative development process, she found common ground between her real-life experience and the possibilities of video game mechanics. This process of converging empathy and tools allowed Amy and her team to imagine a completely new type of game, ultimately winning 2016's Game for Impact Award.
Gather Your Tools
Once you have an idea of where to start, it's time to gather your tools. What you have to work with, such as platforms or physical items like sensors, will open up some possibilities and close others. Think of each platform, API, and SDK you use as an additional brush or pigment in your palette - they're all tools you use to paint a bigger picture (i.e., code a complex project). We can lean collaboratively on the work of others in order to develop something completely new, instead of building from scratch each time. Luckily, as developers, we have a continually growing list of tools to work with, always widening the potential for what we can build with them. Check out some of the software and compilers available on QDN as well as the DragonBoard™ 410c, that is available through Arrow Electronics, to add more items to your toolkit.
Create Your Innovation
The creative development process has several steps developers can take: first ask yourself the right questions, then find empathy, and finally gather your tools. Creative development is valuable because it's not just about personal and professional growth, but it can bring greater insight into product development and contribute toward larger business objectives within an organization. We need this kind of thinking in order to build the kind of future we want to see. One question we're left with is, where can you look for an unexpected connection to help lead you into more creative development? What do you want to build and what kind of collaboration will help you think outside the box?
Once you've figured that out and have a prototype up and running, we hope you'll share it on the QDN Projects page. There, you'll find other examples of inspiring work from other developers. You may even get some inspiration for your next project. For additional thoughts on how to innovate, we have a great eBook about getting on the Fast Track to Innovation that can help get you started. Happy developing!