Weeknote 18 — The nature of creativity

Emma Parnell
2 min readFeb 21, 2022

I’m working on a project at the moment that is a blank canvas. While there is a vision and a direction for the work, at this point the brief is wide open. I find this amazing and horrifying all at the same time.

What I noticed last week was that I’m really struggling to let my creativity run wild. And I’m wondering why.

Is it because I’m fresh off the back of working inside the NHS — also known as the constraint capital of the design world?

Is it because briefs like this come along so infrequently that I simply don’t know what to do with myself when they arrive?

Or is it because I’ve just been battered by reality over the years?!

I remember early in my career as a packaging designer I always came up with the creative routes that the client didn’t want to buy because they were too ‘out there’. I once pitched a limited edition Toblerone design that involved a joke about penis size! No — they didn’t go for it!

What’s changed since then?

I’ve noticed my natural inclination is towards figuring out the mechnics of the service and the detail of the interactions. I find myself being drawn to what I see as the more logical side of service design. Figuring out how it will work and what people’s journeys will be. Making sure there are no dead ends and we have a feasible concept for an MVP.

What I’m struggling with is lifting myself out of the detail and the reality to think about the art of the possible. This is a side of my practice I’d really like to strengthen.

This project has been great for flexing these muscles but it’s been especially great to work with another designer who naturally pushes towards the more ‘out there’ thinking. I think we balance each other out well in this respect.

I especially love that she talks about ‘the magic’ and inspires us to think about what it is that makes this service different. What it is that will get investors excited. What it is that will make users come back. I know if we land that then the detail and the mechanics will come much more easily. But landing on what ‘it is’ when you have limited constraints and a large scope is really tough. I feel a bit like I’m trying to give birth to something!

I hope, by working for myself, I can rediscover that side of me that was secretly a pleased with being the one who came up with bonkers ideas that the client never bought.



Emma Parnell

Freelance specialist in user research, service design and brand development. designforjoy.co.uk Previously @wearesnook, @nhsdigital, @wearewithyou.