Scientifically, This is When You’re Most Creative.
Taking a shower. Going for a walk. Daydreaming while you stare out of your office window. Sounds mundane, right? These humdrum moments can seem insignificant, but they’re often times that produce creative solutions. And these situations all have something in common; they involve letting your mind wander.
Think back to the last time you had to solve a problem. Maybe you’re a designer who’s poured over a roadblock in a layout. You fixated on each component of your design, forcing yourself to not walk away until you figure it out. You resolve to “tough it out.”
Or maybe you’re a developer. You’ve wrote and rewrote the same line of code, convinced each time you have all the characters in their proper places, combined in the right way to produce the outcome you’re after. But it still doesn’t work.
It might seem natural to fixate on the details of the problem at hand, to “burn the midnight oil” in order to come up with new ideas. But research shows this kind of forced problem solving is counterproductive to creativity.
“When we’re not actively asking our brains to focus on a particular task, the daydreaming parts of our brains kick in to subconsciously solve problems or work through situations,” Paul Crosby wrote in a blog post.
What this means, is that we can’t overwork our minds in the same way we’re used to for cognitive problem solving. Even though creativity is a form of solving challenges, it requires an at-ease state of the mind for new ideas to form.
A more helpful approach? Walk away from the task, and let your mind wander.
“As much as 50 percent of daily cognition is spent on spontaneous cognition — basically daydreaming or mind wandering,” Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman tells CNN. “This is where things like problem-solving, creativity, goal-driven thought, future planning, seeing the perspective of another person, and so on find space to exist.”
The brain was made to think. It’s unique ability to gather, process, and remember information, and then connect the dots to form new ideas is done without prompting.
So then, supporting the mind’s natural ebb and flow of critical thinking, stepping away, and reconvening back to the task at hand isn’t an act of distraction or laziness, it’s more conducive to creative thinking.
But alas, there’s a decent amount of us who can’t get past the feeling that this approach is counterproductive. More than seeming insignificant, moments where your mind wanders can be frustrating. Our cultural norm of workaholism would say that distraction is not “productive” and an “inability to focus” doesn’t get work done. Worse than that, a wandering mind is assumed to be a cognitive waste of time or a lack of mental control.
In fact, this article took longer than we thought necessary to finish, due to mental blocks and unclear direction. By practicing what we’ve preached in this post, stepping away and allowing ourselves to unplug from the task allowed us to come back refreshed and reinspired.
As Lindsay Kolowich writes, “Arthur Fry came up with the idea for Post-It Notes when he was daydreaming in church. Albert Einstein came up with his theory of relativity only when he let his mind wander away from the mathematics.”
At the risk of comparing the importance of physics to a blog post, it’s enlightening to see how these two varying dilemmas are solved with one simple shift.
So if you’re reading this, currently browsing the web to get away from your problematic task at hand, we get you. But now that you’ve filled your mind with new information, we challenge you to look away from your device, take a breath, and dream a little.
March 21, 2019
Your Logo Is Not Your Brand; but It’s Part of It.
Take a look at one of your favorite brands. A company or entity that’s recognizable, trustworthy, and consistent. They likely have a logo, which could be a simple word mark or coupled with an icon. They have a system of typefaces, a range of colors they use to further convey their personality. And, they have a voice; a distinct way of speaking.
The amalgamation of such elements, not their individuality, is what makes up a brand identity. They are formed and connected by values, goals, and a mission. But while the logo is often the most recognizable and differentiating part of a brand, it can’t sustain a full identity on its own.
A brand’s elements function uniquely, yet they’re each designed to work toward the same goal; embodying a business’ identity.
As Kinesis puts it, a brand is “a living, breathing representation” of the business, and it’s supported by an interworking ecosystem, much like the human body. Thanks to the marketing firm’s helpful metaphor, we’re highlighting some of their brand components, along with human-esque counterparts.
Differentiator | DNA
Your brand’s key marker. It’s what separates the forgettable brands from the memorable ones. Like our DNA, a brand differentiator is the fundamental and distinctive characteristics of a company.
Mission | Soul
Where motivation lives. The mission of any business, brand, or company is much like the proverbial soul. The mission informs action and outward expression of values. It’s a driving force and motivation that remains constant amidst that all companies surely encounter.
Vision | Brain
All minds cast vision, and a brand is no different. Often tied to business goals, vision helps a brand make decisions, come up with solutions, and can act as a guiding North Star. Vision also goes beyond mere strategy and casts a overarching target to where all actions lead.
Values | Heart
If any of these elements can be categorized as foundational, the heart is certainly one of them. The values of a brand instill emotion, passion, and loyalty. They enable a brand’s “why” to be expressed authentically and in ways that truly connect to customers or an audience.
Brand Voice | Personality
How we communicate matters. Coupled with visuals, a brand’s voice is how people recognize and distinguish one from another. Word choice, tone, cadence, dialect, and other characteristics of voice help reflect personality. And it’s personality that can deter or attract people to a brand.
Visual Identity | Personal Style
To some degree, we all judge a book by its cover. Visual displays of your values, personality, and greater vision are what a brand can wear proudly. The colors you decorate your home with, or whether you prefer to wear Vans over cowboy boots says something about your personality. Like voice, a visual identity attracts the right people to a brand to not only look good but to solve a problem.
When each of these pieces are created to work together, a strong brand emerges. Brands that are clear, distinct, add value, and speak their customer’s language are properly poised for success.
Like an I.D. tag, a logo is used to help people identify your brand from a slew of other brands in your market. But it’s personhood, the subject of that identification, that will connect to and ultimately win over customers better than a lonesome logo ever could.
February 1, 2019
We Turned Five: And Here’s What We’ve Learned So Far.
Celebrating 5 Years As Monomyth Studio.
The end of 2018 marked a special time for our studio. We turned five.
Our handful of years around the sun brought us projects big and small, an evolving team of talented people, and a journey in business that has proven to be more than worthwhile. While reflecting over our modest beginning, we uncovered valuable lessons about business and ourselves.
Picture it. Scottsdale, Arizona, 2010. Two strapping young professionals working together in a small studio. Working hard on client designs and learning the ropes of account management, Chip and Mike would soon realize their common desire to strike out on their own.
After some time, the pair planned, and assessed how they wanted to operate differently from the places they’ve worked, and what really matters in a client-to-studio relationship. It was this exploration that led Chip and Mike to the monomyth, the literary term for the hero’s journey. A common structure in storytelling where the hero embarks on a journey, overcomes obstacles, and returns changed or transformed.
This is where Monomyth Studio was born. As our clients embark on their brand journeys, our relationship and mission became clear. They’re the hero, we’re the help. Confident, knowledgeable, and invested guides who help our clients become the heroes of their narratives.
Over the past five years, we’ve worked with brands in Phoenix, across the nation, and beyond.
Our list of projects has ranged from craft coffee roasters, private schools, luxury rental companies, local mixed-use developments, children’s apps, and restaurant concepts. And we’re just getting started.
We’ve honed our process for creating strong brands, found new efficiencies both for our team and clients, and are looking to take these learnings to the next phase.
What We’ve Learned
Business shows you what you’re made of. While our founders and the rest of the team have learned to rely on each other, lean on our own support systems at home, and stay nimble to adjust to change, a few other pieces of wisdom have kept us going. We’re hopeful they’ll continue to guide us into the future, too.
Being a creative agency is the ultimate team sport. So whether you’re working in one now, or are thinking of starting something of your own, realize that you can’t do it all. As we focus on working well with others, both clients and fellow creatives, we’ve found a wealth of support not only in success but also in failure.
Stay humble, but be confident.
You can either check yourself or someone will do it for you. At the end of the day, we’re all fragile and flawed, and it’s ok to acknowledge that in our craft and working relationships. On the other side of the same coin, confidence is key to survival. Learning when to draw the line with client relationships helps you preserve your values, and grows your confidence.
Regardless of your failures or successes, keep pressing forward, always looking for ways to improve in your craft and grow personally. Those who stop progressing are the ones who quickly lose relevance and their effectiveness.
June 27, 2017
Benefits of Skepticism: Big Data
Big data is the future of design. Big data is the future of marketing. Big data is empirical. Big data is going to make up for the fallibility of the human mind.
Though there are a lot of potential applications for utilizing this data, it is important to look at it for what it is: a big pile of information we’re still trying to figure out how to sort.
Big data is the term for large data sets, “typically consisting of billions or trillions of records, that are so vast and complex that they require new and powerful computational resources to process.” Often, this data is accumulated through computational processes: algorithms, machine learning, etc.
It feels significant because it is an enormous amount of information that outskirts the need for research methods and the design of a research study. If you can just access and process the data, you have your research right there.
There are, however, many problems with this usage of big data, and our utopian view of it. Big data, much like other kinds of data sets, can be incredibly biased. It can be misinterpreted. Its quality varies. It is not as sound or completely reliable as we would like it.
There are 4 things we need to consider when talking about big data:
1. The cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy
Latin for “with this, therefore because of this.” The phrase presents a logical fallacy about correlation. If two variables are correlated, we are often tempted to assume that one caused the other. The vast majority of assumptions made using big data are based on correlation. That one thing causes the other, or is in someway related to the other.
“A big data analysis might reveal, for instance, that from 2006 to 2011 the United States murder rate was well correlated with the market share of Internet Explorer: Both went down sharply. But it’s hard to imagine there is any causal relationship between the two. Likewise, from 1998 to 2007 the number of new cases of autism diagnosed was extremely well correlated with sales of organic food (both went up sharply), but identifying the correlation won’t by itself tell us whether diet has anything to do with autism.”
Just because two variables are correlated does not necessarily mean one caused the other. Though that is the case some of the time, it is important to understand that it is not the case all of the time.
We used Google Correlate, which is the algorithm responsible for Google Flu Trends, and looked up a few random words. Google Correlate “finds search patterns which correspond with real-world trends” according to their site. Out of curiosity, we looked up “robots,” which correlates with a variety of things, but our favorite is the phrase “being a girl.”
So, at some point in 2005, a bunch of people were Googling the phrase “robots” and the phrase “being a girl.” If we were to make a cum hoc ergo propter hoc assumption about these variables, we would say that there is something about robots that is like being a girl. Or that being a girl caused us to think about robots.
It’s important to look beyond your data to add context. In early March 2005, the wonderfully whimsical children’s movie (starring the voices of Ewan McGregor, Mel Brooks, and Robin Williams) Robots hit theaters. Also, around the same time, GAP aired a commercial featuring Sarah Jessica Parker, singing a song called “I Enjoy Being a Girl.”
It’s a silly example, but it is something to consider. We can’t assume that correlation is causality, especially not without research and context outside of the dataset.
2. Recency Bias
If 90% of the world’s data was created in the last few years, we have an inherent recency bias in our data.
Recency bias is “the tendency to assume that future events will closely resemble recent experience. It’s a version of what is also known as the availability heuristic: the tendency to base your thinking disproportionately on whatever comes most easily to mind. It’s also a universal psychological attribute.”
The present moment is always the largest dataset, having a greater influence on our research than anything in the past. Thus, if we’re looking at big data for something predictive, something to tell us how things will be in the future, we need to know what is significant in our present data. We need to wash away what isn’t significant. We also need to include the past. We can not determine our future based on what has happened in the last couple years alone.
3. Confirmation Bias
Another very human psychological attribute that affects our data is confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the “seeking or interpreting of evidence in ways that are partial to existing beliefs, expectations, or a hypothesis in hand.” This, much like recency bias, is a universal psychological characteristic. This is something everyone does, whether they are aware of it or not.
“Once we have formed a view, we embrace information that confirms that view while ignoring, or rejecting, information that casts doubt on it. Confirmation bias suggests that we don’t perceive circumstances objectively. We pick out those bits of data that make us feel good because they confirm our prejudices. Thus, we may become prisoners of our assumptions.”
The issue here is that we are coming to the data with questions. Because big data is far too large for it to yield one result, like a designed research study might, we approach the data with a question. That question, presumably, has an answer. We, as people, have an assumption of what that answer is going to be, and tend to look for data that confirms our assumptions.
This is just a truth of human psychology. We all naturally create linkages between the things we want to believe and what evidence exists that would confirm those beliefs. However, our general inability to critically think about data, especially when it’s giving us the answer we want, becomes problematic.
4. Data Quality
Data, in the past, was a result of research. Now, the majority of our data comes from private companies who are collecting it without a designed study or a specific goal. It is simply being dug up and piled somewhere. Because of this, it’s hard to tell what data we’re missing. We don’t have a good sense of what we have, let alone what the gaps in the information are.
Research is designed for a reason: to work toward an empirical and well rounded set of data, to know where it comes from, to be aware of its accuracies and faults. When we use random data, we don’t attribute for what we’re missing, for what its faults are.
“…consider the Twitter data generated by Hurricane Sandy, more than 20 million tweets between October 27 and November 1. A fascinating study combining Sandy-related Twitter and Foursquare data produced some expected findings (grocery shopping peaks the night before the storm) and some surprising ones (nightlife picked up the day after — presumably when cabin fever strikes). But these data don’t represent the whole picture. The greatest number of tweets about Sandy came from Manhattan. This makes sense given the city’s high level of smartphone ownership and Twitter use, but it creates the illusion that Manhattan was the hub of the disaster. Very few messages originated from more severely affected locations, such as Breezy Point, Coney Island and Rockaway. As extended power blackouts drained batteries and limited cellular access, even fewer tweets came from the worst hit areas. In fact, there was much more going on outside the privileged, urban experience of Sandy that Twitter data failed to convey, especially in aggregate. We can think of this as a “signal problem”: Data are assumed to accurately reflect the social world, but there are significant gaps, with little or no signal coming from particular communities.” See more here.
Big data is not sorted through or thought about critically. Because it’s simply gathered and stockpiled, it’s full of holes, inaccuracies, and misleading correlations. We must learn to read and scrutinize our data thoroughly. It is a form of literacy we have not developed because our society has an overarching believe that computation is somehow beyond human fallibility. We forget that the data is curated by algorithms we wrote, and is made up of our own information.
Overall, this is not to say big data isn’t a valuable resource. The potential for its application in a variety of fields is significant. We do, however, need to develop these literacies. We need to be skeptical about our data, where it comes from, and what it’s telling us.
Marana Center is a factory outlet shopping center Northwest of Tucson, Arizona. Our client, Vintage Partners, developed the property as a lifestyle center, a place for the people in the communities north of Tucson to shop and explore, outside of the confines of a traditional indoor mall.
We were asked to create an identity and web experience for the shopping center. We developed an identity that pays homage to the desert landscape and the nearby Tohono O’odham tribe.
We referenced basket weaving patterns and textures in the brand’s logo and related imagery, using the M’s as the hidden but foundational structure. We also created a simplified version of the logo to imprint into the concrete in the plaza.
The color palette alludes to a modern Southwest. It coincides with the desert landscape without blending in or getting lost.
The web experience functions as a landing page, focusing on new releases for people to keep up with the development of the center. It is a site that can be expanded upon easily, a temporary introduction to Marana Center while it is under construction, with room to grow.
April 28, 2014
Studio Update! Pinewood Classic and AIGA Student Tour
Monomyth recently participated in the first annual Pinewood Classic, an adult-only pinewood derby started by local designer Doug Penick.
The Pinewood classic featured 50 custom cars handcrafted by the local creative community. The event was sponsored by and held at Sit Stay on Roosevelt. It made for a thoroughly enjoyable day filled with live music, tasty food and drink, and friendly competition with our fellow designers.
We channeled our inner Cub Scouts for this one. We modeled our car after our “belly of the whale” illustration. Some of our favorite competitors’ cars were Jon Arvizu’s Burnin’ Hell and Brendan McCaskey’s tribute to Adventure Time. We had a blast, and look forward to next year’s competition.
Monomyth also recently hosted ASU’s AIGA student chapter at our studio. Members of the senior class came to learn more about who we are, and what industry life is like. We walked them through our process and company philosophy, part of which is community involvement. We want to see the Phoenix design community flourish, and we contribute what we can through student-focused events like this studio tour or portfolio reviews, as well as community events like the Pinewood Classic.
October 16, 2013
We Are Monomyth
We are Monomyth.
Monomyth is the literary term for the hero’s journey, coined by American mythologist Joseph Campbell. We chose this as our moniker because we felt it aptly represents our philosophy.
In the hero’s journey, he or she embarks from the safety of their home on an adventure. They receive supernatural help, overcome obstacles, and enter into legend.
For us, our clients are the heroes, coming to us at various stages in their voyage. Some are seasoned adventurers, others have yet to leave home. And we are positioned as the help, here to better equip them for the trials ahead. And that is exactly what we do.