Creativity. It’s a concept that fascinates us all and is by far one of the hardest topics I discuss. 

As designers it’s something we are faced with everyday and is highly sought after. In design industries, creativity is seen as a source of power or a type of prestige that ultimately allows us to work on great projects.

In this article I will be answering a question from Rana Sarmad, who asks:

How would you compare creativity to experience and does more experience mean more creativity?

To answer this question it will help to discuss the differences between creativity and experience and the synergy they have in order to develop your potential and harness your creativity to be successful.

What is creativity?

Now, when we think of creativity it’s easy to think of the traditional stereotypes, such as playing an instrument, drawing, painting, sculpture and writing, to name a few. After all, they are called the creative arts. But there is so much more to creativity than these stereotypes.

I believe creativity is a force of nature. It’s an energy, a light, we all have inside us.

Make no mistake, we are all creative. 

To be human is to be creative!

We are creative everyday with our dreams, our spontaneity, our imagination, our conversations, our thoughts, our choices and our actions. So if we are all creative, why are we not all artists and designers?

Well, design and art is applied creativity. To create art and design is a conscious act. It’s a choice to think and work towards a creative goal and make conscious decisions. Not everyone is interested in or compelled to be consciously creative.

How does creativity differ to experience?

Unlike creativity, which is in our nature, experience needs to be stumbled upon, sought after and acquired. When considering experience it’s important to note the differences between professional experience and life experience and how creativity relates to both.

Professional experience is everything you learn on the job. It’s the way you deal with clients, the methods you use when approaching a project and your design process. These are all developed as you learn and gain professional experience and progress in your career. 

In contrast, life experience is everything else you learn in life. This could come from the relationships you form, mistakes you make, the values you hold, circumstances, the opportunities you choose to take and the acts of creativity you perform and practise. 

Ultimately, professional and life experience will become a never ending cycle and fuel each other. For those starting off in their creative career who often lack professional experience, it will help to keep in mind how one sees their own creativity and how it needs to be harnessed in a professional capacity in order to be successful.

Professional experience won’t make you more creative. It will simply make you more focused and appropriate. Life experience, however, can inspire and power your creativity. 

Without life experience we have no memories, no knowledge, no information, no experience of practising, nothing to react to, no ingredients to base our creativity on. Without professional experience, we can lack the ability to shape our creativity into practical solutions.

Think of creativity as your potential and your light 

If you can draw, good! You’re a brilliant painter, amazing! You’ve got a knack for coding, awesome! You’re a master in Photoshop, great! You come up with profound ideas, brilliant! 

If you are any of those things, then you may be able to shine pretty bright, but all these skills really offer is a degree of potential.

I have seen so many creative and talented people in my time who have shone bright, though have been unsuccessful in a professional capacity, for various reasons:

  • They don’t choose to go professional 
  • They don’t know how to capitalize on their creativity
  • Lack of professional experience can leave one a bit naive
  • They struggle to channel their creativity for a specific goal
  • They lack experience and initiative
  • Lack of consistency

If you want to be creative in a professional capacity, it’s professional experience that opens doors to where you want to go. Because to be successful requires a lot more than creativity.

Young and inexperienced designers will typically have a lot of creative potential and perhaps some life experience, which is encouraged in school and university. Though in the professional world of design, you will need skills and experience to apply your creativity that may not have taught in school, like discipline, judgment and how to channel your creativity to solve specific problems. 

It can be difficult for new designers to do this in a professional capacity because they won’t have worked on many projects, especially big projects with a wide scope of problems to be solved.

Think of life experience as your journey and your power 

Life experience is incredibly valuable as it ultimately fuels your creativity. 

Life experience is the ingredients that inspires our creativity and includes things such as:

  • Listening and learning
  • Reading and research
  • The act of practising your craft
  • Making mistakes
  • Visiting art galleries or museums
  • Traveling and experiencing culture 
  • Listening to music
  • Using your imagination
  • Experiencing emotions
  • Meeting different people
  • Thought provoking conversations and debate
  • Watching movies
  • Challenging yourself and others

Each of these life experiences provides us with an opportunity to develop, diversify our thinking and build skills. They present us with an opportunity to grow and experience new ideas, perspectives and challenges that we may not otherwise have had. 

If you want to be more creative, I would recommend you seek out more life experience over professional experience.

Why? Because this ultimately inspires our passions, interests, our direction and our creative light. Keeping this life experience in mind, we use our desire and energy to create to express these newfound thoughts, feelings and perspectives. 

When applying this in a professional capacity, it’s how well we can channel our life experience through our creativity and use it as inspiration to produce creative solutions for a specific purpose that determines our success.

Think of professional experience as the pathway and your torch

Professional experience is also valuable because it ultimately focuses your creativity and includes things such as:

  • Collaboration
  • Criticism
  • Team work
  • Focus
  • Process

Professional experience is not creativity, it’s more practical. It’s simply knowing how to channel your creativity to meet briefs and solve specific problems appropriately. 

Let’s take a design process for example. A design process is typically practised, tested and harnessed over years of professional experience. Does this make you more creative? I’d argue no. However, what a good design process does is turn your creative light into a laser beam!

So if life experience is your power and your creativity is your light, then professional experience is your torch that focuses your creativity.

This is something that took me a little while to build. I feel I have always been really creative, my light has always been bright! But as a young designer I was a little naive, suffering from lack of professional experience and guidance.

For a long time I was going nowhere. I was in a full time role for several years as an in house designer. I applied for so many jobs and I’ll admit that the first couple of years were tough.

Interview after interview I was always told they loved what they saw, but I always missed out because I never had enough ‘professional experience’, or someone else had more experience than me. Looking back on this now, I see that really they were telling me I had a lot of creative potential, but they weren’t seeing good examples of how well I could channel it appropriately.

I could have easily slipped through the net, given up and been another designer with a degree who didn’t work professionally, but I stayed hungry and determined to succeed. After a few years I was able to build up my professional experience and got better at channelling my creativity into solutions clients were willing to hire me for.

I was able to use my professional experience, my torch, to better focus my creativity. 

Then I went freelance where I had lots more opportunities, like working at over 40 different design studios, working with many senior designers and learning new ways of tackling projects. Here I had the opportunity to unleash my creativity to its full potential. 

Personally I don’t think I am any more or less creative than I was 10 years ago. But with time, determination and professional experience, I have learnt a lot and become more adept and proficient at channeling my creativity for appropriate solutions that clients want to pay me for.

So if you’re struggling with your creativity, perhaps the question you should ask yourself is not, how do I be more creative? But how do I focus my creativity?

How much creativity do we really need anyway? It is not something that can be measured, but it is something that can be focused!

Remember, life experience is power, creativity is your light and professional experience is your torch. If you want your light to shine brighter, then get more life experience to power your light. Gaining more professional experience will help you better focus your creativity.

If you’re starting out, feel you’re creative and love it so much that you want a career that allows you to express your creativity and get paid for it, becoming a designer may be for you. However, it can be tough at the start to acquire professional experience.

Be patient and keep applying yourself. If you keep learning and practising, in time, you’ll gain the professional experience that will help you channel your creativity and achieve your goals.

If you feel you are really creative but struggling with how to focus it, then try and improve on your design process. Remember, a combination of life experience and professional experience help fuel your creativity.

So what do you think?

Do you believe more experience means you are more creative? Let me know in the comments below! Do you have a design question you’d like me to discuss? Comment below or email me at and I’ll do my best to give you a thorough answer.