Creativity Corner The Creative Process

The Creative Process – Meet Cody Wallis

June 10, 2013

The Creative Process is back… this time all the way from across the pond!

For new readers:
Much has been written about The Creative Process, which in its purest form is simply a way of solving a problem. That sounds simple, doesn’t it? Creativity and its process, contrary to popular belief, is not just reserved for artists and designers. I believe that everyone can benefit from learning and understanding the numerous ways of the creative process. I will invite people to share their own personal creative processes with us and hope this will help you with identifying your own.

Cody Wallis is a graphic designer and illustrator residing in Seattle, Washington, USA. He is currently touring the United States working on a passion project, Design Nation, interviewing graphic designers and architects and seeking wisdom about the influence of culture on the design process. He works for several non-profit organizations such as Ohio-based Drive to Create and the Cleveland International Film Festival. He holds a bachelors of fine arts in Visual Communication Design from Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.

All I can say is that Cody is generous, talented and inspirational. He is a true gentleman and very professional. I salute you… over to Cody!

The Creative Process – Cody Wallis

As a Junior in design school, I designed this poster about “the creative cycle”:


Looking back at this project is a personal lesson in my own naivety. I’m a little embarrassed that this was the solution I came up with for the prompt: “create a poster that visualizes the creative process.” At the time, being relatively new to the field of design, I thought that the creative process was neat, orderly, and beautiful. Surely the process by which clearly understood systems and precise communications are created has those qualities inherent in itself, right?

If I were asked to answer that same prompt today, I would respond with something like this:

cody wallis creativeprocess

But boiled down to its essence (seriously boiled down), I suppose it’s more this:

cody wallis creativeprocess2

A continuous cycle of investigation, ideation, and inspiration.


I’m going to be frank, my ideation process is terrible. I find that my best ideas are usually born out of my worst. My favorite projects usually started as a joke- something I probably sent to a friend as a text message accompanied by a sassy emoticon.

Another way that I ideate is just through casual joking banter with friends. My best friend and I like to jokingly come up with new inventions and start-up business models as a way of keeping ourselves entertained. For instance, Jon, Ryan and I were recently sitting in my sister’s dining room eating a tray of Danishes. The crumbs kept falling to the floor and someone said something about needing a rhumba, one of those automated vacuum cleaners (the kind you always see cats riding around on YouTube).

Anyway, this somehow evolved into a restaurant with mannequins dressed as Dutch girls in clogs and bonnets riding around on rhumbas and serving up trays of hot Danishes.

cody wallis creativeprocess3

This all probably sounds ridiculous to a reader who’s never met me. And truly, I dont think any of us ever expect that idea to come to fruition. But for me, this raw kind of humorous creativity keeps me fresh. From this compost pile of yesterday’s bad ideas grows a small and rich garden of insight.


My creative process isn’t necessarily set in stone. It’s always changing- in fact that’s the basis of my process: change. I find that personally, whenever I get stuck in a rut or can’t come up with any new ideas, it’s usually because I’m trying to do things the way I’ve already been doing them.

Whether its finding a new coffeeshop, riding my bike down to the river, discovering a private corner in the library, or even just eating something I’ve never tried before- that introduction of something new is usually enough to take me off my usual tracks and into uncharted territory.

As far as visual inspiration, that can come from almost anything. An old rusty washer I picked up on the sidewalk, a unique pattern on my friend’s fireplace mantle. For me, the best inspiration comes from seeing as much as I can.


The word “research” makes me cringe. I would much prefer to investigate a topic—it just sounds more fun that way. Research is nothing more than unending google searches and sad, desperate book-skimming in the library that makes you want to blow your brains out. Investigating means breaking out the magnifying glass, searching in places no one else has looked, talking to people involved with the case, and getting to the bottom of things. Most importantly, it’s fun.

I find that the best investigation comes directly from the source. If I’m designing a product aimed at middle-aged women, I’ll go find one and talk to her. That kind of information is one-thousand times more useful than anything on the internet.

This cycle of ideation, inspiration, and investigation can happen in any order and repeat itself as many times as necessary until somebody says the project is done. But my main point is that this process isn’t something that can be nailed down—it’s not something that a junior in college can effectively summarize in an awkward spiral diagram. It’s different for everyone, and it’s always changing. That’s what makes it beautiful.

Cody, on a personal note, I cannot thank you enough (you know why). You’re a true gem. You know you’ve just paid forward:-) Happy week everyone! 

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  • Reply Nicola June 10, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    Firstly Cody, your Design Nation trip is an inspiration! I’ve always fancied the idea of a road trip across the US – but to combine it with visiting Design & Architectural companies is pure genius! And such a great poster/map of your journey! I’ll look forward to seeing what else comes up on the blog of your road trip.

    So, to your Creative Process. The continuous cycle of investigation, ideation and inspiration sums it up perfectly. It’s design as a way of life, a passion that’s all consuming, constantly being inspired by all around and not by googling what already has been done. I like the sound of your investigating because it shows you’re really interested in everything.

    You’re right, it is difficult to pin the process down but you’ve captured its essence which is that it is constant.

    I still think your student spiral is quite beautiful though, reminiscent of the fibonacci sequence.

    Good luck with your journey – by road trip and career ahead xx

    • Reply tina June 13, 2013 at 5:17 pm

      Isn’t the Design Nation trip the best??? I just love it. Everything from just getting into a car, driving to all these cities and hanging out with creative people.. what is there not to like??
      Yes, I love their website..

      It’s interesting. When I read Cody’s newest process I found myself thinking I’m old and a little stale:-) it’s such a fresh way of thinking and that’s got to do with energy! These days, although i don’t do badly in the creative process thinking and doing, I do believe I need to exercise the muscle even more so than when I was younger!
      I have, however, never lost that playful curiosity and that can keep us young.

      Describing the process is so hard and I say it every month:-) but am in awe of the ones who do it so brilliantly. I also felt that Cody captured its essence…

      Haha. You picked out that spiral… Cody it’s partially thanks to Nicola you’re featured here:-))

      For those who don’t know what the Fibonacci sequence is.. fibonacci sequence – it’s a sequence of numbers in which each number equals the sum of the two preceding numbers.

      Thanks N… gosh, owe you already for Ilse Crawford:-) the list is growing xx

  • Reply Louisa Blackmore June 10, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    Reading this makes me want to go investigating! Another fab post in the creative process series, thanks Tina! x

    • Reply tina June 13, 2013 at 5:18 pm

      Pleasure superwoman who tiles her own bathroom. I’m glad you like this series…:-) x

  • Reply Doris June 11, 2013 at 8:11 pm

    Tina, I absolutely love reading this column and thank you to Cody for such a brilliant insight into your creative process. I couldn’t agree more with the investigation phase, I find that I get inspiration from the most unlikely of places and it’s usually because I’ve tried or done something new. Another post that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Thanks Doris

    • Reply tina June 13, 2013 at 5:21 pm

      Thank Doris. Isn’t it great that my guests share an insight into their creative process? I think it’s so precious…
      I also have to constantly remind myself to step out of the comfort zone and keep trying new things. Sometimes it ain’t easy:-)
      Best way for me is to trick my mind….
      Glad you enjoyed and got something out of it xx

  • Reply Catherine June 12, 2013 at 2:58 am

    Thank you Cody, I really enjoyed reading about your creative process. I’m constantly surprised by unlikely things that can spark inspiration. It reaffirms to me it’s all about getting out there, investigating and keeping an open mind.

    • Reply tina June 13, 2013 at 5:23 pm

      Ha. yes, Catherine, you are on a roll at the moment. That’s exactly what you’ve been doing in the past few months. Getting out there, feeling the fear and doing it anyway.
      You’re doing it with work, career change and new eating habits. Best part is you’re keeping an open mind!

  • Reply Gerard @WalnutGrey June 12, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    Hey Cody. Your creative cycle looks very pretty but I did have to do a double take on the amount of info in there. Can appreciate where you were coming from. I think many of us have lived through those moments of naivety, where we believe we have a great solution to something… all part of life’s learning and growing. I know I’ve been there a few times!

    How you’ve boiled down your creative process is so much more people friendly 🙂 Maybe it’s a matter of semantics between research & investigation; think I struggle a little with both words. I probably sit more comfortably with ‘research’ due to my academic background but know what you mean about it being a cringe word. I’ve settled more on the notion of explore or exploration – never sure what I might find and usually enjoy the journey.

    My inspiration comes from the most unusual places at times- think I prefer it this way.

    So thank you for sharing & thanks Tina for asking Cody to board the CP Express.

    Good luck with the Design Nation project Cody.


    • Reply tina June 13, 2013 at 5:33 pm

      Gerard, can’t believe you called Cody’s creative cycle… pretty:-)
      It’s all about life cycles, growing and learning… as I get older I can see how far I’ve come. I could have never got here without the early stages.

      To be honest, I wish I would have kept more of a visual journey of my younger years. Of course, I didn’t grow up with the internet!

      Research – such a powerful, yet ambigious word! It seems so important in science, yet I often find they have no solutions either.
      I’m comfortable with investigation and exploration. I LOVE exploration though because it has more of a playful sound to it:-)

      As you said, it’s all in the journey. Often I found myself going the long way round but in the end always come back to the fact that I enjoyed ‘the journey’. That’s a priceless feeling!

      Inspiration comes from everywhere… I can see a new feature here… where/what/how do you get inspired? Backed by visuals of course. Hmmm, will ponder more!

      Pleasure G, and I was honoured that Cody agreed to board the CP Express:-)) xx

      • Reply Gerard @WalnutGrey June 14, 2013 at 11:30 am

        Liking the idea of an ‘inspiration’ post. You should work that one up 😉 x

        • Reply tina June 14, 2013 at 8:32 pm

          Ha. Thanks . Yes, it’s now on an artefact card. xx

  • Reply Louise - 30s Magazine June 13, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    Another interesting read. Thank you Cody for your insights. I found your junior uni pic quite interesting in fact. But then your rebuttal, which made indeed more sense. I agree that creativity comes from doing things differently, also referred to as innovation. And I love innovation.
    I like what you’re saying about research vs investigation. I’m very pragmatic and I also feel that practice gives me more valuable output than theory although it does help to confirm things. In marketing we use focus groups as well as market research (raw data) when creating a campaign. I think the two reinforce each other.

    Thanks again and good luck on your project.

    • Reply tina June 13, 2013 at 5:47 pm

      I wish more companies would look at innovation and stop just churning out the same old, same old!
      I know you like innovation and strive to be different in everything you tackle. I love that about you.

      I have to admit I sit on the fence here. I’m also pragmatic but probably use a tad more instinct than you do, without the need of hard facts. I don’t believe there is a right or wrong. I believe that we all have to do what feels right for us. It’s a bit like complementary medicine. I would listen to both sides but then choose my preference.

      And yes, focus groups and market research reinforce each other but are also, sometimes, known to be worthless!!

      Thanks L xx

  • Reply leah of sang the bird June 13, 2013 at 11:15 pm

    Cody, your Design Nation trip is an inspiration! I’m in the ‘ideation’ phase doing my current assignment. I love that you say “my best ideas are usually born out of my worst”. This gives me hope 🙂
    Tina, you get beter and betterer xx

    • Reply tina June 14, 2013 at 8:32 pm

      Ha. Thanks Leah. Hope is good, right? xx

  • Reply Igor June 14, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    So, the little Igor gremlins are trying to comment here, too:-) My creative process is marked by a constant lack of time I am afraid so it is more an impromptu, in situ kind of process:-)

    • Reply tina June 14, 2013 at 8:33 pm

      I think you do well the way you do things. It’s called The Happy Igor way:-)

  • Reply Holly June 22, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    So interesting! In a way, Cody not only shared his process but also the process to his process. He went from a more complex/structured process to a more free/open one. It seems that as he gained experience, he learned the value of freedom when it comes to creativity. I think that’s important when it comes to being creative. But when we need to get things done, to realise our creative ideas, it is then we need some structure, maybe? Balance is key and Cody’s current process seems quite balanced to me.

    Cody’s portfolio is very inspiring and Design Nation is such a wonderful project!!!! The book is going to be awesome, I’m sure!

    Thank you Cody and Tina for a great read 🙂


    • Reply tina July 16, 2013 at 8:52 pm

      Glad you found it useful.

      It’s always interesting how processes change. In fact, maybe it would be an idea to ask the same contributors in a few years to see if anything changed or was added.
      It reminds me of a painter like Picasso or Matisse. They were very fine craftsmen and their drawing skills superb. As they got experience and ages, they became freer in their drawings and paintings..

      I LOVE the Design Nation and also can’t wait for the book xx

  • Reply The Creative Process | August 28, 2015 at 5:11 am


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