"Everything is a process."
"Every great idea is rooted in an insight," says Jake Kahana. But how do we find that insight? Where does it come from, and how do we transform it into a tangible piece of art?
Scroll down, because Kahana is sharing all, from transforming ideas to portfolio pieces to how to grow in your career at lightning speed.
DesignRush: What inspired you to get into creative directing?
Jake Kahana: I've always loved art, but never felt all that interested in "fine art." I wanted to make work that solved problems and told stories. I actually went to school to be an animator, thinking that I would love the art and storytelling in film. But I actually found it to be really tedious. So I took a bunch of classes in college exploring new paths: web design, sculpture, entertainment design, theatre and improv, and graphic design. My design professor in college was such a mentor to me and the program was just starting to take off. She inspired me to dive deep into design and learn about the industry. She helped me learn quickly and continues to be a strong mentor and influence in my career.
DR: What are some projects of your own that you are particularly proud of?
JK: I believe that creativity is a powerful tool– being able to tell stories, create culture, and design experiences can change people's minds and shift how people behave. And that power of creativity should be used for doing Good. So the projects I'm most proud of fit that model.
Just this year I started a company with two friends called Caveday that is reteaching people how to work and be more productive in an age of increasing distractions. We're running events and consulting in NYC and slowly growing to other cities this Fall. I'm also very proud of a project called Bettvr With Age. It's a series of VR films aimed to improve the lives of senior citizens and bed-bound hospital patients. It came out of a year of research and an artist grant I won in 2015. The project launched in April of this year and has been implemented at a senior center here in NYC.
DR: Take us through your creative process.
JK: Every great idea is rooted in an insight: a non-obvious truth that makes you see something in a new way. So much of my process is spent writing out insights. This is probably the most challenging part of the process of making meaningful work because there are no shortcuts. It's just writing out observations, experiences, and rewriting facts to make them seem interesting. I've learned that if you spend more time doing this planning phase–crafting insights and developing rough ideas that connect to them– the execution phase becomes so obvious and easy. The best way to have a great idea is to have lots of ideas. So I'm very comfortable separating the "execute" phase from the "evaluate" phase. Come up with a lot of ideas, let them suck, and THEN evaluate which ones are good ones. Sometimes it's the weirdest, worst ideas that lead to the most innovative. And separating those mental processes is key. People who try and ideate and evaluate at the same time always get stuck.
DR: Where do you find inspiration in your day-to-day life?
JK: A mentor of mine sent me an email about 10 years ago that sticks with me so clearly. It was only two sentences and it said:
"Many news sources have given Osama Bin Laden the nickname 'Elvis' because of all the false sightings. There's inspiration for creative ideas all around us."
I strongly believe that still. If you listen and look, there are nuggets and seeds of inspiration all around. Read the news, listen to people's conversations with you, what's a question that's been nagging you, what problems need solving that you encountered today?
DR: What designers, brands or campaigns speak to you?
JK: I've been pretty obsessed with The School of Life for the last year or so. They're a company based in London that aims to teach emotional intelligence. So they have events and consulting, but they also have incredible videos and animations, they have brilliant products that are beautifully designed to create better conversations, more sane living, and higher emotional intelligence.
I also love Tina Roth Eisenberg and what she's building: from her blog to Tattly, Creative Mornings to her studio Friends Work Here. It's all so beautiful and built with such personality and enthusiasm. I'm also a fan of Max Temkin. He's the creator of Cards Against Humanity, and while I do love that game, I really love his approach to design. He's got a strong point of view and political involvement and it often makes me see something in a new way, which is always a sign of great work.
DR: You have the day off. What can we find you doing?
JK: The question isn't what are we going to do. The question is what aren't we going to do? I'm a huge fan of Ferris Bueller. Every summer for the last eight years, I pull a Ferris day and take the whole day to go on a multi-stop adventure through the city. So if I had the day off, here's probably how it goes. I start the day early around 7:00 a.m. and go for a long run. I get dressed and head out to a breakfast spot I've been meaning to check out. And while most people are at work, there's probably no line. Pancakes or eggs. Or if I'm feeling fancy, bagel and lox. Then it's off to a museum.
I'll do something touristy too, a good lookout point or building with notable architecture. Then a nice lunch. Then I'll probably do some art outside somewhere -- botanic gardens or a park that's good for people watching. I'll grab an afternoon coffee at one of my favorite places. Then do an afternoon adventure like a baseball game, horserace, theatre in the park. At night, if that event doesn't bleed into the night, I'd probably go see a show with my wife and end the night with a drink or ice cream (depending on the mood).
DR: Is there anything that helps you beat creator's block?
JK: I think creators block is a bit of a myth. Sure, I don't always love my ideas and get stuck. That's part of the process. But I quickly realize that I'm trying to evaluate AND create at the same time. So usually once I get to that point, I just start making. I accept that what I'm about to make will suck (that's part of the process too) and just keep making. It's based on a quote from my favorite artist Chuck Close who said: "Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us show up and get to work."
DR: What mantra motivates you in your work?
JK: Besides the Chuck Close quote above?
Since 2015, I've had the mantra "Everything is a process." It takes a lot of pressure off what I'm working on and helps me remember to stay humble. The work now is helping me get better and learn for the next project. Work can always be improved and fixed and worked on, but sometimes it just needs to be shipped and you need to move to the next thing.
DR: Any final thoughts, comments, or words of wisdom you’d like to share with someone in the industry?
JK: Always have a side project. It can be the differentiator that leads to a job. It's the thing that makes you more human and interesting. It keeps you learning and experimenting and putting work out there. So keep making and shipping work.
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