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by Joe Gillespie — Jan 1, 2001

Have you ever gone into your bedroom, moved your pillow to the bottom of the bed and slept upside down - just for a change?

If you sleep alone, it's no big problem, but if you share your bed, you are likely to meet an element of resistance... like...

"Oh, don't be sooo stupid!"

Well, it's not stupid, it's just different, and there is nothing wrong with being different. In fact, it could be argued that it is easier to move the pillow than to turn the mattress!

Sure, creativity is about being different, but there is more to it than just being different for the sake of being different.

A lot of people don't like breaks with convention. They like to live life on a straight and narrow path - the path of least resistance. Water flows downhill, it's the easiest thing to do.

If you suggest that they make a detour, or even a slight sidestep, they object vehemently. Even after you have explained that the detour is to avoid a steep cliff edge and a potentially fatal plunge, they doggedly insist in following their previous path.

Well, that is their problem.

It can help your case enormously if your forays into creativity can be shown to have definite benefits.

left to right, top to bottom world

We all know that text goes from left to right and from the top to bottom of a page. It's a convention. But if you visit China or the Middle East, that convention no longer holds. Just because we are used to something doesn't make it right. Then there is the factor of practicality.

The vast majority of Web pages have navigation bars along the top of the page or down the left hand side. Because a Web page is of indeterminate width and height, the position of the top left is the only thing that you can take for granted. Putting essential elements there makes good common sense, but it's not the only way. You can put essential elements elsewhere on a Web page if you go to the trouble of making sure that it works as well, if not better than the usual.

Conventions have some near cousins. 'Standards' are very like conventions, they also make life easier, but in a slightly different way. Where conventions are handed down and accepted with little question, standards are arrived at by mutual agreement. Conventions are a one way street, standards run both ways.

Because of standards, the Web pages we create can be viewed on a vast variety of computers. If the standards were more exact and more rigidly adhered to, the overall experience would be even better. Unlike conventions, standards are not counter-creative.

in a rut?

Another close cousin of convention is 'fashion'. Fashion is a 'closed convention'. It allows you to be both conventional and different at the same time. It means that your convention is different from the conventions of the masses. It even gives you a license to put down other conventions without having any good reasons to do so. Fashions can be creative, in fact they usually are for a short period of time. Eventually, they become scorned as being 'old hat' and melt back into the quagmire of mass convention.

One of the main attributes of all things conventional is that of not standing out. Convention reveres in being lost within itself. Of course, in standing out from convention, you can stand out like a jewel in the desert or stand out like a sore thumb. The distinction is merely a matter of viewpoint.

go with the flow - no!

Designers owe it to themselves, if not to reject convention utterly, at least to question it. Instead of slavishly following, explore the possibilities. Experiment. Avoid the expected and the obvious. Discover the heady exhilaration of being unconventional. All experiments are not successful, but it is better to experiment and fail than to not try at all

Being creative does not lead to an easy life. Not only do you have the work of invention to contend with, you also have to fight tooth and nail to overcome the apathy or hostility of the greys.

Go on, make a difference !

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