Creativity is a word that people use as if we all share a similar sense of what it means. Yet, and I am certain I am not unique in this, talking to others at length often shows that how we define creativity is more multifaceted than our assumptions suggest. Given that I am a "creative" person and have come to see the term as both complex and ambiguous, I was delighted to learn that the 7th Creativity and Cognition Conference was coming to Berkeley this year. As a Berkeley resident, I was excited to find I could easily attend and learn how this group approached the idea. For this conference, the organizers decided to frame the program around the rubric of "Everyday Creativity" and posed several questions in their call for projects/papers: How do we enable everyone to enjoy their creative potential? How do our creative activities differ? What do they have in common? What languages can we use to talk to each other? How do shared languages support collective action? How can we incubate innovation? How do we enrich the creative experience? What encourages participation in everyday creativity?
It was no surprise to find that those at the conference answered these questions from many vantage points, although it seemed the accepted submissions emphasized computer science, design (in an engineering sense) and education. (I believe they said that only 23% of the proposals were accepted, so I would assume that this kind of emphasis mirrors what the organizers wanted the conference to stress.) Still, the more hands-on discussions are those that have stayed with me to a greater degree. Although often more descriptive than quantitative or statistical, this work was striking because it showed evidence of problem-solving through visuals that also demonstrated a complexity that I do not think we have quantitative tools to describe. One paper that brought the humanness of creative acts to mind was "Assistive Devices—Stroke Patients' Design" by Ana Correia de Barros and Carlos Duarte. Their interviews with 48 stroke patients illustrated many cases where "private" solutions were used to provide equipment to the patient so that they were better "equipped" to deal with their disabilities. Often these impressive handcrafted devices, made by family and friends of the patients, were similar to those on the market. Not having access to, or information about, the manufactured product, these "helpers" developed solutions that would function similarly to the unknown device and would successfully ease the daily tasks of someone in need.
Cathy Treadaway's paper "Hand E-craft: An Investigation into Hand Use in Digital Creative Practice" similarly presented a sensitive articulation of the complexity of the creative process. In this case, she showed a video to allow us to see how an artist combined computer-aided design with work by hand. Treadaway's approach to conveying the value of haptic sensitivity in a creative process seems important when we consider the trend toward digital and technological projects that often include a "distance" from directly exploring our natural space.
I was also quite taken with a personal element that was very present throughout this conference. For example, Sarah Atkinson's contribution, an invited installation commissioned by BigDog Interactive, Ltd., was a creative inspiration that allowed many of us to receive unique conference bags. Atkinson issued a "Call for Bags" before the conference, asking participants to recycle their old conference bags so that she could re-craft them for this event. I received one of these bags at registration, with an attached tag that says it was "constructed using three different CHI conference sweaters that were cut into circles of various sizes and then sewn back together to make the fabric for this bag." Thank you, Sarah! I simply adore my bag and I am delighted to have this cool replacement for an old, ratty bag I've carried around forever. Another nice touch was the poster and demo madness session. Everyone who was doing a poster or a demo spoke for about a minute. These...