Creating in quarantine: Three lessons I learned as a designer during the pandemic

beige background with shapes and the copy, "think outside the box." outside is above the line as a graphic demonstration of "outside the box" concept.

The isolation many of us have experienced from COVID-19 takes its toll in different ways. From my experience, quarantine stole a part of my identity. As a designer and an imaginative individual, I have a close relationship with creativity. Yet, when COVID-19 struck I found myself lacking vision and it took weeks to realize why. The lockdown took away my greatest source of inspiration; the unpredictable lifestyle of New York City. 

Life in New York City is unforeseeable at best. One moment, the trip to work is quiet, and then all of a sudden, there is a breakout of dance and people displaying their line of talents. Events were spontaneous. My days were never meticulously planned. I would visit an exhibit or explore a new restaurant on impulse. There was no telling what could happen after locking the front door in the morning. This unpredictability was something magical. Good or bad, the mixture of emotions and uncertainty created adventure. The adventure fed my imagination. It wasn’t until I shared my experience with my team and friends that I realized an essential part of the story; it’s my job to create creativity. COVID-19 was just the latest challenge, and it was my mission to overcome it. In doing so, I learned three essential practices to help me pass the roadblocks: 

Lesson one: Adapt rituals

Before COVID-19, one of my inspirational rituals was to visit an art museum and absorb everything from the past with a modern perspective. With museum visits no longer an option, I needed to find new sources of inspiration. Luckily, the digital world can offer immense inspiration. Now I visit museum websites and take virtual tours.

If you’re interested, here are two recent exhibits I visited last week:

Sophie Taeuber-Arp
MoMA The Museum of Modern Art

Coco Chanel: Modernism
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

It is now more crucial than ever to be adaptive during such an uncertain time. Finding solutions to adjust your past rituals to suit the present can be a creative act in and of itself. 

Lesson two: Stimulate the mind

As a creative person before quarantine, I always aimed to stimulate my mind with new perspectives and adventures. Confinement to a single space with no means of diversion made it harder to seek out new experiences, and therefore, lower energy. I felt bored and faced a challenge I didn’t think I could overcome: self-motivation.

I learned to redirect my energy into something productive. With the right push, boredom became a determination to find stimulation. One way I enticed my brain was around language. I found myself downloading Duolingo and dedicating twenty minutes a day to relearning my casual Italian. With Duolingo, I also tested my knowledge of my second language, Spanish. Pushing myself as far as possible to gain an understanding of my limitations. In doing so, I learned more about myself and improved my second language. 

With my mind occupied and stimulated, I welcomed back my drive and energy flow.

Pensa fuori dagli schemi (Should mean “think outside the box.”) 

Lesson three: Be kind to yourself

Like most, I take pride in my ability to produce great work. But before developing the tools to be kind to myself, I spent weeks thinking I wasn’t good enough. 

Suddenly, I didn’t see myself as a great designer capable of visionary ideas. Instead, I saw a human being in need of empathy.

This harsh mindset was a part of the problem. 

It’s important to be kind and compassionate to yourself. To do so, I convinced myself to remember this was not a representation of my talents; instead, it was a symptom of the circumstances. Negativity can demolish any creativity hiding inside. One way I treated myself with compassion was by rewarding myself for overcoming small obstacles. I treat myself to goodies from my neighborhood bakery, Martha’s Country Bakery. My favorite has to be their strawberry cheesecake and their Very Berry Napoleon pastry. Consider celebrating your small victories. 

Everyone’s process is different, but that is what makes these journeys fun. During quarantine, I experienced a new challenge, unlike anything I ever faced before. It pushed me to adapt and make my own creative space. It also taught me more about myself and what it means to be self-motivated. It was a learning experience I will never forget. I can only hope my experience helps you pave the way when faced with difficult challenges.