" ` WHY I LOVE TOYS | Haines McGregor

All of us spend too long staring at screens.

As a classically trained designer (with hobby knives, glue sticks and Letrasets) I’ve witnessed the ratio of physical projects dwindle in my 14 years of agency-life. Brand worlds constrained to a monitor instead of something you can feel, concepts that need to work for online research and even some pitches moving onto Zoom. The physical is (currently) not in vogue. At all.

That’s ok, but the physical is still critical to creation, even if it’s not wanted as a deliverable.

And while I don’t exactly miss the eau de toilette of cheap spray mount that followed me around in my early days, the constantly sticky fingers or the panicky, sweaty last minute print jobs before a pitch, this all-digital world leaves me incomplete and unsatisfied.

I find there are easy ways to bring hand-crafted energy into the day-to-day though. Not only when we’re feeling stuck, but to deliver focus and new direction and spark something within our own mood that our usual screen-cradling, hunched over, In-Design-obsessed energy cannot.

I’ve always considered creatives as craftsmen and admired the tactile, analogue training of makers, sculptors, illustrators and ceramists. I’m a hoarder. (My better half doesn’t quite recognise to what extent yet). I love to accumulate books and records and artefacts and just interesting things I see. Spotify is great and all but pulling a record off your shelf feels better. Sure, eBooks are practical, but have you ever seen one on a coffee table? Precisely.

The benefits of a creative hobby; painting, illustration, photography, pottery, insert your niche and nerdy secret practice here, the more hipster, the better – has long been proved effective to our mental health but also allow for better focus and inspiration to our creative work.

An often overlooked benefit, but one dear to me is they offer something precious and hard to find: a quiet consistency in our ultra-fast and hourly-changing social context. Something that is there, always and in your control.

You might wonder where this blog is going. 

Point is that I can be left feeling restricted, without the possibility to manipulate things physically. We can all wax lyrical about the power of creative constrains, sure. But after a while, those constraints do what they are meant to. They limit us.

Colours, textures, shapes and volumes are an important part of the consumer’s experience, but it can be hard to connect with these tactile elements when everything’s happening on screen. A Pinterest mood board is the equivalent of watching snow fall from your window. It’s pretty, but you just want to touch it. You need to get out there.

So – if you are meant to be a creative and you don’t have a creative hobby….get one.

I’ve been obsessed with miniature work for as long as I can remember, and yes, maybe, it started as a way to carry on playing with toy soldiers way past their design target age, resorting to the mocking judgment of my siblings – It’s not a toy, it’s a model – but it very quickly evolved into something else. Capturing and feeling the layered complexity and richness of the models, understanding how to use and play with colours, volumes and texture and ultimately losing myself into hyper-realistic, analogue renders of pretty much anything as long as it’s small.

Detail matters, colours are mixed by hands on an actual palette, technique is everything and finish reigns. This hobby is a quest, finding expressionism within the constraints of scale. It’s an escape from the diktat of PowerPoint and an endless, positive source of observation, a grounded, hand-crafted reality that fuels my creative process. I do love a toy.

Every positioning, brand strategy or innovation project exists within the frame of various constraints: commercial objectives, existing identity or market reality. Our task is to express creativity within these parameters – alternatively pushing the boundaries or reigning back the concepts to reflect the richer brands we work with.

But these constrains are not excuses or reasons not to look beyond them.

My opportunities to handle colours, shapes or volumes outside working hours, bring a constant stream of energy and inspiration in my daily approach to design. illustrated by the link between actual pigments and the colour choices I make digitally. A so-called creative hobby, because it’ll give you a fresh perspective on problem-solving and keep your mind at peace, might be helpful to crack that project you’ve been stuck on. It will keep you inspired and will bring fresh ideas to the table all year-long.

If you feel stuck in a digital loop or just need some fresh perspective, here are my top tips to get your hands dirty and get inspired in London:

A Riso Printing course with Art Box London: https://www.artboxlondon.org/public-art-courses/risograph-printing-course

A ceramic class at Tokobo near Broadway Market: https://www.tokobopottery.com/about

A visit to the primary collection at the NPG: https://www.npg.org.uk/

A trip to Cornelissen in Great Russel St: https://www.cornelissen.com/

Curious about what it’s like in our design studio? Head over here: http://hainesmcgregor.co.uk/blog/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-strategic-designer/