Research and Advances
Computing Applications Creativity and interface

Creativity Support Tools

  1. Introduction
  2. Integrating Creative Activities
  3. Eight Tasks
  4. The Skeptic's Corner
  5. References
  6. Author
  7. Footnotes
  8. Figures

  • Opportunity, delineation, problem definition;
  • Compiling relevant information;
  • Generating ideas;
  • Evaluating, prioritizing ideas; and
  • Developing an implementation plan.

These plans were inspirational for me, but I was seeking a method tied more closely to implementable software. Secondly, I was influenced by Csikszentmihalyi’s analysis that emphasized the social nature of creativity [3]. He stresses the benefits of consultations with other domain experts, receiving empathic encouragement from emotional supporters, and the necessity for dissemination within the field.

After several years of exploration, I adopted a framework [6] with these four activities (Figure 1):

  • Collect: Learn from previous works stored in libraries, the Web, and other sources.
  • Relate: Consult with peers and mentors at early, middle, and late stages.
  • Create: Explore, compose, and evaluate possible solutions.
  • Donate: Disseminate the results and contribute to libraries, the Web, and other sources.

These four activities do not form a linear path. Creative work may require a return to earlier phases and much iteration. For example, libraries, the Web, and other resources may be useful at every phase. Similarly, creative people may want to have discussions with peers and mentors repeatedly during the development of an idea. The social processes that support consultation can also be helpful to them at early, middle, and late stages of the creative process.

When innovators come up with something new, they often seek to disseminate it to others. This makes it available for the next person to build on and learn from. Personal computing technologies coupled with networking have made patents, legal decisions, scientific papers, music, poetry, novels, and many other creative works available online. However, we are still far short of having access to all of these materials because of financial limitations, copyright issues, and business models that seek to profit from creative work.

Problem solving and creativity are often portrayed as lonely experiences of wrestling with the problem, breaking through various blocks, and finding clever solutions. Consultation with others and dissemination of the results is minimally mentioned. Some reconsideration of such methodologies is already under way because of the presence of the Web. It has already dramatically reduced the effort of finding previous work, contacting experts, consulting with peers and mentors, and disseminating solutions.

Just as sewing machines facilitated fashion and telescopes sped progress in astronomy, new creativity support tools will broaden participation and accelerate innovation in many domains.

Composition. tools include the ubiquitous word processor for composing documents or poems, and elaborate music editing programs to write symphonies or rock tunes. Graphics composition tools show the enormous power of software to enable more people to be more creative (see the article by Terry and Mynatt in this section). Slide presentations are now widely used, even by elementary school children, and photo editing tools have enabled many people to crop, retouch, enhance, and combine their photos. A compelling composition tool is Dramatica Pro for writing complex movie scripts (see It is built on a remarkable theory of story telling and character development that guides users in telling and refining their story. The successive versions and add-ons to this tool show how software can provide remarkable support for creative productions. Dramatica Pro provides an excellent inspiration for ways to enhance current composition tools to more directly support innovation.

Reviewing. One of the features to be added to many software tools, history keeping, is the capacity to record activities, review them, and save them for future use. This list lets users return to previous steps, much like the back button on the Web browser. But the history-keeping tools I have in mind will also let users edit, store frequent patterns of use, and replay histories. Users can also send a history to peers or mentors to ask for help. There is growing evidence that such tools help users and learners in many ways.

Disseminating. Finally, when users have created something they like, they need to disseminate it. Some people will be happy just to send email to a few friends, but more ambitious possibilities are attractive. During searching tasks, as users collect information for their work, they encounter Web sites and work of many people. So now it might be useful to be able to send acknowledgment to all the people whose work was influential. Filters to capture all the email of those people could help users disseminate their work to people who might be interested. An even more ambitious idea would be to send email announcements to all the people who had visited the same Web sites they visited. The danger of spam grows quickly, so ways to enable users to specify their interests and willingness to receive unsolicited email must be part of such designs. A more gentle approach is to install work on a Web page and add entries to indexes that others can explore. Then they can decide about downloading a creative contribution.

I repeat that these eight tasks are not a perfect and complete set, but they may be helpful in analyzing existing software and in designing new tools.

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