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How to Stay Creative in a Remote Environment

by Claire Tak on Jan 8, 2021

Remember the “office days” when the quick swivel of your chair meant you could ask your colleague a simple question or have a brief meeting? 

Problem-solving, creative collaboration, and communication on a face-to-face level have evolved into virtual meetings. Video calls are necessary to bridge the gap, but it also comes with its own challenges. 

‘Oops, didn’t mean to talk over you. Go ahead.’ 

For teams that thrive on in-person meetings to brainstorm fresh ideas, video calls can be awkward, and at times, a creativity killer. Poor connection and not wanting to speak over someone else are just a few reasons why it may be difficult to evoke new ideas organically. 

Not only that, when you’re living and working in the same space every day, it can hinder your creative juices from flowing. 

What SparkLabs is doing to stay creative

So, how do you keep creativity thrumming when your entire team is remote? To find out how creative folks are overcoming these hurdles, we talked to a few designers from SparkLabs, AppLovin’s in-house creative team. 

SparkLabs creates imaginative and engaging creatives for AppLovin’s partners. Many of these creatives have resulted in millions of downloads and installs, catapulting titles to the no. 1 spot in the app store, and providing overnight success and visibility to independent studios. 

We spoke to Senior Design Manager Samantha Pena, Senior Designer Josh Bonvino, who specializes in sound design and music, and 3D Lead Designer, Rudy Baez from SparkLabs. Here’s what they had to say about what they’re doing to stay motivated and creatively tuned-in. 

Inspiration from the market 

Staying on top of what’s happening in the market and in the design world can elicit new ideas or build upon existing ones. It’s a great way to try out new styles and designs. 

To get inspired and to see what others in his field are doing, Rudy says he has a few go-to websites and forums that are centered around 3D and visual graphics. “I visit DeviantArt to discuss new ideas, share my artwork, and learn from other artists and designers. I also like to check out CGSociety to see the latest up-and-coming programs, new data, and 3D trends.”  

The team also often spends time looking through industry-related ads on various sources such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube to get a better sense of what other brands and businesses are doing. 

Whenever Samantha feels stuck in a creative rut, she immerses herself in visual imagery. “Both Pinterest and Instagram allow me to find new influences and ideas that serve as a launchpad for new concepts.” 

Pausing notifications to dive deep into mobile apps

Taking time to play mobile games, across all different genres, helps the designers understand and ideate about ads to market those games. It’s a time for critical observation, which means going into a “creative den” and even having at times, notifications on devices turned off.

Then, they jot down notes to take their findings to the team regarding what was engaging and what could have been done better. If something resonates, they apply the techniques, concepts, and design decisions in the ads they’re creating and make sure it’s relevant to the app’s brand. 

Examining non-industry-related sources such as hip websites with cool animations and effects is another source of inspiration. For example, the team may find a really unique effect or transition from one of Apple’s product pages or videos. 

Getting into the habit of researching other industries has translated naturally into Josh’s work at SparkLabs. “I’ll find inspiration for SparkLabs’ ads in cartoons, shows, or movies like Family Guy, Rick and Morty, Spartacus, and Stranger Things.”

Exercise, hobbies, and activities outside of the office

Research shows that listening to music, playing video games, and even walking can evoke creativity. 

Because working from home means you need to be constantly connected to your laptop and phone, giving yourself permission to disconnect and unwind is important. Your brain needs to recharge by going outside to exercise, play, and connect with loved ones.

Every morning, Rudy runs three miles. “It has to be in the morning and I don’t think about anything work-related. When I sit down to work, my brain is fresh and ready.”

Rudy is passionate about running and boxing (and loves Super Mario!).

In addition to producing music, Josh builds acoustic sound panels for recording studios. He also plays basketball and has taken an interest in carpentry. 

This is the recording studio where Josh spends time making hip-hop and R&B music. He raps and produces.

Samantha, who is a musician, said her passion for songwriting has had a butterfly effect in her work at SparkLabs. “Being in a band has taught me the value of collective, team effort. By writing songs together, we developed a vision. It was easier for us to then independently work towards reaching that goal. I view my team at Sparklabs as having this kind of symbiosis, which has helped our continued success.”

Researchers speculate that music enhances cognitive performance by firing nerve cells in the right side of the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain responsible for higher functions. Here’s Samantha singing and playing bass guitar in her band.

Staying connected and collaborative

The SparkLabs team has a Slack channel specifically designed to collaborate, support, and help each other with ideas or concepts, especially if someone feels stuck. 

Rudy explained, “It helps us come together and spitball ideas without always having to lean on the leads for support.”

Another way to stay connected is through collaborative, virtual brainstorming sessions with clear direction and questions sent in advance to the team. This helps keep meetings focused and efficient. It’s important to keep these sessions casual, so people feel comfortable jamming together remotely.

Weekly Zoom happy hours are also a way to connect and catch up with each other and relax.

Rudy pointed out, “Even though we don’t mean to, sometimes these happy hours turn into really productive brainstorm sessions. We’ll suddenly get a surge of ideas!” 

Sparking creativity

Coming up with new and exciting ideas in a remote environment may sound challenging, but on the flip side, working at home means you can manage your schedule more effectively. You can increase your time to ideate, think, and be more creative. 

Being more thoughtful about how you break down what other industries are doing, seeing everyday activities and tools in a new light, and discovering their connections to other ideas are all ways to support your creativity. 

Feeling inspired? Learn more about SparkLabs

Claire Tak is Marketing Manager, Content at AppLovin.