Artifacts: Proof of Progress

Don’t leave a creative session without your artifact!

Ideas are elusive, slippery things. Best to keep a pad of paper and a pencil at your bedside, so you can stab them during the night before they get away.

Earl Nightingale

The problem with creative thoughts is that they’re so elusive. They’re energizing and exciting—but they’re ephemeral. The next day…they’re gone. How can you capture them to build on that excitement? I’ve found it helpful to produce an artifact from every creative session.

Bring the Idea to Life

An artifact:

  • Captures the energy or essence of an idea
  • Embodies something abstract
  • Is tangible, memorable, and concrete
  • Is made as you work toward the big thing you want to make

An artifact could simply be writing down notes about what you want to create. It may also be something that crosses media. For example, you might capture a photograph that represents what you want to write about, or draw a diagram of how you want to structure a piece of music.

Artifacts can be anything that encapsulates your ideas, such as:

  • Notes
  • Outlines
  • Drafts
  • Drawings
  • Diagrams
  • Pictures
  • Collages
  • Photos of white board brainstorm sessions

Some ideas hit me when I least expect them. Here’s a photo I took on my way to a client meeting. It reminded me of how I wanted to treat the type on a website we were designing.


This artifact helped me visualize data as we designed a brochure. Having this diagram really jump-started our design session the following day.

Postmarks on the Creative Journey

  1. Jump-start the next creative session
    It’s sometimes difficult to gain momentum at the start of a creative session. Referencing an artifact helps you be more productive since you won’t have to spend time re-thinking where you left off. You can just quickly get back to work.
  2. Stay motivated
    You’re usually not going to finish a creative project in one sitting. So the goal of a session is not to finish the whole project but to make progress. Having physical evidence for each creative session can remind you of your progress and keep you motivated.
  3. Show and tell
    Artifacts facilitate discussion when you want to share your work-in-progress and get feedback.
  4. Commitment to the creative process
    Maybe you’ve moved your thought process along, but you don’t know how much progress you’re actually making. Often a creative spark will break through when you least expect it, so staying in the process is important. Artifacts demonstrate to yourself that you are not just spinning your wheels, you are staying committed to the creative process.

Creative Juices Flowing

  1. Keep them coming
    Create an artifact every time you work on a project. Or revise an artifact you created earlier.
  2. Keep them accessible
    Have the collection of artifacts on-hand whenever you’re working on a project. They’re part of the tools of the creative process, so bring them out. Seeing them can help you stay motivated.
  3. Keep them fun
    Make your artifacts interesting. Decorate them, pin them on your board, and play with them. They can spur on new ideas.

Artifact Your Way to the End

The next time you have a creative epiphany, capture those valuable insights with something you can “show-and-tell.” By the end of your project, you’ll not only have the finished product, but all the artifacts to show for your work along the way.

For more on showing your work in progress, see Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon. Here’s a bit that relates here:

“Become a documentarian of what you do. Start a work journal: Write your thoughts down in a notebook, or speak them into an audio recorder. Keep a scrapbook. Take a lot of photographs of your work at different stages in the process. Shoot a video of you working. This isn’t about making art, it’s about simply keeping track of what’s going on around you… Whether you share it or not, documenting and recording your process as you go along has its own rewards: You’ll start to see the work you’re doing more clearly and feel like you’re making progress. And when you’re ready to share, you’ll have a surplus of material to choose from.” (Chapter 2, pp. 42–43)

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