How to Make *#$%* Mistakes on Purpose!

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Have trouble being creative under the gun? This workshop helps foster inspiration by teaching designers how to make mistakes on purpose.


“Here’s what to do when it’s too late to go walking in the woods, get burrs stuck in your pants and invent Velcro all over again.”

So explained Laurie Rosenwald last Thursday evening at her “Mistakes on Purpose” workshop, a sold-out event that’s been given at conferences, schools, colleges and corporations (Starbucks, Google) around the world. And now it was happening at the New York Art Directors’ Club. The 65 participants included, in addition to art directors and graphic designers, a teacher, a photographer, an interior designer, and account people and copywriters.

“If the inventor of Velcro had sat down and tried to ‘be creative,’ it would never have happened,” Rosenwald said. “It was the result of a random event.”

“Newness and freshness come from mistakes. From out of the blue.”

Rosenwald was there to get everyone away from their usual M.O. And, apparently, the agencies were eager to send them. “Why are you here?” I asked several participants. “My boss sent me.” “My group head.” “The creative director…”

“It’s great to have the opportunity to get loose, to think less, to make more,” commented Lorin Brown, a 2011 CalArts graduate who works on the ESPN account at Wieden+Kennedy. He happily donned a garbage bag and followed Rosenwald’s instructions:

“Don’t try to be good. Just be bad.”


Rosenwald, above, is an illustrator, designer, painter and potty-mouthed performer who divides her time between Gothenburg, Sweden, and New York City. Her collage-style work combines hand-drawn sketches, torn paper, photographs and typography for A-list clients including Target Corporation, Ikea, Bloomingdale’s, The New Yorker and New York Magazine.

I, personally, am a big fan. How does she do it? She offered the following explanation:

FINAL_canary sequence

“Don’t think too much. Just f***ing create.”

She gave us, like, 10 seconds to come up with each idea.

“No problem-solving, no critiques, no way to fail.”

Music played. There was an open bar with a hunky bartender who looked like young Chris Noth in his “Law and Order” days. Trays of hors d’oeuvres. Dancing. I mean, what else could you ask for on a January weeknight?

“Use your hands.” “Make something real and different.”

“Are you having fun?” I asked Flash Rosenberg, a performance artist and longtime artist-in-residence at the New York Public Library. “I have fun anyway,” she said, bringing her statement jewelry to the outside of her garbage bag and styling the sash she’d fashioned from extra black plastic. “This is right in sync with the kind of fun I like to have.”


“I’m finding myself in a new way,” commented Carl Marker, who described himself as “an A.D. on the TV side” at Meredith Publishing. “Here with all the New York art directors, looking at their work, I’m not so bad. I’ve got some style.”

Karolina Pietrynczak, a designer at Anna Demchick Design, was happy to be working with “no strategy.” She said, “I like the mystery. No worries about what the goal is. Just be free.”

“Okay, art directors, now do a whole alphabet, every letter in a different style.”

Going through this exercise, Rosenwald explained, you learn that you actually can create quickly, that you’ll never have to be stuck with your own perceived lack of ideas.


“Create something that changes over time.”

In an homage to advertising, I created a hamburger constructing itself—two all-beef patties, lettuce, pickles, special sauce, sesame-seed bun—then getting consumed until only a few crumbs remained. It was a tasty piece of work! I realized that doing this, like making music and almost everything else, gets much better with practice. And how important it is, as a designer, to really notice the shapes of things, the details, in order to be able to communicate with efficiency.

Rosenwald Slides

Rosenwald closed with a slide show of her award-winning (Type Directors Club, Art Directors Club, American Illustration, Print Magazine, Communication Arts, AIGA) work, including billboards in Times Square for Target, Ikea promotions, and the cover of one of her three books, “All the Wrong People Have Self-Esteem.”


Would I take the workshop again? You bet. In the meantime, I’m awaiting the next step, the “secret” instructions that will be e-mailed to participants…

And I predict that this coming season, loosening up will be in. We’ll have to check out the next Art Directors’ Club Annual to be sure.

For even more outside-the-box inspiration, check out D30: Exercises for Designers.