Creative Legacy Part 2
November 30, 2017
In the previous article, I questioned the relationship between art, philosophy and opinions. But what about creative methods used? What's the work of a creative in this digital era?
Is there a creative method?
"The roots of good design lie in aesthetics: painting, drawing, and architecture, while those of business and market research are in demographics and statistics; aesthetics and business are traditionally incompatible disciplines".
This quotation, also from Paul Rand, dates back to an age where processes were strongly compartmentalised, (not necessarily by design). That traditional design paradigm was broken by the digital approach.
Whilst the first part of Rand’s quotation remains half true, we can no longer ignore the "incompatible" disciplines.
Today’s creative role is at the intersection of these disciplines. The creative’s core work can be found in their approach to the three pillars: interpretation, representation and expression. This is where the creative brings value to the client.
Take any digital project. Before being developed and transformed into ones and zeros by developers, it is often a concept that has been transformed into something which makes more sense than before, using an aesthetic approach that helps users understand, react and do something with it.
I'm really talking about how the interpretation of a concept is focused on some selecting certain elements and discarding others. This is clearly the rational argument, the critical approach that leads it and creates all the connections that make sense. The "why" question is obviously part of it. And believe it or not, this aspect has a lot to do with personal profiles than anything else. No method applies to that kind of interpretation, no clear rule or scientific mechanism, because most of the time it's led only by the creative point of view. Interpretation is the sum of all that.
Representation is the next step, and is closer to the tangible output the client is expecting. It answers questions such as: How would we, as a collective, represent the concept? How will we use the different media to create adequate visual artefacts? What would be the best approach to represent something that is the visible and visual representation of this interpretation?
Expression at the end, is not less important, but qualifies 'only' the output. I mention 'only' because this is probably the most questionable part. This is where notions such as taste, beauty, value, and pleasure come in to play. What will bring pleasure to the audience, what would delight them? What will create the element of surprise, the right dialogue, the right compromise between the brand's product and its audience.
Are creatives following some kind of process?
Now with agile methodologies and Lean UX, the creative work approach has changed. Agile is technology driven and it's great to optimise delivery but not necessarily great unless creatives can provide some balance. Using scrum methods, the creative work has been split and the creative tasks segmented into easily listed chunks. In order to add value, creatives need to extend their reach from one side to the other side of the project. Having a diluted role in the process makes it more complex and more difficult but also changes the balance of the work. They are more collaborative, and they are able to experiment.
One side of it still needs to work on concepts, hopefully early in the project, where they can lead and add a creative led value. The other side is present all the way during execution and matches the pace set by the development team.
By doing so we avoid those big funnels we’ve all experienced at some point when the design was not ready when designers were almost working in a black box.
Agile methods give creatives the ability to do their job differently, more cheaply and closer to what is expected in less time. Agile gives the creatives more freedom than when they had to adhere to the waterfall process. But this comes at a cost. Creatives often do not lead the project and the perfect balance between concept and execution has still to be found.
The trendy approach for the past few years has been Lean. Supporters agree that it works well and allows the rapid design of a project and the involvement of all the people in relation to the project. Not only creatives but also users and developers, UXers and product owners. We cannot ignore the success of the Lean method, but it’s harder for creatives to exist now than ever before.
The Lean approach is “to set aside the traditional model – where a product is launched fully functional, backed by extensive market research – and adopt principles from lean manufacturing and agile software development" (Quotes from "Think with Google"). In other words, this is what has been called "Agile Creativity", a new role for creatives, and a new approach of their work. "Agile creativity is like improvisational theatre. Everyone needs to work together throughout – copywriters, art directors, brand planners, technologists, and developers." This gives creatives the unique opportunity to be messy and to avoid putting up barriers. Moving away from the conventional creative approach means creatives today are free to explore, experience, test or hack all they want.
Yet, even the method dusts the old fashioned way of developing a project, a more creative led approach is still needed. But despite some criticism, the Lean approach is the closest thing to better engagement between creatives and other areas involved in the project. It creates a playground with lots of possibilities, and cannot be left aside or influenced too much by UX, Tech or Data.
The good, the bad, and the ugly (truth)
It's often thought that (good) creatives can come up with an idea at the snap of a finger, but you might as well say that creatives are magicians with wands... To the contrary, most of the time this finger snap is the result of a long period of thinking and hard work. Yes, lots of work. For a long period of time you may see creatives doing "nothing": sometimes sketching or browsing lamely on an internet browser.
Whatever they do, it seems often completely unrelated to the task they're supposed to have. But they are not. Thinking as a digital creative means you have to link a lot of concepts together; create a relationship between audiences and products, traditional channels or digital ones, using as many artefacts to interpret needs, blockers or triggers to come up with the right concept.
Sometimes this is all "floating in the air", made of elements correlated to each other to form something. If I have to use a metaphor I would think about a cartridge pen. A creative is like a cartridge, who is filling his container with ideas coming from everywhere in direct or indirect relation to the subject at hand. But all of this only makes sense when the tip of the pen reaches the paper and starts to write the words.
Today's Digital Creatives are not the same kind of people they used to be. Former creatives were likely taught traditional advertising, visual design, typography, architecture... They weren’t exposed to digital during their training, it wasn’t a thing back then. They were willing to accomplish creative work focused on research of the aesthetic and more recently have chosen to focus on digital to be able to express themselves.
They are not artists, they have no method, although they use some mechanisms sometimes to trigger ideas. The digital creative sets their mind to answer questions, to serve a user, empower a brand for a purpose and to learn over time to partner with tech and data. They are always seeking to accomplish something that makes sense and the result of their interpretation is, they hope, something aesthetic.
Long live the digital world for the creatives.