That Dirty Word — “Creative”

Posted: by Speider Schneider in Labels: , ,

I needed my appendix removed so while being wheeled into surgery, I told the doctor I only budgeted $200 for the operation but if I liked his work, I had other organs he could remove down the line at a higher fee. I asked if he wouldn’t mind if I had a few people look over his work and make some suggestions on how he performed the operation. One of them was my 10 year-old son because he was a whiz at the game “Operation.” When I came to, I was in the gutter wearing nothing but a hospital gown and my appendix still rupturing.
I see nothing wrong with what I said as my work as a designer seems to be open to such negotiations and “design by committee.” Clients almost always have a child who does creative finger painting and therefore are used as barometers of good design. A recent client, while sitting at a bar had my logo design redrawn by an alcoholic college student on a cocktail napkin and he showed me it in a fit of inebriated excitement. After an hour of my showing him why pencil sketches wouldn’t translate to size, color and readability, he still didn’t understand why the drunken scrawls wouldn’t work.

People never really question the work or bills of Doctors, lawyers and plumbers. They do their job and people accept the work because they are trusted professionals -- and they themselves can't perform the work. So why do people think creatives are easily replaced, functional morons? Although I have a diploma from one of the most respected art schools in the world and a client list of the Fortune 100, some people still seem to think I need help doing my job.

Having put the question of design by committee on LinkedIn, most creatives joined in to complain about the lack of trust they receive in a professional setting. The “design by committee” is not a helping hand but a slap in the face that daily sends a message to the entire staff that a creative is incompetent in their ability to do the job for which they were hired. If a creative, however, joins in with suggestions for marketing, writing or sales for the “team vision,” they are “out of their league” or “stepping on toes.”

On the other side, the non-creatives had a different view. As one “suit,” as he referred to himself put it, “I have to have the confidence that the design solution is meeting the needs of the client and is achieving strategic/tactical goals. Because of that, if there are elements of your design that I'm uncomfortable with, I will call them out, and in some cases, will nix them. Similarly for the client; they have to be comfortable about how their own brand is being presented, how their market will react, even how their own staff will react.”

“How their market will react.” That should be the only concern. Can all of these people be appeased and still have the graphic message work? Should they be appeased or should the suit sell the design, writing and images as the proper method for the best communications to the consumer? Can a proper message work with the “suit” being the one taste censor not schooled in how colors make people react emotionally or how size relationships push the eye around the page but instead playing to individual egos? With this in play, is it any wonder consumers label most commercials and ads as “lame?” Third rate is the new first rate. Expectations have been lowered but increased ROI is still the number one concern.

I blame the home computer and the average person convincing themselves that design is easy because they can create a child’s party invitation using clip art and Brush Script (all upper case) in MS Word. The current economic downturn just might signal that it is not the case and calls for innovation in a company’s products and client/consumer retention and outreach should spell out that creatives hold the key to the thinking that will open a world of possibilities.

Those who managed to put forth creative innovation always did the breakthrough work in the creative field. The risk-takers. The mavericks. The people who sought to be different and distinguish their work from the crowd of copycats, and those who dumbed down innovation. Too many cooks creating a thin broth – pleasing all, and none.

People often ask me, in light of my work for well-known brands, how I get my ideas. “I’m creative,” I reply.

They stand there with a blank look because the word means nothing to them. It’s not tangible. It’s like breathing – we all do it naturally. Perhaps I should just announce that my two small children will be joining my studio because they are creative, as seen in their art class drawings and they will be art directing my client’s big budget branding projects. I wonder if it will be met with a satisfied smile of relief or that same blank look when I tell them to trust me because I’m creative?

Published 4.12.10 - Processed Identity

©Speider Schneider