Wider background mix could raise creativity

Why is it that so many clients apparently have the view that it’s ad creatives and not designers who have the vision that commands the cash? There must be more than tradition behind the willingness for senior board executives to get involved in commissioning an ad campaign, while the same company’s branding consultancy so often has to settle for a junior brand manager. And it can’t be just habit that yields ad budgets of a level about which designers can only dream.

It isn’t that design groups lack intellect. Indeed, many of design’s latterday strategic thinkers are sharper by far than the average ad industry player, rivalling management consultants in their depth and putting a spin on it in terms of wit and visual communication.The trouble is that such talents are thin on the ground.

You could argue that the industry’s greatest creative strength currently lies not so much with its designers as with other consultancy staff – the ex-City types, MBAs and suited emigrés from the advertising camp. These people often make waves in the way things are done, while all but the best creative directors are content to run a studio bent on implementing the client’s brief rather than originating ideas that make a real difference.

At the risk of being shot down in flames, I’d venture that one of the big differences between ad creatives and designers is their background. While more fine art graduates appear to be drawn to the broader canvass of advertising, designers are already pigeon-holed into their chosen discipline at college – and that “discipline” can put on the blinkers from the start.

The theory bears up if you consider that many of the great talents like the Pentagram founders predated focused design degree courses and dabbled in mixed media at art school before launching on to the scene. It is also significant that visionaries such as Michael Wolff and Richard Seymour – trained respectively in architecture and graphics – have leapt the interdisciplinary fence.

Digital media is throwing up the opportunity for designers to break the mould. Few are trained specifically in the art and the nature of a medium which demands a blend of skills from sound and script-writing to graphics. The likes of Imagination have always had that blend, but a more open attitude to recruitment might benefit other groups too.

Creativity is the lifeblood of design, as much as it is of advertising. What designers have over ad creatives is that they’re relatively calm and more adaptable. A better mix of background in a design team might give an extra boost.

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