We should aim high for a ‘creative future’

What do we mean by “creative”? It’s not a new question, but it still needs addressing if we are to achieve much-vaunted “creative excellence” and show that good design really does make a difference.

Within design, creativity is generally judged by visual output. If your work is deemed good by your peers, you’re on the way to being a star. That is fine, and long may designers seek recognition through awards and the like. It helps to set standards, and a reputation for “creativity” helps a design group to pick up the best talent in a market where there are lots of people seeking work but real quality is rare. It might also impress clients, but what it doesn’t do is automatically win you work or make your consultancy a great business.

Some groups realise that true creativity goes way beyond the inspiration in the bath or long nights in the studio. Take The Partners, with its enviable record of winning awards. Over the past year or so, it has quietly been rethinking itself as a “creative” business, without losing the edge in its work that is now reportedly bringing in advertising commissions. Meanwhile, the likes of Wolff Olins and the newly named Enterprise IG, better known for the creativity of their strategic thinking, are seeking to boost the strength of their visual work.

It’s too early to measure their success, but there is a message. Though industry acclaim is key, creativity extends way beyond a Design Week Award or D&AD Silver.

But what does it really mean? Leeds group Elmwood last week made a bid to define it at a seminar it held in London, looking outside design to personal development guru Jack Black and lateral thinker Edward de Bono for help.

There wasn’t total consensus. Indeed, de Bono said creativity is too broad a term, and so, in his view, “a mess”. But there was a general feeling that it is about “stepping outside of the box”. The seminar title Advantivity – Elmwood’s word – suggests it gives a commercial edge. Not to be outdone, de Bono spoke disparagingly of “crazytivity”, describing style statements for their own sake. Moving through definitions to do purely with aesthetic or style, he plumped for a creativity that changes ideas and perceptions – a concept that sits most comfortably in design.

But the last word goes to Black – “the man who changed my life,” says Elmwood boss Jonathan Sands. As company hierarchies are turned on their heads and the customer becomes king, we still need goals. But Black dismisses “realistic” targets as “absolute crap”. Instead, he says, go for goals that are “almost impossible”. It works for world leaders like Nelson Mandela, why not for design groups?

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