On Creativity
Issue № 254

On Creativity

If you’re a web designer, do you consider yourself to be “a creative”? When you describe your profession to others, or when you promote yourself or your agency, are references to creativity prominent in your words? If so, how do you characterize creativity’s role or significance in your work? How closely do your references to creativity conform to the popular understanding of creativity…and how much to its actual nature?

Article Continues Below

This last distinction is important because the popular conception of creativity and its relationship to design is often distorted. As designers, we are, rightly or not, widely perceived as custodians and professional exponents of creativity. Therefore, the ways in which we define, employ, and represent creativity matter.

In light of this professional responsibility, it’s best that designers recognize the difference between idealistic definitions of creativity and the practical, effective nature of the applied creativity professionals must exercise—and then behave accordingly. Individual designers may have differing ideas about these issues.  I believe that our ideas about creativity and how we employ it factor significantly in the quality of our design efforts and in our professional prospects, so I want to challenge your concept of creativity’s place in our work and professional communication.

So what is creativity?

Creativity is…#section2

…never having to say you’re sorry. Yes, just like love. In fact, like love, we must never judge or ridicule creativity. Creativity is precious; it is our birthright and a glowing light that resides within each one of us, making us special and unique…

Well, not really. These sorts of sentiments are fine for young children needing reassurance and encouragement, but as designers, our creative efforts are judged—and rightly so. While many commonly popular definitions of creativity amount to little more than references to self-expression or flamboyancy, we designers should not be so lax or obtuse in our concept of it. Much hinges on our use of creativity, including our clients’ fortunes.

Creativity has nothing at all to do with self-expression or flamboyancy. Aside from the simple ability to create things, the most important feature of creativity is a highly developed perception filter that is somewhat less common than we’re led to believe. Despite what we were taught in school, we don’t all possess significant creativity, and fewer of us still have any skill at employing it. True, anyone can make something, and anyone can make something up. In this mundane sense, everyone is creative. But this basic truth belies the design-relevant definition of creativity, and ignores the fact that each one of us has different creative abilities.

Creativity is technical and analytical, not expressive (as in self-expression). It is a filter through which perception and output pass, not a receptor or an infusion (as in the case of inspiration). Creativity may require or be enhanced by inspiration, but the two are distinct forces. (These facts are vital in discriminating between appropriate and inappropriate descriptions and applications of creativity.)

Creativity is an inborn capacity for thinking differently than most, seeing differently, and making connections and perceiving relationships others miss. But most importantly, it is the ability to then extrapolate contextually useful ways of employing that data: to create something that meets a specific challenge. By this definition, creativity is merely a tool; it does not convey skill. For a dedicated few, though, this inborn capacity is then further augmented by certain disciplines, including:

  • ongoing curiosity,
  • the desire and habit of looking more deeply into things than others care to,
  • the habit of comparing stimulus with result, and
  • a habit for qualitative discrimination.

It is primarily these disciplines that set top creative professionals apart from those who are merely gifted. It is also these disciplines that help shape a designer’s intuitive senses, which are vital to design craft, processes, and overall success. Being merely creatively gifted is no qualification for design expertise, and the idea that creativity is a magic bullet that anyone or any designer may employ to positive effect is a vacuous notion.

There is another factor that’s vital to the effective use of creativity in the design process: timing, or when in the design process creativity should be employed. The most effective use of creativity begins with a litany of very un-creative things called “facts”—the facts we get to know during the discovery process.

Careful where you point that thing#section3

The siren song of creativity is likely responsible for more bad design than any other factor. Some might think this overly dramatic, but I believe we should regard creativity as a rather dangerous tool. Like a firearm, it should be treated with caution and respect, and used professionally only by trained individuals.

If you are a designer worth your salt, you know that no design project begins with creativity. Instead, it begins with client- and/or context-specific discovery, and lots of research to help you understand the fundamental nature of the challenges at hand. All designers must guard against the urge to invest in specific creative ideas before becoming intimately familiar with the contextual landscape of a design project.

Sadly, creativity is often used as a crutch, or as a surrogate for design competence. Some individuals reveal themselves as clinging to this practice when they complain that some client work prevents them from “being creative.” What they mean here is that they dislike not being allowed to express themselves. But design competence has little to do with self-expression, and creativity is no substitute for knowledge or comprehensive understanding. Instead, design is most significantly founded on the comprehensive understanding and greatly developed empathetic/sympathetic sense that highly skilled and disciplined individuals bring to bear.

Design creativity often involves coming at a communication or interaction challenge sideways, or from another uncommon angle. In this way, you may find clever or otherwise compelling concepts upon which to base your solution. The thing is, you can never know what constitutes a sideways approach until you have fully explored and are intimately familiar with the entire landscape.

For instance, if your client is NASA and you’re asked to design a spacesuit that allows for a greater degree of physical movement and manual dexterity, you can’t leap straight into creative brainstorming and suggest a form-fitting spandex suit. That would be a creative response to the issue presented to you, but it would also reveal your ignorance of the overall context, e.g. the fact that space is a vacuum.

Creative mythconception#section4

Before we continue, I want to touch on a common misrepresentation of creativity. In discussions with other designers, occasionally one might hear arguments for how web design creativity is or can be stifled by various external forces, like web standards or client-mandated constraints. But these sentiments indicate a flawed concept of creativity, its place in design, and its purpose in our process.

Any reference to constraints that limit creativity is just another way of equating creativity with self-expression, an erroneous and irresponsible idea. Except for personal projects, self-expression has no place in design, but constraint is vital to design. No component fuels creativity more than constraint. Indeed, without constraint, creativity (and design) is irrelevant. The discovery process is mostly about finding constraints, which is why we must do such a thorough job of it.

Constraints are a designer’s best friend. They’re signposts, not shackles. In a sense, constraints amount to the solution half-built. It is merely up to us to then realize the other half according to what these signposts indicate is appropriate. Nowhere in this concept does self-expression find any valid foothold.

Our intuitive, subjective design senses are relevant to our work. Part of a designer’s job is to show people what they want before they know they want it, and our success in doing so is based largely on our intuitive abilities. But there is a difference between what we prefer and what we know will work best. Competence demands that we understand this difference and filter purely subjective data from sympathetic, fundamentals-based creative work.

Steering the conversation#section5

While my goal here has been to offer designers something to consider about their work and perhaps some challenging ideas to chew on, I have another purpose in all of this. At the start of this article, I asked how you conceive of and associate yourself with ideas of creativity, from a professional perspective. I noted that designers are generally considered to be the custodians of creativity in the professional world, but this distinction may soon come with a cost. So I want to describe a scenario I deem important to our profession, and perhaps to present you with another challenging idea.

If you read any of the prominent business magazines, like Forbes, Fast Company, Business Week, or Inc., you can find in every issue references to how creativity is vital to success. With the tangible benefits of great design being touted and trumpeted from every corner of the business world, companies aim to seize on what they believe to be the key factor in great design and innovation: creativity. What’s so appealing and what is apparently widely believed is that creativity is absolutely free and available to, and from, everyone on staff. Score!

Businesses are also beginning to look beyond their own sandboxes for the benefits of creativity. Many businesses are looking to customers to craft their marketing, believing that the vast pool of ordinary citizens is a valuable untapped creative resource. But when you recognize, as we do, that creativity is not a magic bullet, and that few individuals understand how to employ it effectively, you can sense trouble looming on the horizon.

The ideas circulating in business communities are misguided; the results of this sort of activity are usually wholly unproductive and inevitably lead to disillusionment. But that’s not all they’ll lead to. Another result of this failed effort is likely to be a vengeful backlash against “creativity.” This all-too-predictable pendulum swing will reflect poorly on design professions, which will be both unfortunate and unfair, given that creativity has so little to do with effective design.

Because of this impending trend in much of the business world’s perceptions and opinions of creativity, the design profession will increasingly be judged by how it represents creativity. Web design is one of the so-called creative professions, but that classification has potential to be an albatross around our collective neck, and I think it is a good idea for all of us to soberly consider how we represent value to our clients.

Think about it:

  • Are you most comfortable asking your clients to invest in your creativity or in your design competence? Or do you believe these two things to be synonymous?
  • If you are the client and you’re spending $450,000 or $45,000 or even $4,500 on design/marketing services, do you trust to design skill or creativity first?
  • When a client admonishes you with, “…now I don’t want you to get too creative on this one…” does it indicate that they’ve got a clear grasp of creativity’s place in design work?
  • Which quality is easiest to demonstrate to clients and potential clients: your creativity or your skill-based design competence?
  • Which quality do you think your clients can more easily grasp and perceive benefit from: your foundational design skills or your creativity?

All of these questions relate strongly to perception rather than substance, but we are in the business of crafting perception, and our substance depends on our clients’ and potential clients’ perceptions. It is our business to craft those perceptions about how creativity fits into our work—if we don’t, others will do it for us, and the result may not be to our liking.

About the Author

Andy Rutledge

Andy Rutledge is a principal at Unit Interactive in Plano, Texas. When not working, biking, or banging on the piano, he’s usually found ranting about design or professionalism on his personal site, Design View.

51 Reader Comments

  1. More amazing words from Master Rutledge. Thanks for continuing to share your knowledge, Andy.

    I like how you raise the commonly heard complaint, “I’m not allowed to be creative.” And then, by your comprehensive (and correct) definition, we actually hear these designers saying not only, “I’m not allowed to be self-expressive,” but also, “I am unable to create given these restraints.” Or even, “Sorry. I cannot do my job.”

    As a young, still very ignorant designer (and human being for that matter), it is a constant struggle to realize my value as a craftsman. However, your advice gifted to our community here and on Design View has always served as a competent, inspirational guide. Looking forward to your next piece.

  2. Having spent many years in pure development design and creativity was something I lacked. Reading this article hasn’t changed that, though with my current experiences I’m getting better.

    On a recent project I was struggling for a good logo and a good colour palette. I contacted numerous design agencies. the majority of these jumped straight to creativity, I even got mock-ups based on one meeting. these missed the mark.

    The reason they were ‘off’ was because I didn’t really know what I wanted. However, there was one agency that went through this process with me. They got to know the ‘landscape’ first and the results are great.

    This article has really opened my eyes to the process I should be looking for when contracting design work out. I would encourage anyone asking a design agency to do some work with them to ensure that the work is with and not just for them – expect a process like the one outlined in this article and expect good communication.

    The final design has to communicate so the design agency should too.

  3. Andy,

    Superb article, loved every word.

    I particularly like your point that creativity is over-valued. I often hear references to “the creative” — as if some raw creative expression (a Photoshop comp) needs to be transformed into a website. It strikes me that people who use this terminology have failed to grasp the basics of design under constraints, which you capture so eloquently.

  4. I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that the design process be clearly distinguished notions of pure creativity – but I am not sure the distinction is so clear when your web design services involve Art Direction or coming up with marketing concepts which communicate and idea rather than just painting a product.

    Confused? In Stephen Hay’s article on Art Direction for the web (http://www.alistapart.com/articles/artdirweb) he describes how, when working for a toothpaste client “Someone purely concerned with design might create a proposal which uses very nice type, blue as a background color because it’s “fresh,”? and some stock photos of generic mouth and teeth or laughing model families.”

    “An art director would perhaps come up with a concept which communicates the importance of the smile. What does a smile communicate? Power? Confidence? Happiness? Amusement? All of the above?” etc etc

    The point is that when generating ideas which communicate using theme, metaphor and symbolism the Art Director will use one or more ‘creative processes’. These – like design – are not something from within – it is a process – a method – albeit individual to each person.

    It is not about self-expression or flambouyancy – it is about exploration and idea generation. But at the heart of it lies the ‘creative idea’ (where the notion of ‘the creative’ arises), which is arrived at through the ‘creative process’.

    Is this at odds with what you are saying here? I don’t think so, as my notion of creative is very similar to your notion of design.

    Maybe we need to promote the idea of ‘creative’ being a process, which – unguided, could bear little fruit, but when guided by skilled hands can produce outstanding results.

  5. Anyway – the point being that it isn’t “craft” which defines good work, but “creative.” I think people often miss point of what exactly creative IS, but a meticulously crafted, perfectly kerned, ad that says “Sale Tuesday” isn’t as good as one with a creative angle. That space suit is cool and interesting not because it’s well made (it probably isn’t – I wouldn’t want to take it for a lunar test drive) but because it’s creative.

    What makes competent work is good craft – what makes _good_ work is good creative. Sure, it’s important to realize that creativity is not equal to expressionism or “weird” but I think that despite _Fast Company_ et al’s assertion that creative is “where it’s at” – too many business don’t see the difference between “bad creative” and “good creative.” They don’t see how “Salezilla Tuesday” isn’t _good_ even if it’s creative.

    Sure, anybody can be creative – but not everybody can be creative *well*. Anybody can however, be a _craftsman_. Thus, hundreds of places like (hopefully fictional website) CheapLogos4U.com churn out crummy logos which are perfectly well made, but lack the essential “spark” which makes competent design into _great_ design.

    Anyway – I don’t think we should be de-emphasizing creativity – but rather emphasizing that not all creative is created equal.

  6. The article was a great read from noting on design and self-expression. Though, the word “creative” seems to be defined as self-expression here. I believe creativity derives from “to think to create”. However, it is indeed commonly used as “I want to be creative” which should be “I want to express myself”.

    I have been through the process of Constraits and limitation. They were once shackles to me that hinder the process of creating. However, by reading this article, these shackles are now a airplane. The perception of the airplane would take me somewhere like paradise if I only knew how to get there. And if I didn’t… I am going to crash to hell.

    To get to paradise, I have to be more creative. I have to think outside of the sandbox. I have to climb over the wall, or dig under it.

    Anything than just self-shackling myself to the ground.

    Thanks for unshackling me.

  7. Great article.

    When client says ‘enough creativity’, what he means is that you are allowed to creative to the extent people like your work.

  8. As freelancers, consultants and agency employees, we have myriad opportunities to both involve and embrace the client’s impression of creativity. I sense the longing from clients to be part of the brainstorming and the creative process.

    Brainstorming with your clients allows for the most widely misused interpretation of the word “creativity” and allows the team to go off and execute with a real sense of purpose.

    Good business application of creativity, in my humble opinion, has much more to do with understanding the needs of the client and not so much the feel of the client.

  9. I like how the article talked about the web design process from and objective point of view which allows those overly emotional artists not to have any excuses for their designs. On a personal note: The article helped me to get past some of my personal judgments when designing new layouts. In todays world if you are going to be a web designer you must hop out of your creative box that the art schools taught you and start putting your left brain at work. If you still want to be the flamboyant creative artist then go paint.

  10. From my perspective the client always rules. It’s their business and their image. Creative, as Andy alludes to, means communicating the client’s message to the targeted customer as effectively and simply as possible. It’s that simple.

    Any designer that complains they can’t “express themselves” is missing the point. You are supposed to be “expressing” your client. In the end, we all measure the effectiveness of what we do by the sales we generate, the customers we convert, etc.

  11. i don’t mean to sound overly critical, but this article of huge walls of text would be more effective if it was summarized to a few key points. it suits a wine+cheese conversation piece than being posted as a ALA article. i was hoping for something more substantial. much of it is some what contrived philosophizing on what “creativity” is. which is a subjective matter.

    to me:

    * creativity is about problem solving (design skills, technical competence are merely apparatus)

    * if the client wants a purple text on red background no matter what, you do it. in the real world, it’s about revenue.

    sorry, this article doesn’t do it for me, neither does the other one in the issue.

  12. I cannot disagree with this article. As a designer, you are in the design business, BUSINESS. Clients are spending their time and money that you cannot just go and waste. However, I disagree with some of the comments above, that clients rule your work. Is it really ‘rule’? There could be constraints from your client but that could also be your challenge as a designer, no?
    Also “creativity is about problem solving” is a way of saying creativity is a small piece of the puzzle. If it was that easy, we wouldn’t have read this article.

    In thinking of Design as business, we must think about people/Users/customers/consumers who is behind our clients. So I don’t think client is 100% right as most of you know. You must be their end user as well, in which case you have to tell them what they need.

  13. Excellent article! I think there are many perceptions of “creativity” and this piece really clarifies the purpose of creativity in business. I greatly appreciate the point that creativity (at least in business) is not just about self expression, it’s about solving problems and making connections in new and different ways. It’s validating to designers who work not just to create something pretty, but to solve problems based on facts.

  14. Thought I’d point out one grammatical error:

    “While many _commonly popular_ definitions of creativity…”

  15. Nicely written article…and I urge all commentators to read the article atleast twice. I find most of the negative comments lack any substance really and at a second glance all arguements raised have been covered.

    Here is a practical and well grounded presentation that identifies the role of creativity in design Good work. Breaking it down, I think it presents us more questions than answers, which is good because I think it will make us search for the answers…answers that would invariably make us better at what we do.

  16. Good article – “creativity” in the context of design should refer to problem solving and synthesizing abilities, not self expression. The very use of the term “creative” as a noun to refer to someone in the design profession is just a stomach-turning marketing term used to sell products and services to said someone by making him or her feel “special” and “different.” Don’t be a sucker.

  17. You bring up a very frustrating but real point on how many executives view their creative team to be mere artists or photoshop gurus. In reality, design fundamentals are what drive good websites and web applications. These techniques are learned and help us build every aspect of our project, including layout, navigation, typography, color scheme, branding, and more. I have found that my clients are astonished when I explain to them all the technical reasons that went into the design process. They appreciate the project and value my work much more when they understand that each decision was made from a solid foundation and not from self expression as you pointed out. There is a sense of confidence in my decisions when I can explain to a client exactly why I did or did not do something. Nobody, I repeat nobody, likes to hear that you did something just because you felt like it. Thanks for the article!

  18. Creativity as defined very accuratly in this article not only applies to designers. But also to developers.

    The definition:
    * ongoing curiosity,
    * the desire and habit of looking more deeply into things than others care to,
    * the habit of comparing stimulus with result, and
    * a habit for qualitative discrimination.

    can be easily held up to _measure the ability of a developer to solve problems_, to _measure his creativity_.

    Being a developer *and* a designer I always am curious about everything related to my work I like to create clean correct _stuff_ that just plain works and that on the inside are as clean and simple (looking) as possible. That applies to the design (the stuff one sees) and to the code (the stuff you usually do not see).

    I enjoyed the article. Thank you!

  19. Parsing through the article I notice Andy described creativity as an “ability to see things differently and notice”, tell me if I’m wrong but isn’t this the way intelligence is (often) defined — as an ability to quickly notice patterns and relationships that other people cannot? Therefore, could one say that designers (probably) have a higher IQ or that the job requires it?

  20. 15 years experience of working with a number of people described (in differing degrees) as “creatives”, “designers”, “artworkers”, “techies” and weird hybrids thereof can confirm that creativity certainly does NOT equal intelligence.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean the two things are mutually exclusive. I have worked with highly intelligent creatives and those that need instructions to put their trousers on in the morning.

    I guess alot of it comes down to the definition of intelligence.

  21. Hi –

    I’m wondering why the author has been completely silent. Part of the beauty of this publication is the ability for the author to interact.

    Could we hear something from you, Andy? Great, thanks…

  22. One belief is that creative people excel in divergent thinking and that intelligent people excel in convergent thinking.

    If you are interested, other studies by Roe(1952),
    Mackinnon(1976), and Getzels/Jackson (1962)provide interesting insights about the relationship between creativity and intelligence.

  23. I would love to hear even more about taking constraints of the design process, specifically web design, and leveraging them as strengths.

    Print has its own unique processes, and trying to become a master (or at least a solid practitioner) of both print and interactive/web design is a difficult task that I find myself in.

  24. My concern is that Andy is so eager to separate wild crazy no-holdsp-barred creativity from design problem solving that he is discounting the absolute real value of the way “soft” fuzzy creative thinking works.

    The space suit example is a case in point: Someone above posted a link to an engineer/designer who is developing a form-fitting “spandex” space suit which directly compresses the skin instead of enveloping the body in a sack of compressed air. This design process began with exactly the kind of thinking Andy seeks to suppress: thinking of something that is absolutely WRONG in order to redefine the problem. In this case, the problem had always been defined as “how to create air pressure around a body”, instead of “how to pressurize the skin” or even “how to make a slimmer, nimbler, and sexier space suit”. By redefining the problem in terms that may run afoul of the current thinking, designers and engineers are able to then try to solve the new problem. Maybe there is no solution and they go back to the drawing board, but maybe, instead, a better solution will emerge.

    Similarly, a designer may get a kooky crazy idea to arbitrarily design his or her next web site upside down, or all in shades of yellow, or out of toothpicks, or whatever seems interesting and wacky to them. This inspiration may, further down the line, open up new possibilities in the design itself. Later, when the design’s practical requirements are revisited, as they should be, the toothpicks may be removed, but some of the ideas the toothpicks generated may remain.

    I am concerned with the seemingly perpetual desire on the part of many design writers, Andy especially, to try to suppress fuzzy thinking among designers. There are two problems: the lack of structured thinking among fuzzy-thinking designers (designers being too artsy) AND the lack of fuzzy-thinking among structured designers (designers being little more than engineers). And I think the latter problem is **by far** a greater problem than the former: our products generally work okay, they’re just boring and ugly and depressing to use.

    In short, we can introduce better structured thinking to designers without suppressing the fuzzy part. Great designers can do both. No need to knock one to build up the other.

  25. Trying to show a client how creative you are only makes me think of Carrot Top in a boardroom trying to make balloon out of bowling ball.

  26. I’m not sure Andy’s argument is totally correct here. I believe Creativity is just that, the act of creation, whatever scale it may be on. I believe what Andy outlines here in his article is really insight. I think the distinction is a small yet important one. Insight gives us a perception of something that penetrates the surface and this is a rare talent. I also believe that Andy is wrong in saying that these things are innate and can not be learned as I personally believe this to be a skill that can be worked at. This is not to say that many people do seem to have a natural aptitude for this.

  27. There is no one saying that you have to limit your creativity. This article merely points out that design is a process and a very complicated one at that. There are many things to consider and we should embrace that idea and try to get others to do the same. It is a shame if when people see websites or applications and think that we are only artists. There is so much more. Art and self expression are just pieces of the whole design experience and unfortunately the majority of people out there do not understand that. When the only thing someone can say to me after months of planning and work is, “yah it looks nice”, it is not very rewarding. Think about it.

  28. I have been involved in web dev (front end for DOM and DHTML mostly) for the last 2 years with a decade of experience in desktop publishing and ad design. This article outlines quite a bit of self realization over the years. Concise and well written. Good work.

  29. This article is superb and presents some of us in the field with a different perspective to contemplate. I wholeheartedly agree and appreciate that this article could be so widely spread via this website. Cheers!

  30. Over here in Germany I made the experience that money (cost) matters first… Creativity comes later.

    Of course – it always has to be “creativ”… but it should cost nothing.

    But: i am aware that there are also “agencies”, where creativity matters most. They get paid whatever wanted…

  31. For the last 2 years one of my key staff members has been after me to pretty much start my own school of design. I tell her no because after a decade or so of doing that we would produce the same limited view on designs as we are finding in our applicants now.

    This was an amazing article and creativity is so much of what you said but also so much more. To be truly creative you have to have an understanding of your audience, not just be a pixel pusher or design visionary. Creativity extends far beyond vision and reaches into the hearts and minds of your viewers. It is each and every “designers” job to take to heart who they are designing for and not just what they are designing.

  32. And I’d like to add another perspective of my own.

    I suppose creativity to be lacking, stifled in most if the task was to create another compelling “loop in the minds” comparing Coca-Cola over Pepsi, thinking the goal is to boast sales of one product over the other for the quarter. Gearing up and rallying you and your personnel for a project such as this is like everyone thinking of going out somewhere and getting drunk.

    A smidgen of creativity and design aptitude works best with a project that the mind can sink its teeth into, and take a bite out of, such as the GUI of the Macintosh computer, which gave the world Apple’s 1984 Superbowl thirty second presentation commercial.

    The lack of quality projects for a creative mind to engage in, eg. another Cola war, Drake’s Cakes and Pastries, new and improved soap products, etc., probably should’ve been considered if only to leave the reader of this tome with the impression that sometimes the goal and result of and for one’s creative expression is simply just a colossal bore.

    Andy articulates his thoughts well. I’m glad I read this.

  33. I never call myself “creative” and I kind of bristle at it. In the web world “designer” often == “interior decorator.” Ask a structural engineer who the “designer” on a project is and they’ll point to the firm’s principal i.e. the most-experienced, best-paid, smartest person in the room. NOT the fresh-out-of-college kid with an “awesome book.”

    I don’t even like to say “creative” in the sense that Rutledge is using i.e. “creative problem solving” or “creative constraint definition” even though these are probably my strengths.

    “Creative” is like “special” or “elegant” or “strategy.” A word everyone uses and no one knows the meaning of. If you’re using “creative” in a sentence prepare to be misunderstood.

    I especially hate “Creative” as a noun, e.g. “Paul will be your Creative on this project” or “did you bring the Creative [meaning comps] for the client meeting?” Ugh. I feel like there’s this brightly-colored room where the Creatives go to do remedial math while the smarter kids at the agency write strategy briefs or requirements docs.

  34. Great Article! It’s very interesting to read here how “creativity” is perceived in market. I too have heard the word used in many contexts by non creatives to mean, “make it look pretty” or “different” or “stand out.” (I think we all have been there)

    What I enjoyed here are the perceptions of creativity and design, that are seemingly non parallel. Especially as mentioned in web design, we often execute for purpose of the user, not self satisfaction. Funny, I actually consider myself not so much a creative professional, but rather a problem solver -using my “thinking” and applying technical capabilities like illustrating or photography to communicate ideas.

  35. To be honest I gave up on the looks and just focused on the search engine optimization part of web design because that is all anyone ever talks about when asking me to create websites for them now adays.

  36. To be honest I gave up on the looks and just focused on the search engine optimization part of web design because that is all anyone ever talks about when asking me to create websites for them now adays.

  37. Design is not a single phase as many might think if they look at traditional System Development Life Cycles (SDLC). Design actually has seven phases:

    1. REVISE – Concept Design
    2. RELATE – Context Design
    3. REPORT – Logic Design
    4. RECORD – Physics Design
    5. READY – Definition Design
    6. RENDER – Manipulation Design
    7. RESORT – Media Design

    Each step adds additional constraints to the design process.

    As well a system does not involve the design of a single facet but six:

    1. CAUSE – Why – goals and rules of the system
    2. OBSERVER – Who – people and roles of the system
    3. ENERGY – How – software and functions of the system
    4. MASS – What – inventory and data of the system
    5. SPACE – Where – hardware and locations of the system
    6. TIME – When – events and sequences of the system

    Each of the facets (columns) are designed according to each phase (row). Benefits are calculated down the columns and costs are calculated across the rows. This allows a cost benefit estimate and actual to be determined phase by phase.

    This methodology to be effective should be computer assisted from start to finish. This has not been realized. No language exists where seamless integration of all the phases and facets is achieved, modeling or otherwise.

    However, the room for creativity is enormous. Suddenly, all the participants regarded as designers have incentive to innovate and invent. Innovation being the storm of ideas and invention being the chosen idea for each facet of the phase.

    Yes, it is structured. Basically it is a periodic table of your system where you discover each element. However, considering the way we think and act non-linearly and organically we can cascade through this methodology both across the rows and down the columns many times, refining each time. The concept, context, logic, physics, definition, manipulation and media becoming clearer and sharper with each iteration.

    Every person is a designer. Its just a designer in what phase and what facet.

  38. Creativity is a fact of life. If you are creative you are noticed in a good way. You need to be creative in order to distinguish yourself from the others.

  39. Back in the early 90s, when I was teaching video production classes at the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale, one of my greatest challenges was convincing students of the value of using tripods for their cameras and 3-point lighting. This was the time when Steven Bochco’s “NYPD Blue” was bursting on the scene–the no-tripod, no stabilizer camerawork shot under natural lighting was the first primetime TV show to invoke anxiety for 60-full minutes. This was also the time that AT&T’s TV spots featured frenetically shot black-and-white footage of customers talking about their long-distance carrier experiences.

    Despite my efforts to convince students of the values of learning the rules of good video production, and then breaking those rules for maximum effect, they persisted in emulating their MTV influences. I tried, in vain, to help them understand that the real masters of art and creativity embrace the rules before rejecting them.

    The masters of the Impressionist Movement were masters because they studied the ‘rules’ of art for years before turning the art world on its head. The same is said for the French New Wave film movement of the 20th century.

    Rutledge’s article is a great reminder for all who claim to be creative designers–careful to not be an oxymoron.

  40. Creativity is in deed very important if you want to deliver good work to your customer. But it is only one piece in the whole puzzle. Laborious tasks are neccessary as well. And if you forget to do these things all your superb creative work won’t get the credit it deserves.

  41. I think quite a lot of the time complaint about the client is legitimate. If we all operated within the client’s expectations and left our self-expression and desire to experiment at the door every site on the web would have the same “semi-gloss colorful bubbles, drop shadows, gradients and reflections”:href=http://www.photoshopforfun.com/cor_template.htm most uncreative clients are absolutely convinced they have to have.

    I’m dealing with a client like that right now, who wants something “simple, classy and elegant”:http://alistapart.com that will appeal to her high-class customers, but thinks that equates to “shiny shiny shiny with an extra helping of kitsch”:http://www.yelp.com/ .

    Constraints on creativity are great, when they are in context of the needs of the customer, or a corporate identity. When they get in the way of delivering what the client wants because they’re focused on what he expects, they are a nightmare. That’s what I personally think designers complain about the most.

  42. I agree that what is being called “creativity” can zoom right into an “it must be different” without consideration of the medium, standards or, unfortunately, the client’s industry and needs. There’s a world of difference between designing a professional website for a client and something you might do for yourself. I think we owe it to clients to ensure that what we do for them is aimed squarely at achieving their goals.

    If you have to stop to explain issues to them, and you probably will because they’re not web designers, then so be it.

    Your own stuff? Geez, that can go fast and brilliant according to your own needs. 🙂

  43. In music and art as well as web design, I see too often that people who claim to be creative are avoiding being competent. I host an open mic and it is impossible to talk to many of the singer/songwriters about music because they don’t know enough about their craft to hold a discussion. They seem to feel if they are ‘creative’, that magic will happen and they will be appreciated. The ‘Creative’ word also too often means ‘look at me’ rather than at the good work they’ve done.

  44. I think the very best thing that’s ever happened for my “creativity” is working within the constraints of strict XHTML.

    I disagree with a lot of this article but a solid framework is essential to almost any work of art. I mean unless you’re intentionally making an artistic statement about chaos and entropy, or the transitory nature of things in general.

    There’s something aesthetically pleasing about a semantically sensible framework in and of itself, even if few will ever see it.

    Then the real magic happens when you take a client’s existing media and paint it on that framework, creating something new and different without actually creating anything new and different.

    Say, wouldn’t it be cool if you could make a screen reader “sing” a stylesheet?

  45. I once participated in a workshop led by Roger de Bruyn. He presented a model in which creativity is the coming together of craftsmanship, commitment to (solving) the problem, and imagination-flexibility1; as opposed to the more general use of the word creativity that focuses on only one of the three, imagination-flexibility. If you follow these lines, it is clear where most of the constraints originate: in the problem that you want to solve. And for the rest it depends on how good you really are: your own craftsmanship may be a serious constraint too. As De Bruijn says as a subtitle to “The proof of the pudding “¦”?: you always end up with design; and on creativity itself: “Be sparing with creativity, work on improving quality.”? When listening to De Bruijn and reading his texts, he confirms Ruthledge where it comes to creativity and constraints. Maybe it’s more appropriate to say that both agree with Goethe’s “In der beschränking zeigt sich erst der Meister,”? which can be given two distinct but connected meanings, one that being able to excel in spite of constraints, the other, off course, that less is more.

    1 I guess there is a better translation of “vakmanschap, probleembetrokkenheid en verbeeldingsflexibiliteit,”? but my knowledge of English is insufficient to come up with that.

  46. Andy-
    I truly feel sorry for you and your strange need to classify and further throw limitations upon yourself or other likeminded “individuals” (I almost said single minded but they are immune from such quackery thankfully)who have the misfortune of coming across your ideas about creativity. There I was snug within the confines of a gentle afternoon when I read your disturbing litany of excesses, sending a shiver through the very air I was breathing, with its vague attempts at shackling everything good and true to the imaginative spirit.Yes Andy, I said spirit, but I’m sure you have a quantitive approach to this subject as well.
    I am just an artist and have not the disposition (thank Zagreus!)necessary to disect the speculative notions and exact dimensions of creativity but partnering it as you have so neatly done within the institution of “Design” fits it to a T! I agree, that as a designer you do have to adhere to certain restrictions but that doesn’t mean you have to sever the arm because the eye is merely watering. Trust your instincts instead!If you poses any.
    Creativity IS like love, something that cannot be measured and more importantly why should it? Classifying every last belief, action, idea etc. only further diminishes the wonder and mystery that make those aspects of our world unique. Your distinction between “Applied creativity” and “idealistic definition” makes as much sense as the separation between sucking and fucking.
    Don’t spoil it for the rest of us, or future impressionable generations, who come across your solipsism and take it for truth. You employ your creativity and I’ll employ mine and in that way we’ll be able to effectively seperate creativity from the designer giving it back to free thinking where it belongs.

Got something to say?

We have turned off comments, but you can see what folks had to say before we did so.

More from ALA