Apparently I’m ‘A Creative’

Having recently attended the Cheltenham Design Festival (and written about it), it made me start to question the terminology by which we are being labelled – as designers. It is not the fault of the CDF per se – more something that was brought into sharp focus with endless references to the term ‘creative’ by those both attending as the audience and those taking to the stage as speakers.

I’m not talking about the ADJECTIVE or the VERB. I’m referring to the NOUN.

Apparently, sometime in the last few years, I have – unbeknownst to me – become ‘A CREATIVE’. Whilst I understand the context of this term, it has recently become the de-facto terminology for anyone that wields a pencil or has a vague working knowledge of Adobe Creative Suite.

From what I understand, and casting my mind back to earlier stages in my career, it is the terminology of ad agencies of old…and the BIG ones with flashy atriums, multiple reception desks and foyer waterfalls. I say ‘old’…anything older than 12-15 years I guess. It was the term used to describe the room full of bespectacled, satchel wearing pencil wielders who ‘did stuff on a Mac, that wasn’t artworking’ by those who were ‘account handlers’ or ‘client liaison managers’. In white-walled meetings with clients all over the globe, such account handlers would say things like “We’ll have ‘our creatives’ look at that” as though it were akin to throwing a hunk of prime goat carcass into a cage filled with meat deprived lionesses. Feed the brief (suitably morphed and mutated through countless middle management iterations) to the ‘creatives’ who would press their magic Mac buttons and shit would happen. It was a way of defining the people that did that specific part of the advertising/branding process and added a certain chutzpah to the ad-agency formula. By keeping the ‘creatives’ at arms length and away from the client (other than possibly a chance presentation at some stage once they had been de-flea-ed of course), it kept the magic of the process invisible and intangible. I can understand that logic within that world and it worked well. Bravo to them.

However, this moniker seems to have oozed through the very floorboards and latched itself – limpet-like – to every single, breathing person that claims to have a vaguely non-linear thought. I like to think of myself as creative. Similarly I like to think I am logical, pragmatic, flexible, visionary (OK…I’ll admit…slightly tenuous), knowledgeable and approachable. I am a fully formed combination of all of these aspects.

In fact, I am a f**king product DESIGNER. Yes….DESIGNER. Not simply a ‘creative’.

I am trained to understand multiple facets of the product development process and my brain contains more than simply fuzzy creative thoughts that ‘suits’ couldn’t possibly understand. I have a Bachelor of Science degree. I know how shit works AND I can draw funky shapes on a marker pad (as my kids so eloquently put it…”Daddy colours in for a living.”) I apologise for getting slightly irate at this – I simply get frustrated by this constant need to badge a singular skill and delineate it for the sake of simplicity. If I am a so-called ‘creative’, am I also allowed to define myself by other such adjectives? Maybe as ‘an inspiring’? “Yes…we have a studio full of inspirings to work on your project Mr. Client…don’t you worry about a thing!

In truth, and being slightly less dramatic, I can understand how it has come about. The design industry has (in times past) always struggled to visibly and confidently place itself as an equally viable business entity within the business community, always being seen as somewhat fluffy and superfluous, in comparison to the ever-present marketing, accounting and sales. The industry has made great strides in recent times and design has almost shot past itself (like an Angry Birds catapult) in attempting to gain credibility. I guess the rise in kickstarter campaigns and entrepreneurial startups has given rise to people badging themselves as ‘creatives’ in an attempt to put distance between them and the establishment – almost as a PR exercise – and to sound more enticing to the journalists looking for ‘maverick’ stories. It’s now ‘cool’ to be a creative business person. However, we seem to have gone from a time when no-one understood what ‘designers’ did, to a time when people started to ‘get it’ (thanks to Sir Ive) and now we’ve almost ubiquitised the term to a point where it means nothing and everything to everyone. If I refer to myself as a creative now, I feel like I’ve been farmed, like Neo in The Matrix.

I decided to be a product designer because it was a truly cross-disciplinary profession where I got to satisfy my creative urges, draw stuff, make stuff, solve stuff, and see stuff through to its fully formed conclusion. I was inspired by artists and engineers, architects and businessmen, sculptors and craftsmen. As we refer to ourselves in the blurb on our website “We are a strange combination of visionary, artist, engineer, marketeer and accountant”. It’s why it’s often so difficult for people to understand what we do – as it is simply too wide a skills spectrum to easily comprehend – in comparison to the straightforward and established profession definitions we have grown up understanding.

We may well BE creative, but I am not simply A creative. I know it might seem like I’m splitting hairs here, but I’m very proud of what we do and the skills that our profession require and to have us ‘badged’ in such a simplistic way just riles my shackles….or something like that.

Right. Spleen vented. Relax.

author : Russell Beard  |  Founder

3 thoughts on “Apparently I’m ‘A Creative’

  1. In product design it seems that those designers whose primary focus is styling and appearance tend to be labelled as ‘a Creative’. What frustrates me is that by defining one group of people as ‘Creatives’ we imply that others are not creative or even capable of being. Creative thinking is not discipline specific. Some of the most impressive creativity I’ve seen in recent months has actually come from mechanical and electronics engineers (people who I guess would typically be regarded as implementers rather than creators).

  2. Completely agree Phil. Creativity is a skill, regardless of your discipline or vocation. You are either creative or not in the way you apply it.

  3. Lovely piece. And what a rant! I have always been proud to aspire to being A Creative, in contrast to your insights here. Possibly because the difficult prospect of marrying practicality, responsibility, and building materials to creativity – after qualifying to RIBA Part II architect – had me running a mile… Have spent most of my adult life trying to shed the boring straight jacket of needing to know about manufacturers’ specs, building regs, and how real walls floors and roofs come together; in order to re-connect with the arty, drawing, free, ‘communicative’ side of what attracted me to all this in the first place. That inquisitive eighteen-year-old who discovered the world of grown-up Art at school through the wonders of batik, collage, models, and taming of other weird and wild materials.

    All the more respect to you for sticking with it in the face of a tidal wave of all-and-sundry creatives threatening to take over rational thought.

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