What’s in a Name?
If you’re reading this article then there’s a high chance you work within the creative industry… Congratulations, a lifetime of poverty is yours!
Sorry, think of that last remark as a designer’s take on gallows humor. You won’t be poor, just ‘perpetually underfunded’, boom boom.
No, the reason I bring up the subject of profession is to briefly examine what I think is an emerging debate within the creative industry: the thorny issue of job-description.
I want you to pause for a moment and picture this familiar situation: you’re at a party, glass in-hand, when someone drops that perennial ice-breaker — ‘so, what do you do?’
Think of your response: what is your job title; your lively hood; your passion?
Now, I’m guessing the majority of you would respond with something like ‘a Designer’ or maybe something exotic like ‘an Art Director’ — but I ask you: do these singular terms really describe what you actually do?
If your answer was ‘yes’, then I congratulate you. To have such a firm understanding of what you do, and how to apply it with such brevity is a fantastic skill. With this kind of focus, the chances of becoming a revered and eminent authority on your chosen craft is a distinct possibilty.
However, for those who stumbled at my question, even for a moment, I suspect you dislike being cornered creatively. My guess is that you freely and frequently move between multiple disciplines, whilst paradoxically maintaining a traditional, singular job title.
No one needs to be told that the creative industry is changing fast. With the internet’s democratization of creativity, and the prevalence of easily attainable software, we’re seeing the boundaries of our creative disciplines blur.
For the first time we’re seeing each successive generation of the creative industry more versatile than the last. Throw a stone in any city’s creative quarter and you’ll hit someone who could not only DJ at a bar mitzvah, but design the invitations and direct the psychedelic after-party visuals as well.
This is incredibly at odds with the status quo: where creative studios and individuals are expected to labour under a specific title or reputation.
‘So what?’ I hear you ask. Well, whilst on the surface this problem seems rather trivial, I think it hints at a much larger problem concerning the creative industry’s marketability — as unlike the creative businesses of yore, modern practitioners have the skills to address a creative brief in any way they choose. Whilst creative freedom has never been so broad, the processes behind this freedom has never been so hard to market.
I have a belief that each industry finds every other industry innately threatening. Think about it: every single industry is essentially a tribe, it has its leaders, its own lingo, and in many cases, its own geographical stomping ground. In fact, half the fun of seeing a client is to step into ‘their territory’.
We each exist within our own professional micro-culture — and I’m in no doubt that those outside the creative industry view us with the same mixture of suspicion and intrigue as we view them.
However, this tribal perception is also damaging for the business of creativity — as inter-industry suspicion makes the act of commissioning design extremely difficult. Many businesses sadly do not understand the creative process, and ultimately fail to grasp the mercurial craft that lies at the heart of every successful design.
Only a very few people within the creative industry have realised how to successfully remedy this. They have learned how to monetize design: to market the creative process using the language of business.
A studio or individual that describes itself as being ‘able to do anything’ is difficult to market to those who commission creative solutions. Multidisciplined studios and individuals are problematic for marketeers, who’s job it is to connect their firms to the creative talent. Day to day they look for quantifiable results: financial, behavioral, or otherwise — and this extends to creative commissioning. It’s far clearer (and easier) to hire a designer to design, an illustrator to illustrate and a director to direct. Present a studio or individual who offers these skills or more, and it leads to confusion.
We’re stuck with our specialised descriptors because our client’s dictate it.
However, there is one descriptor that could go some way to addressing this problem, but I’ve taken great pains to avoid using it in my argument since, shall we say, it’s quite a loaded term.
It’s the term ‘Creative’ — yes, that one with a capital letter.
As a descriptor to ease the commissioning of multidisciplinarians, it’s a pretty good catch-all term. A person who defines themselves as a Creative is unbound by expectations. Their response to a brief could as easily be a film as it could be an illustration. But many have a fundamental problem with this term. Yes, it’s light and unspecific, but it’s these qualities that have seen it become indistinguishable from a specific sector of the creative industry.
To call it a hijacking is a little too strong, but advertising has got the term Creative by the short-and-curlies. In fact, so strong is the word’s association, a Creative is now a fully realised pop-culture stereotype: a hot-desking, youtube-ing, Fitzrov-ing, stereotype.
In advertising Creatives are at the business end of ideas, it’s their job to pluck the next big idea from the ether, and I presume it’s the absence of a tangible craft that’s seen this term so widely adopted.
I also suspect Creative is a term used by the advertising industry to cover their staff — after all, to some of the public, advertising is a threatening profession.
‘Advertisers’ are there to sell you something, where as ‘Creatives’ are softer types. Their concern is about the idea, they’re not there to sell but to create a mythology around their product. If you happen to buy the product because of this, then good for you.
However, any studio that presents itself as a Creative studio, a collective that can do whatever a client wants, is too unspecific, too woolly for the people who commission creative work.
Many studios who have taken this approach have only managed to stay in business by systematically breaking up their output in favour of presenting their portfolio piecemeal to clients — addressing the problem at the expense of being further labeled as a studio of a particular discipline.
‘Graphic Design’ is a loaded term. It’s synonymous with print, with signage, with ‘surface’, but it totally fails to embrace new forms of expression bought by new technology. The same can be said for other singular descriptors.
In the future, I’d like to be able to refer to ‘Creative studios’ and know that clients will understand these types of studios are capable of any creative response. Design, in all its forms, cannot be wedded to a single discipline (after all, ‘form must follow function’) — and I believe the term Creative could well remedy this.
With this situation as the status quo, I’d personally like to see the term Creative embraced to describe those agencies and individuals who are capable at turning their hand to any creative solution. With time and rigorous adoption this terminology would become as clear to those commissioning design as the usual, singular, descriptors. Creative would become a descriptor to represent a studio or individual unbound by discipline, focused instead on free creative responses — whatever these turn out to be.