Exercise your gift, stay sharp, and invent until the day you die
Creative professionals these days are blessed to wear many hats. Experience designer, creative director, brand strategist, brand manager, copywriter, web designer — where are the lines drawn? LinkedIn cares, but many doers have done all of these jobs, bundled into one incomplete title or another. That’s because when it comes to creativity the best of us jump in the boat, pick up an oar and row.
What we’re called is less important than what we create: A look, feel, intellect & spirit for what often started as somebody else’s dream. Not a problem — most commercial creatives don’t want to be famous. We aren’t actors with our names on the movie poster, or writers with our name on the cover, or painters with our name on the canvas. We just want to enjoy our work, make money for our benefactors, and hopefully make the world a more beautiful place.
That said, a different kind of ego powers us, one that gathers deep satisfaction from solving problems. For over a decade I’ve explored a broad range of commercially artistic projects, each problem unique and each solution (hopefully) more creative than the last.
It’s said 10,000 work hours makes an expert. After that, special happens: passion and expertise co-mingle to create amazing things. When we’ve reached this stage though, there’s a tendency to think we know the map. We start to think we see limits. That’s why it’s more important than ever to keep expanding your perception of what’s possible.
Businesses need professionals who invent, visualize, and produce in deeply creative cycles. Artificial Intelligence will eventually replace everyone else: the weakest of the pack. Don’t be weak. Exercise!
Design as a cultural anthropologist
If you’re a marketing professional, you’re empirically rigorous and theoretically sophisticated. You’re excited by changing linguistics. You’re fascinated by food culture. You follow economics, cultural analyses of value, debt, capitalism, and globalization. You’re a social animal, and you love to study folks in their natural environment. Make sure to get beyond your tribe though — can you design for moms as well as millennials?
Design as if you’re a high old hippie bridging the human/digital experience
If you’re in marketing, you’d better be keeping your client relevant. That means more than “digital first.” It means you have to innovate and you have to connect with customers. Not consumers; we’re talking about people. You have to take cold technology and communicate soulful charms that warm the soul.
Create as a writer, a painter, a set designer, an actor, a bartender (same thing?)
You get the idea; bending your talent into adjacent or closely related derivatives feeds your talent. Beyond that, try working within the constraints of various creative fields. How would a painter design a poster? How would a bartender improve a coaster? How would a dancer have done your commercial? If you gave a writer from the 1930's a flux capacitor, how would they design a website?
Constantly expand the reach of your talent
If you're a designer at through-and-through you should be able to confidently design anything, in any medium and on scalable platforms. If your platform is big, try going after an evasive demo, or working pro-bono for a charity or a friend. If you primarily serve independent clients, seek out some corporate work and discover your flexible side.
Master a complex skill that compliments your discipline
This is where by a power of ten (or something like that) you sharpen up. As a design generalist working in digital and frictionless experience design, I feel compelled everyday to take it further and design branded spaces. Observing and thinking about people interacting inside spaces I’ve created has enhanced my understanding of how we connect customers to brands, products, websites, SaaS & more.
It’s up to each of us to determine where we need exercise. It usually presents itself as something clients ask for that’s just out of our skill set. Like if you’ve been directing commercials for ten years and you’re overly reliant on your writers, enhance your wit with a few improv classes.
More and more marketing and graphic design professionals are crossing over into experiential environmental concepts
Clients who value fresh ideas pull creatives from beyond the echo chamber
As a personal example, our clients wanted to see just how attached to their brand customers could become. We were happy to do whatever it took to create lasting moments with their brands. Now, we know that part of the XD / Experience Design discipline improves the online experience; but the other side of the concept revolves around designing brand-supportive moments which integrate naturally into the ways we experience the world. And so, without much fuss, we just did what we do: we took it further. Well, okay. A lot further. Did it work? Sure it did. Let’s look at some social data.
Good designers guide brands through difficult problems using a combination of empathy & first principles. What’s really there? Not the paradigm, not the perception; what’s actually happening? What are we trying to accomplish? Are we addressing real problems? Make sure to identify not just what works visually, but what caused the problem in the first place. Once you’ve nailed that down, the rest is execution. The magic will flow.
When you exercise, your creative confidence grows. You don’t rush into asking clients or co-workers what they think, either so that we don’t have to think for ourselves, or to relieve ourselves of culpability for a bad idea, or to massage our need for affirmation (I’ve done so much work for you, look at all the options I’ve given you!) Instead, we ask ourselves these questions:
Does the work engage the human experience?
Is the storytelling alive?
Does it give the brand soul?
Marketing seeds with cold analytics and consumer insights, and succeeds by connecting us to the beauty of our shared humanity. It’s what makes it all so much fun; we’re just working hard, everyday, to be more human... and being human, feeling alive? It never gets old.