The recent New York Times article Charting Creativity: Signposts of a Hazy Territory, explores how scientists are trying to track creativity in the human brain. In the article, Rex Jung says “Creativity is kind of like pornography — you know it when you see it,” I liked that statement but wonder if it really is that simple in the real world. I believe the definition of what constitutes creativity, like pornography, is determined by the individual exposed to it. It seems as graphic designers, the way we promote and define creativity to our clients has changed.
A recent post by Isabelle Swiderski on the Seven25 blog Design Influence spoke about designers courting the mystery of creativity:
“We’ve been hell-bent on convincing everyone that we’re not ‘creative’ in the pejorative sense of the word. We are creatives who get business. We are business people with a creative streak and a solid process. This may be true to a certain extent but it has resulted in design thinking being understood as a formula, a series of tried-and-tested steps that can only yield the right results and in the end perhaps don’t require the contributions of a ‘creative’ person at all.”
Scientists are debating just what is creativity, with some feeling that the common definition — the ability to combine novelty and usefulness in a particular social context, is no longer applicable. John Kounios, a psychologist at Drexel University believes “creativity is a complex concept; it’s not a single thing”.
How our clients perceive creativity and its role in graphic design is also a complex concept. Any example of graphic design will elicit mixed judgments over just how creative the work is. It is also difficult for me as a designer to separate the different aspects of a design process — to segregate the portions that are creative. In my mind, the entire process is a creative one. But I have, like many designers, turned my back on discussing and selling the magic inherent in this process.
Has talking about creativity in graphic design become like discussing pornography? Have we become conditioned to only talk about creativity in rare instances and not every time we meet with our clients?
Steve Zelle is a logo designer and consultant with over twenty years’ experience working with clients. Based in Ottawa, Canada, he operates as idApostle and is the founder of Processed Identity. You can reach him through his website or on Twitter.