ChameleonCreativity is communication. Plain and simple. From the time cavemen painted on cave walls humans have been communicating to each other through the things we create. Try creating something without desiring a response and see what I mean. Better yet, create without the desired response and consider it even more.

Today’s graphic designers and art directors are faced with understanding how to communicate creatively in a world that has evolved through technology – allowing for cross-culture messaging in an array of new media vehicles. If there ever was a time to break down the walls of stereotyping, prejudices and empathetic sincerity it is now. Recently, AIGA and Adobe partnered to define the designer of tomorrow, specifically within the next two years. Their findings, through several years of research, are six major trends that will shape the designers of tomorrow. Basically, the development of visual, verbal and visceral communication is much deeper than mere design.

As an educator to college design students, the biggest challenge I face is convincing young creatives to abandon creative trends and develop a clear understanding of deeper communication strategies. “They must understand the social sciences and humanities in order to understand the content they are asked to communicate and they must understand how to work collaboratively with other knowledge and practice specialists.” – AIGA, Designer of 2015 Trends

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A chameleon blends in, finds safety in looking like its environment and doesn’t attract any attention. Finding the “unique” in design is nothing new. So slaying that Chameleon has been put to rest. However, in terms of today’s communication channels, jumping on the latest technologies designed for short attention spans and redundancy of content can be catastrophic to design without considering how to narrow your audience, design within a believable context, customize messaging that aligns with other social conversations and relying on engagement strategies based on cultural realities. In other words, media complacency has watered down creative executions and messaging into a pool of swirling color. Slaying that chameleon will take a deeper knowledge in design thinking than ever before.

Educators are speeding to offer the latest software and technology training without teaching the bigger understanding of how to use these new medias in a unique way. Just having an “app for that” is no longer the goal. Recommending creative solutions with these new resources, including possible considerations to product evolvement by designers, will be the key to success. Tackling creative issues within a bigger perspective outside the designer’s capabilities will now become their responsibility.

Just because a new technology is available to a designer’s creative strategic tool belt, doesn’t make it necessary. Discerning between what’s needed and what is not will be key. However, when it comes to today’s new design education practices, understanding the skills within these new capabilities will be imperative. For example: the creative development of print and e-medias will be essential to tomorrow’s designer. The creation of visual content is completely different with each user. Furthermore, adopting a “student mentality” will be the norm. Meaning, self-growth in continued education, wether on your own or within the confines of an educational institution, will be necessary to maintain continued success. In a recent article by Katia Colucci with The International Council of Communication Design, she states, “According to some experts the current half-life of personal knowledge is five years. In other words, in five years, half of our personal knowledge will be outdated. This means that to be competitive in future professional environments, we need to renew our knowledge by investing in continuous education.”

Slaying the creative chameleon has always been the challenge of graphic artists. Being unique and standing out from your surroundings is heresy to the existance of the chameleon. In contrast, it is essential to the survival of the designer. The term “cliche’ “ will now be applied to new technologies and how we use them to communicate in a transparent world.

To find out more about the future of graphic design, visit AIGA, AdobeThe Bureau of Labor Statistics or contact Bruce Stanley, Graphic Design Coordinator, Nossi College of Art.

I find it fascinating how many people who call themselves “creatives” spend a lot of effort defending their ownership of creativity and subsequently, their value within it. After spending two decades of creative education and professional experience from a BFA in Graphic Design to Designer, Art Director, Creative Director and Creative Educator, I’ve realized the approach of defending the subjectivity of the creative process and who has the rights to it is futile.

It seems that the evolution of creative ideation and collaboration has some running scared. The concept of joining forces with the consumer, client and the “suits” of an agency to develop strategies and medias designed to communicate in new ways is arguably the sign of the creative apocalypse. It also appears that the ability to conceive ideas and execute and evoke engaging conversations with consumers to uncover honest brands with believable products are only left for a gifted few.

Now, before I get shunned from the creative community, let me clarify. I’m not talking about the creative capabilities of talented artists trained and educated to execute and produce these ideas with the latest technologic tools of the trade – that can be victoriously argued. I’m simply suggesting that today it is time to evolve the belief that creativity, the use of imagination, isn’t for everyone. Creativity can be birthed from anywhere by anyone. I’m not saying that it will be, but that it CAN be – the idea that opportunities presented are possible.

To prove this is a global issue, about a month ago an article, who’s author will remain anonymous, was posted on an online creative professional community called Linkedin titled, “Should we have Creative Departments in the 21st century? Our Creative Director, would kill me if he read this, but surely the whole agency (including client and consumer) is creative now?” Started by a CEO of a London based ad agency. It’s also important to note that the Creative Director mentioned here is quite possibly the alter ego of the CEO and author of this article. After 203 comments, it was enough to warrant me writing this new post.

I think it’s worth sharing a few of those comments, who’s authors will also be anonymous, to frame the calamity that presents us. The conversations between these Creative Directors, CEOs, Writers, Designers, Account Execs and at times clients epitomizes the idea that ownership of creativity and it’s process is in fact coveted. First, a few who are really defensive:

“Asking a questions like that in this forum is really only going to start an argument in my opinion. Most creatives do so much more than generate just ‘ideas’ – the same ideas that you go on to take the plaudits for in meetings and in the end sell to clients to create revenue. Have a little more respect for others trades and skills and they might have a little more for yours.” –Anonymous Creative Director

Who says Client and Consumer are creative, the Client and Consumer? If Client and Consumer are creative why stop at the creative department lets just close the doors and all walk away! Advertising need not exist, your talking about an entirely new industry which basically sounds a bit like a dictatorship to me. Client “Lets make that logo even bigger now that we’ve increase the headline and body copy it’s getting a bit lost.” Mac Operator “Oh what a brilliant idea, how creative you are, lets not worry about your USP the logos much more important.” I’ve got a better idea, lets loose all the suits.” –Anonymous Creative Director

“The idea that “everyone is a creative” is just a further devaluation of what creatives do. There is a lot of that going on. Acct execs who are creative are a blessing. Acct execs who think they’re CREATIVES are not. I have respect for any and all co-workers who do their job, let me do mine and understand that we’re all pulling oars on the same galley.” Anonymous Art Director/Writer

“Funny how people always admire to be creative, I don’t blame them we are lucky! I would hate it if I was a suit man, and I would hate it more if I don’t create. After all what’s in and idea if it is not executed and polished by the creative people. Would you let anybody operate on you other than a professional Surgeon? Enough said, let’s all work together and be happy. Amen.”–Anonymous Creative Director

And now a few post from those who are trying to suggest a new perspective:

“Only if all other departments involving passion, study, and intensity continue to exist, then, for the sake of fairness if for no other, of course we should(get rid of the creative dept.). That’s the cool part! And everyone is certainly creative. That’s the coolest part!” Anonymous Designer/Illustrator

“The ability to work as a team and respect everyones ability to contribute within their area of expertise is the key answer to this question. At all levels, in all departments. Yes, lord knows even accountants can be “creative”. See it for what it is and let it breathe.”–Anonymous Creative Director

“Why do these barriers and pigeonholes exist? I’m CEO of our agency but i’ve always seen my role as listening out for the germ of an idea in everyday conversation, perhaps in a brainstorm, that can form the basis of a great campaign. Because these throwaway comments come from real people, if they’re used as the basis for a creative campaign, they’re much more likely to mean something to the people they’re aimed at, precisely because they’re from real experience and not an advertising cliche or formula thought up and developed in a room where an art director faces a copywriter. Ideas can come from anywhere and now can be spread by almost anything. We’re all creative and my advice is: use your ears. The answer you’re looking for is being spoken somewhere right now”–Anonymous CEO of ad agency and author of the original post

On a final note, I would like to include this comment:

“PS Crowd-sourcing is the lazy man’s/woman’s answer to creative development. As Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked Americans what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” – Anonymous President of an ad agency

This last statement I think is the most fearful of all. It also has some validity in claiming that fear. Crowdsourcing is a new term on an old idea…brainstorming. The only difference is that the later is more believably trustworthy. Why? Because it is consistently controlled more effectively based on years of an experienced process. The wrongful thinking that crowdsourcing can save time and money is also why it is a threat to creatives everywhere. On the contrary, this process can actually be done successfully. The trick is the answer to this entire blog post’s debate.

I agree that everyone has the potential to be creative. AND we should always allow for that creativity, especially when it comes to engagement and communication strategies with mobile, guerilla and social initiatives. However, not everyone that has a creative idea can make great decisions on what to do with them. Creative leaders bridge planning and strategy into creative executions with their teams. Experience pays off in this area.

What assets do designers and creative writers have that can benefit the agency? Adhering to the science of a creative process, understanding composition and design is a learned skill. Not to mention the countless hours of time spent using the tools of a creative artist/designer. If you aren’t confident with your value within the creative process, it might mean you need to focus on some personal growth and change that perspective.

It’s the idea that everyone has the “potential to be creative” is what we have to be open to. You never know where a great idea will be birthed. Claiming ownership to “creativity” in that sense is a missed opportunity. I admit, this takes a special environment free of egos and respect to the talents of everyone to do their specific jobs aligned with their skill-sets.

Today’s conversations about brands are bigger than ads and scripts. Embracing today’s social technology and the evolving contributing personalities that will develop and collaborate with trained creative professionals is the key to new generations of consumers who will embrace brands that are transparent and honest about their products and services. Am I suggesting an advertising and marketing utopia? Not really, it’s the way we should have been doing it all along. Is this kind of change to much to ask? Will our creative ownership continue to be threatened by change and new ideals and the need to control outcomes that were never meant to be controlled by anyone in the first place? Yes. This isn’t a new argument, but hopefully it is a new perspective.


Growth comes from sharing

November 11, 2010



Twice in one year I’ve camped out at Cadillac Ranch in downtown Nashville for two session presentations at PodCamp and BarCamp. These conferences are held in cities all over the nation and are coordinated and presented by locals covering trends in marketing and technology. Pod Camp was held back in July and more recently, BarCamp in October. You may remember an earlier post on crowdsourcing and how I was asked to be the Creative Director for 30 talented folks helping out a non-profit called YouthTurns. Well, Ian Rhett, from Civic Actions, presented the case study for the event at this year’s BarCamp and asked if I would join him in discussing our success.



It was a good turnout and as expected there were some questions as to how to successfully execute a crowdsourcing event, especially one lasting only 30 hours. Guests included a few of the 30 people who helped execute the function and in typical Ian Rhett fashion, he involved them in the conversation.

The best news came after the 30 minute session was over. Andy Dixon, the founder of YouthTurns, was approached by a representative for TED and asked if he would be interested in speaking at one of their conferences. I think that just put the icing on our case study.

You can read more about the crowdsourcing event in the Creative Director’s section of this website. It gives a complete breakdown of the hours and what the deliverables were – pretty powerful.

Oh, I have to note the brands that sponsored the BarCamp event, at least one of them anyway. Sprint did a good job engaging the attendees with a location van outside the event with product demos and giveaways. Here’s one such giveaway that I thought was pretty cool. A usb wristband – 1G even.


Who owns it?

February 6, 2010

Recently I was asked to speak at a DOT (Department of Transportation) national convention where I was to engage people during a 30 minute break-out session on the subject of Branding. I said, yes of course, it’s my favorite subject. What did I learn? People who are not exposed to the science of branding are like sponges if you “show” them how it works, and not just tell what they should be doing. These were all people within a certain industry that typically don’t use agencies and understand branding only as logos and signage.

My approach was to show them that THEY are consumers of their own products and services and to personify their brand as a real person. Because of this, they have to have the perspective of the consumers’ lens when they want to understand what others think of their brand. To this degree, they don’t own their brand. Understanding the insights from what people think can influence messaging that can lead to action.

We went to BrandTags.net and looked at brands and what consumers think of them. That was an eye opener – they started to see that branding isn’t  a logo, a sign on a building or a secret formula, instead it is a thought, a feeling or a understanding of a company through an emotional experience.

During the session I had them fill out part of a worksheet and then pass it to another person. This revealed how each of them were different yet all part of the insight to their brand. To again prove that they have to embrace the consumer’s perspective.

Finally, I wanted to reinforce that internal alignment is important to the success of the brand performance and longevity. Understanding good culture can build authenticity and believability into a brand’s unique qualities.