Has creativity lost its soul? An exploration of the culture of immediacy
I come from a long line of relatives that have worked either in graphics or the printing industry. One grandfather worked the newspaper presses in Edinburgh; the other was an illustrator for the Hotspur and Victory comics. My aunt and uncle met at Letraset and my dad ran a printing company in Kent.
My childhood was filled with Letraset rubdowns and trips to Scotland, where I learned about blue lines and India ink, returning home with annuals and comics by the pound and several original drawings. What intrigued me most were the tools of the trades, from simple 2B pencils to six-colour printing presses. They were tools designed for a job that required knowledge and craft. I try not to harp on about the “good old days”, but I often think about the way the way art is created and how new tools have changed the way we work.
So easily available is design software nowadays that anyone can create a piece of art in a fraction of the time it used to take. With the recent launch of Adobe CC 2015 Suite, creative tools are completely different and connected. Now we can make anything we want on our desktop, iPad and/or phone. A suite of software, a camera phone, an app – the ubiquity of the tools, regardless of their sophistication, means everyone is a photographer, art director or designer now. It’s a similar story with typography. When InDesign was introduced, suddenly anyone could set professional-looking type – but it didn’t make them a typographer.
I try to see this democratisation of design as a good thing. But because there’s so much content out there and it’s so immediate, the really beautifully crafted content can get lost. Are we becoming desensitised to true craftsmanship and talent? Are the lines between the ease of content creation and natural talent becoming increasingly blurred? We can create something quickly that looks polished and professional, but what is the cost of this immediacy? Tools like those I’ve mentioned above take away some of the value of true craftspeople and, ultimately, designers are no longer sure what they’re worth.
It’s clear that the success of content is not hampered by lower production values. Look at YouTube; if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the video network, it’s that production values don’t matter when it comes to creating something popular. Teenagers are becoming millionaires from self-shot video blogs – you could say they’re a million (dollars) a dozen. YouTube has invested a lot of money in funding original, high-quality content, but these “vloggers” don’t necessarily need better quality videos – they’re gaining millions of views anyway with their smartphone-shot footage.
Popularity breeds homogeneity
There is a handful of individuals driving design these days. A prime example is Apple’s Chief Design Officer Jony Ive. The introduction of the iPhone and its skeuomorphic user interface, pioneered by Ive in 2007, saw millions of apps (and digital services beyond Apple’s popular smartphone) adopt the design style. When Apple implemented a flat design for its iPhones, iPads and Mac computers in 2013 with the launch of its new software iOS 7, millions of app designers and developers followed suit. It wasn’t long before the trend filtered through into other all other areas of design.
There is a response to this influx of instantly created content: old methods and tools are making a comeback. My colleague Emile has spoken before about his interest in screen-printing, and he’s now part of a thriving London community of like-minded creatives at Print Club London. Dave Buonaguidi, a 30-year advertising veteran is creating some amazing stuff there. I’m hearing from photographers that they are using film again, although I still have a hard time with the idea that E6 is considered retro. Dave Dye wrote in a recent blog post that simplicity is making a comeback in advertising.
These traditional approaches all carry a level of authenticity that’s otherwise lacking. But are we attempting to reclaim elements of our craft or simply clinging to romantic notions of dated processes?
For better or worse?
Despite everything I’ve said, there is an element of empowerment in the idea that anyone can create something that looks beautiful, quickly. Regardless of our views, we're in an interesting place right now as an industry. I don’t envy aspiring designers learning the trade today – the learning curve is steep as they have to master Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign now from scratch. I feel fortunate to have only had to learn the incremental upgrades.
When we condense the creative process from weeks to days, minutes or – in the case of Instagram – even seconds, we have to lose something. I feel uneasy about it, but some of the content looks great and is really entertaining. So does it really matter how it’s made? I hear that consumers trust user-generated content more than other forms of marketing on Instagram.
Speaking recently about his love of Instagram, clothing designer and photography enthusiast Paul Smith said:
"We're all photographers now... we take [pictures] because we know we can delete and modify them... we're more flippant."
Smith adds that he doesn’t think digital photography is any better or worse than traditional methods. American photographer Stephen Wilkes takes this further. He says the ability to modify images to such a detailed degree results in incredible imagery.
“I think we’re on the precipice of getting image quality that begins to replicate what our visual experience is when we see. The perception of depth, the perception of black, the highlights, and all those things that make a photograph become dimensional are going to get to a level where it’s really going to look like a window, I think.”
Dieter Rams once said: “Great design is making something memorable and meaningful”. And I have to agree. Be it in advertising, photography or design more broadly, if someone creates something that’s memorable and meaningful, does it really matter how they’ve done it or where it comes from?
I certainly don’t have the answers, but these are interesting conversations to have.
Simon has left The Frameworks.