Prerequisites for creativity include time, space and freedom. Time and space to fully immerse yourself in a brief or problem, freedom from limits and distractions. Or at least, in an ideal world…
The past few years have had a huge impact on the way we live, work and socialise. It’s undeniable that today’s digital-first, hybrid way of working has enabled greater productivity and efficiency. The information age has contributed to this, providing us with every resource we could possibly need at our fingertips 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
So, what happens to creativity? Does it get lost in a world driven by data, structure and process? With new paradigms and expectations geared towards speed and seamlessness, can we no longer take risks or be vulnerable when approaching creativity?
These were just some of the questions and dilemmas Design Outlook (DO23) tried to answer and address. Let’s explore the presentations and speakers in more detail in an attempt to rediscover creativity.
Efficient design = identical design?
How do you define creativity? This was the question Berlin Liew, Senior Product Designer at Xero, posed at the start of her welcome address, which would set the tone for the day and help drive conversations about the ever-changing relationship designers have with the term creativity.
Berlin then launched into what recent trends such as product frameworks and design systems mean for creativity. On the one hand, it means we can scale design as quickly and efficiently as possible. On the other, it could affect our design instincts and deter us from doing things differently. By centralising design and bringing creativity under a generalist umbrella, there’s also a danger of losing conflict and tension, which often gives birth to the most innovative ideas.
DO23’s next speaker, PwC’s Digital Innovation & Cloud Engineering Design Director, Chi Ryan, picked up where Berlin left off stating that effective and efficient design has stopped creativity in its tracks. Chi spoke openly about her struggles not just with creativity, but with being a designer as well. During a wild ride that took us from theories about dialectical materialism and ontological design, to the musings of Albert Einstein on what creativity means, Chi landed on the following – we can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results, especially creative results.
But what about the benefits of product frameworks and design systems? At many organisations and especially in the world of consulting, any tool that can help us complete certain tasks, particularly the mundane and repetitive, is a good thing. As part of DO23 and as one of its major sponsors, DiUS hosted a breakfast meetup for DesignOps Assembly. Sam Berriman, Production Design Lead at ANZ Plus discussed meaningful design system metrics, while SEEK’s Principal Designer, Brad McLean explained how design systems help his team concentrate on making beautiful things, removing the need to ‘discuss a new button radius’. Product frameworks and design systems ensure we can deliver on time and to budget while still allowing enough wriggle room to delight.
Unlocking and unleashing creativity
Balancing the philosophical with the practical, Jonathon Lau, UX and Product Design Lead at IBM, explored several ways in which to discover your creative drive. If constrained by systems and structure, Jonathon’s suggestion was to ditch the drab and focus on design tasks with purpose, tweaking your role to better suit your passions. Embrace the Japanese concept of Ikigai and find the aspects of design that you love, that you’re great at, that the world needs and that you’re paid for handsomely.
Sean Brennan, Design Director at Deloitte Digital, also served up several slices of actionable advice for both designers and design leaders…
- Inspire confidence with stakeholders – Communicate project objectives early on so you can move onto the fun and creative bits.
- Get obsessed – Learn about the themes and topics you’re working on holistically.
- Don’t forget to be creative – Draw your ideas and turn processes into stories.
- Build enviable spaces – If you’re on site, make a physical space for your team to be creative that attracts and inspires others.
- Protect your time – Focus your energy on the right stuff, not lots of stuff.
- Be a player-coach – Get your hands dirty in design but also guide and advise your team.
Peter Barber, Senior Designer Manager at Block, was all about establishing a great culture within cross-functional teams too by embracing the spirit of the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons. Problems set by the Dungeon Master have no one solution, and many of the choices made by players are done so to mitigate risk, much like designers.
But what if you follow all these steps and the creativity doesn’t flow? Not a problem according to Qantas’ User Experience Manager Vinita Israni, who recommended to ‘tinker it into existence’. Perfection doesn’t happen straight away and neither does creativity. Vinita also explored the duality of design and how we’re programmed to think in terms of us vs. them. Design is never as binary as this though and requires us to draw upon multiple different spectrums to find our creativity.
Jeanette Cheah, CEO and Co-Founder of HEX, also challenged the way in which we’re taught in traditional education systems, and why this doesn’t always help us navigate the world of work. We should instead focus on increasing our exponential intelligence (XQ) to equip us with the skills and mindsets required to keep pace with an ever-changing world.
Addressing the AI-generated elephant in the room
So what about artificial intelligence? How is the hottest trend in tech right now impacting designers and their creativity? Well, much of the conversation at DO23 was how AI can help not hinder designers by encouraging and inspiring creativity.
Jessica Faccin, Principal Product Design at Canva, spoke of her experience experimenting with AI tools. By getting lost in its originality and building a synthetic relationship with AI, Jessica was able to unlock new emotional experiences. After all, humans crave magic and romance, which AI can unlock if you combine its generative nature with characteristics that only humans can curate – simplicity and charm.
Senior Manager of Design at ABC, MC Monslave’s view of AI was to think of it as a sparring partner when you need inspiration. Even so, it won’t be able to replace humans when it comes to things like driving editorial priorities or responding to audience feedback and preferences. In these situations, it is imperative to be data fed and people led, matching content to the audience and their circumstances. Don’t just adopt popular digital products, adapt them.
For DiUS’ Head of Design Tom Wall, it was a question of where does creativity fit into the work we do with AI and machine learning. Even if designers aren’t the most technical, they do have the passion and curiosity to operate in this space comfortably. There will be countless opportunities to create the best solutions through experimentation and completely new ways of working. While technologies like AI and machine learning form the box that many designers must work within, which provides limits and headaches, it also opens up new opportunities. It is up to designers to push and stretch these limits, as tension can be a good thing for creating energy and excitement.
And perhaps that was the takeaway from the day. Designers are coming up against more constraints in their work every day and this can have an adverse impact on originality and innovation. The key is to find enough space within these systems and structures to rediscover joy, excitement and above all else, creativity.