Strategist, Speaker, Designer, Instigator

Creativity vs. Design (a Q&A)

Every now and again, a student comes to Fjord asking for input for their dissertation. Sometimes, I’m the one they end up talking to. Today, I had an e-chat with a lovely young lady who’s doing her dissertation at Goldsmith’s. She had some questions that made me think, so I thought I’d share an excerpt here (with her permission, of course)…

Q: What is design (thinking) for you?

I think the purpose of design is interpretation, facilitation, translation. We translate abstract concepts into services that people can use to do things that they need and love to do; we translate business needs into opportunities for innovation; we observe human behavior and identify opportunities to make systems, services and products work better for them.

This has always been the case – a beautifully designed object (like a radio) is both useful and expressive; it emphasizes what’s important about the concept behind it as well as enabling the human to engage with it.

“Design thinking” became jargon almost before it was properly defined… For me, the key differentiators of what we do are:

  • Focus on the human – rather than allowing the technology or business to lead, strive to understand what humans need, want and love, and let the opportunity flow from that. Why is more important than what – if you only know what happened, but not why, then you can’t know what to do about it. And the ‘why’ is always about the human.
  • It’s the system, not the part – instead of looking at a particular piece of the puzzle in isolation, try to understand the problem at hand in a broader context. What is related to it? What affects it, and what does it affect? Looking at the broader ecosystem opens opportunities that we couldn’t have seen if we only focused on one aspect.

Q: Do you use design thinking or similar process to help your client achieve goals and innovate? If not, what kind of process suits best for your purpose?

Of course we do – we’re designers! But one of the things that’s really important to us is that we don’t use a fixed process for every project. We believe every engagement is unique, and so we have a modular approach that we can remix and reassemble to suit the specific needs of each challenge/problem/project.

Q: Can you describe the importance of creativity in your work? How Fjord, as digital design agency, deals with creativity?

I genuinely don’t know how to answer this question – creativity is like air to us, or water. It’s the element we move and breathe in. I suppose the way we deal with creativity is to make the most of it by focusing it and harnessing it in the service of our clients and their customers.

Q: You are the Strategy Director at Fjord, [and] you live in Berlin. I guess design is not only your work but it is also all around you.

My hypothesis is that design is becoming a new mindset. In particular, design characteristics are required to young graduate seeking job at entry level in spite of one’s previous background and often regardless [of] the role one is looking for.

For instance, it is always required to provide a portfolio or at least a “creative proof” of your tastes and personality by checking social media (pinterest, facebook, tumblr) etc. I am not really sure if this approach is encouraging people to be creative or rather it is a way to “discriminate” people who are potentially a creative asset for companies but not in a visual way.

To put it simply, is design the new word to mean creativity?

Please, give an opinion about this.

Hmm, interesting. I don’t think design = creativity. As above, I think design is a way to apply creativity to get results – those results amounting to objects and experiences that facilitate or translate something that’s necessary or enjoyable.

But I do buy that people feel more pressure than ever before to appear creative in the online world. That takes many forms, though – it’s not always about creating something, per se. It’s about curation – Pinterest is all about curation, and Twitter can be used that way too: if you look at twitter streams, a lot of people spend about 80% of theirs simply retweeting what they like. It still gives you a pretty good indication of the person, but an act of creation isn’t really involved.

Perhaps it would be closer to the truth to say that these things are about expression, and design is about facilitating expression. I hope that makes some sort of sense.