Are there Rules for the Creative Folks?

Are there Rules for the Creative Folks?

What Rules?This post is the result of Asgeir Hoem tagging me to further Marc Rapp‘s quest of finding out the creative folks’ rules for design. What are the rules that have helped them to succeed as creative people – “something you’ve developed as a principle. Something that never fails you”.

I was intrigued with this immediate thought, “Are there really rules for designs?”, or are there merely guidelines to use as a reference? Most creative folks get quite upset with clients who provide a long list of do’s and don’ts and yet expect them to break out of the norm to create something original and really creative. Their hands are tied, but they are fully expected to wrestle themselves out of a tight situation to win the trophy. If they don’t, some clients will deem them unworthy. It’s unfair, but it is a reality for many graphic and web designers, especially designers who are their own boss or freelancing.Designers who work in a marketing, advertising or creative agency, they probably won’t have to face such an onslaught first hand. An experienced account executive who services the account should have enough wit to discuss with the client and help define, clarify or maybe, even chart a new direction to ensure the objectives of the campaign/project are clear and specific.

I don’t believe that there should be rules. Rules are cast in stone and when anyone chooses to ignore, bend or break the rules, there are usually severe consequences or punishments or both. In all the marketing, advertising, design books, there will be samples of how the “greats” were conceptualized and executed in words and images. But these are not rules, these are recommendations and guidelines. What works for one may not apply to another. We are allowed to pick and choose what works for us, and to escalate those ideas to the next level.

Creative folks like copywriters, graphic or web designers, producers, actors, etc, need a certain amount of freedom and space to allow them to be creative and explore the unknown. If the creative folks were told to strictly follow the rules to go from point A to point Z, and they do follow, we would never have impressionists like Picasso and Monet or pop artistes like Andy Warhol to make the world a little more vibrant, a little more controversial. But that’s good, otherwise life can be so stale.

There are 3 guidelines I adhere to and these are so basic that I believe they can be used by anyone in the creative industry without stifling their creativity:

1) Look at the Bigger Picture.

When I interview a new designer, I’ll provide him with a rather incomplete agency brief with salient information either glossed over or undisclosed. I would ask for his input, how he would undertake and execute the project. If he zeroes in to talk about where he would position the headline and the logo, or he is contemplating using either the Mrs Eave Roman or Phoenix American font, or he would prefer a wallpaper styling, I would have a concern. If we look at a project with such attention to the “microscopic” details, we will definitely excel in those areas. But by doing so, we are omitting the bigger picture.

What I would have wanted to hear is him asking about the project objectives, the client’s problems and concerns, product features and benefits, market competition, key issues to address in the campaign, etc. In the commercial art industry, an ad, a brochure or a TVC is a means to a larger end. We have to know what we do which will contribute to that end. An aesthetically nice ad that cannot fulfill the client’s objective and solve his problem is not a good ad … or worst, a failed ad. I will usually let my client talk during an agency brief and from there I ask questions. And I’ll ask lots of questions then and along the way to ensure I’ve got the big picture before entering the conceptualizing and execution phase.

2) Give It An Overnight Test

My ex-boss Chris Jordan would tell us to go home and not fret over the daunting task at hand so that we can give whatever we were doing the “overnight test”. Keeping our mind away from the task is surprisingly useful. The stumbling block or that missing piece just seem to appear from out of nowhere when I’m not musing over the project. When our conscious mind is at rest, that’s when our subconscious mind takes over. This is one reason I prefer to start work early so that I have the luxury to give myself the overnight test. I forced it on my teams and they usually thank me after some grudging tensions between us. And I got Chris Jordan to thank.

3) Tweak it to Perfection

Sometimes we do a marvelous piece of work but our client’s phone isn’t ringing and sales didn’t rocket through the roof. Is our work a total failure? No, I would not dismiss it yet. This is where testing and measuring are important. Is the headline talking about the problem of the target audience? Can we insert a solution within the headline? The headline is not the issue, so did the copy sell the sizzle of the steak instead of dishing out cold uncooked beef? Did we remember to reward those who take immediate action? Find, and fix that crack or those cracks that caused the water to leak, and it will save you the trouble to look for a new pipe and possibly a new plumber.

Many creative folks have taken up Marc Rapp’s lead to discuss this. I especially like

Asgeir Hoem‘s Hierarchy of Needs where “the low-level needs such as functionality needs to be addressed before e.g creativity. This seems to be ignored by new designers, which is a damaging trend. Resources are devoted to high-level needs at the expense of functionality and usability” How true, how very true.

Aaron Russell‘s take that “design is not a science, so there can not and should not be any definitive rights and wrongs.” Totally agreed and I can resonate every bit though I’m just a suit.

David Airey asking “What can you remove? Edit, edit again, and when you’ve finished, edit a little bit more.” Be your own critic, look at your work objectively to see if the elements of “what in it for them” are there.

Michael Surtee‘s challenge of “Do something everyday that scares you.” Without that, I don’t think the creative world will have the delightful works like those of Picasso, Andy Warhol, Martin Scorsese, Wong Kar Wai, etc. Always somewhat controversial but always very refreshing and original.

I’ll like to pass the baton to creative director-copywriter Walter Burek, designer Mirko Humbert, copywriter Tom Chandler and Laura Spencer, account manager Nick Philips plus marketer Calvin Warr.

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[tags] creative rules, creative guideline, design rules, design guidelines[/tags]

10 Replies to “Are there Rules for the Creative Folks?”

  1. Great post. The Overnight Test is incredibly effective. I even find it useful to just sit down for a coffee or go grocery shopping, and return to the task with fresh eyes.

    Your 3rd guideline, though, is one I seem to fail badly. I have to find the job extremely exciting and interesting to be able to keep working effectively and productive and tweaking it to perfection. I am way to quick to ‘finish’ everything that doesn’t excite me.

    Thanks for the link!

  2. Hi Aaron – The pleasure is totally mine.
    === ===
    Hi Laura – Let me know when you’re done. Will like to pick your brains :)
    === ===
    Hi Asgeir – In the first place, I thank you for tagging me and let me think on the meme. I guess the third one can be trying, as it calls for lots of patience and perseverance. I must confess I don’t have either when I started out in the ad industry.

  3. I just came across your tag for me. Thank you, it’s quite an interesting topic. I’ll post my point of view as soon as I can clear all the stuff that’s cluttering my desk (and my brain.)


  4. Like Asgeir, that overnight test is a very significant one, and relates to more than just creative work. Take blogging for example – I often leave articles in my draft folder for some time in order to keep tweaking (another point you mention) until they’re ripe for publishing.

    Thanks very much for the mention, Vivienne. ;)

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