We often talk about ‘commercial digital design’. In other words, we take business objectives - that have nothing to do with design - and use design to deliver on them.

That’s an easy thing to say, but it has a number of potentially painful implications for the average agency. For one, we have to accept that we don’t actually care about design for design’s sake.

We aren’t interested in what it looks like. All we care about is that it works. It’s just fortunate that things that look great tend to work, and things that don’t tend to fail. “Beauty is as beauty does” as they say.

It might sound as if this would hurt the professional pride of the average designer. And perhaps it would. Fortunately, we don’t employ average designers in Kooba so I can’t tell you.

What I do know is that great designers understand that design is all about a creative response to a specific set of challenges, not drawing pretty pictures. So those painful implications aren’t such a problem after all.

Why Creativity Still Counts

I want to talk specifically about the most important word in that last paragraph: “creative”. Is there a space for creativity in a world in which marketing, design, user experience and so on are becoming ever more scientific?

In a digital world in which everything is measured, optimised and tested to destruction, is the creative process as we know it a waste of time and money?

Or alternatively, is creativity today merely a process, something delivered by following a set of rules and applying those rules to the inputs generated by the requirements gathering and user experience stages of a project?

At this point it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that my answer to those questions is “no”.

My longer answer is that creativity is both more important than ever, and needs to be protected more than ever. And whilst we live in the data age, we need to be careful to understand what data can and cannot do, and give creativity space within which to flourish.

Almost by definition, creativity is the art of developing new and innovative responses to a particular challenge. The alternative is doing the same thing over and over again - digital design as a sort of predictable treadmill. And the number of businesses (in any sector) that have succeeded by taking this approach is precisely zero.

So if any business wants to survive and thrive, we need to ensure the status and value of creativity is protected and respected in our organisations.

Making Space For Creativity

It seems odd to lay down rules for creativity, but in order to make it happen that is what we must do. But to be clear, these are not narrow rules about process. We cannot ‘make’ creativity happen. Instead, we have to invest in an environment in which it can happen. I mentioned above the need to give creativity space. That is what we must do. Here are a few ways to go about it.

Employ The Right People

There are of course ways to encourage creativity, a couple of which I will mention below. But ultimately people - and specifically creative people - make it happen. I am not for a moment subscribing to the notion that all great ideas appear at random to certain individuals touched by genius. But I do believe that without the right people in your organisation you will be struggling. When hiring, get a sense of the creative abilities of potential employees, and don’t compromise.

Use The Force

Sometimes we need to make like Luke Skywalker, turn off the computer and let go. That means remembering that we are a human being designing for other human beings. Not data points, not trends, not analytics - but real people. Again, to be clear, I am not saying that business objectives are not important. Quite the opposite. I am saying that the road to delivering them may be one less (or perhaps never before) travelled. Don’t allow an obsessive focus on data prevent you from exploring.

Don’t Rush It

If there is one guaranteed creativity killer it is the need for speed. If I need to deliver a creative concept in 24 hours, what am I going to do? Explore new and unique responses to the brief and come up with something truly original? Or do what worked the last time and hope for the best. We all know the answer. In the short term you can get away with this. In the long term it is a slow death.

Don’t Judge In Haste

The right environment encourages new approaches, even if most of them don’t work. If the response to innovation is scepticism, then we know what happens - people stop innovating. At all levels of the company encourage the idea that it is right to take a chance and to try something new. As above, longer deadlines will help - if something really isn’t going to work then there is time to take another course.

Get Outside The Box

Don’t think outside the box. Get outside the box. That means lifting your head up from the desk and getting out into the world. Talk to people. Visit a gallery. Read a good book. As Dave Trott persuasively argues in 1+1=3, creativity happens when two unrelated ideas collide. You can’t make that happen if all you read is blogs about digital design. Share, talk, read, look around - always be on the lookout for new perspectives to bring to the table. Great design is often informed by play rather than work. Make time for it.

Hopefully those five ideas help drive greater creativity in your business. And if they don’t, read someone who disagrees with me and you might arrive at new and better conclusions yourself!

Just remember, creativity isn’t the enemy of delivering the numbers. It is what makes it happen.

Journal full list