Our Interview Series continues this week, as we ask three of Australia’s best-regarded designers and branding professionals a final probing question about the sector they’ve come to call their own. If you’ve missed out on the wisdom and insight of Andrew Ashton, Grant Davidson and David Ansett until now, you can catch up below:
Part 1 - Why are there no filthy rich design agency owners?
Part 2 - What have designers done wrong as a sector to be so poorly valued by clients?
In Part 3, we ask:
As a creative industry, why are we so poor at innovation?
“This is going to be contentious,” says David Ansett, before revealing that he believes that “the best designers are creative but most designers aren’t.”
He explains that there are some common misconceptions and misnomers about design, innovation and creativity more generally.
“I think people mistake creativity for innovation. And I think people believe creativity and design are the same thing, as well.
“If you actually look at the definition of design, it’s really about problem-solving. Car design, architectural design, industrial design, graphic design… the aesthetic is one layer of what is solving a – in our case, a commercial communication – problem.
“There are actually a lot of successful designers who are good at design, but who have a methodical process for solving [a problem]. And that can work very well. What is the right composition? What is the market? What are the visual cues I need to communicate? Typefaces? Colours? Imagery? That’s not creativity. That’s logical problem-solving.
“The creativity is this spark – an idea that comes from nowhere – that adds a whole other level of magic to it. And I think – well, obviously I think we do that – but Andrew Ashton, who I think you’re interviewing as well, is certainly one of the most creative designers. He’s one of a kind and every creative sector needs those [people]. You just need a bunch of people who think outside the box and don’t pull punches.
“Innovation has the need for that creative spark because you need to think beyond the current paradigms. The bulk of innovation comes, again, from a logical process and that’s why when there’s a Steve Jobs or someone, who we celebrate as a true innovator, it’s because they are actually creative.”
Andrew Ashton mentions the Apple co-founder and the importance of true creativity, as well.
“In the 1990s when Steve Jobs asked the world to ‘think different’, he wasn’t only asking designers that, he was telling the world that.
“I think clients are looking for creative thinkers and makers that can not only respond to a brief but take a brief to a new place – bring a new point of view to it. Bringing a creative point of view in the commercial setting is an impossibility at times because most organisations are run by accountants, and we need to make the effort to meet their immediate needs, help them see that creative thinking brings opportunity to the bottom line over making things look beautiful. Creative people have this incredible ability to join disparate dots and turn tin into gold – we’re alchemists of sorts.
“As a practice, if you’re driven by profits you’re driven by time. Therefore the idea of investing in a project… these innovations don’t happen because there’s not an opportunity to dig a little deeper into a project and explore.
“And the studios who are really moving forward are the ones that are not just answering briefs, spitting out on-trend work and charging above-industry-rate fees. There’s an investment in their process and theories and ideas. And those ideas become the things that drive the business to make things work and to innovate. And you can’t do that when you’re constantly riding the meter.”
Grant Davidson can’t agree with the assumption at the heart of the question. He believes that he belongs to one of the most innovative industries in the world.
“I think it’s actually in the DNA of designers; we’re kind of born with innovation because fundamentally every project you do is a prototype and hasn’t been done before. We’re not doing one thing and just replicating it.
“We’re always looking for something new, something different. We’re lateral thinkers. We’re always open to… well, rather than being open to new worlds – looking for new. We’re naturally born – or through natural selection, I suppose – we have a tendency towards that to start with.”
Davidson says imagination and originality are absolutely essential for any designer.
“Rather than innovative thinking being a nice-to-have [in design], it’s almost like a starting point. It’s the hygiene factor in design.
“[But it] comes back to good designers and not-so-good designers. Designers of good work are just naturally innovative thinkers.”
Ashton tends to agree, and while he admits many designers get away with work that simply ticks off on the colours, typefaces and flourishes du jour, he says those who refuse to do mere “window dressing” produce extraordinary work.
“I was listening to a podcast the other day with Melbourne creative Michaela Webb. In her practice – Round – there are aspects of exploration and making and creating. And then there is this idea of joining like people together. She was talking about this project with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra where she pulled together chef Andrew McConnel (Cumulus), the Melbourne Symphony and the Melbourne Food Festival to come up with a response to a brief, which is what I think clients want in 2015 – the MSO doesn't want another brochure, they want to transform their message and to thrill their audiences,” says Ashton.
“We need to invest time into truly reinventing ourselves. Move on from the older models and find new models and excite people with how relevant great creativity can be.”
That concludes our first set of Interview Series articles. Thanks to David Ansett, Grant Davidson and Andrew Ashton for their time, insight and candour.
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