Are in-house designers hired for their creative chops? It seems doubtful based on how they are utilized by their host companies. The “Just get it done” design as commodity mindset of clients and upper management expresses itself in design teams being afforded limited resources, challenged with unreasonable deadlines and being skipped over for plum assignments which often go to outside agencies.
The problem is that these in-house creative teams may not be acting in very creative ways and so are not viewed by their companies as having the capacity to address strategic design-based initiatives. Designers, especially with the advent of computers, tend to confuse craft with creativity. Being able to design an attractive brochure through the good use of type, colors and layout is the craft component of design, not the higher level creative expression that designers can, but often don’t, bring to bear on their projects. Like an accomplished potter who throws one beautiful bowl after another, designers certainly have the chops to ply the tools of their trade. But tools, albeit skills that could be used in the service of a higher function – that of truly strategic, unique and creative pursuits and practices, is all they are.
Creativity, particularly for designers, is the act of defining problems by putting them into an appropriate holistic context, creating and exploring multiple solutions, choosing the best of those solutions and then implementing those solutions. Stefan Mumaw, author of “Caffeine For The Creative Mind” and “Chasing The Monster Idea”, expressed the distinction between craft and creativity very succinctly this way:
Craft – You’re assigned a brochure to design. You get the content, utilize legible fonts, apply attractive colors, artfully crop the images, place them all into an orderly layout and send the files off to the printer.
Transition – You’re assigned a brochure to design. You meet with the client to determine the objectives of the brochure, the audience and the branding priorities. You apply your craft as noted above to the brochure design using the client’s insights.
Creativity – You’re assigned a brochure to design. You meet with the client as noted above. You research the assignment from a larger perspective and context. You ask yourself, “Why a brochure?” and initiate a dialogue and exploratory process that encompasses solutions that take you well beyond ink on paper.
The path to gaining the respect and position many in-house creative teams desire that will afford them more opportunities for broad strategic contributions to their companies rests almost exclusively on their willingness and ability to engage in truly creative practices and behaviors, not just the crafting of pretty pictures.