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Creativity as a Business Tool
Ok, I know, this sounds a little self-serving, and maybe a little over inflated. But hear me out. The idea is not anything I am claiming ownership to. Actually, I am merely relaying an extremely abbreviated synopsis of what I've heard and read.
It was at the First Global Creativity Economy Convergence Summit in Philadelphia. Yeah, I thought the name was a little long too. The basic premise was to gather creative contributors to the economy, support them and more interestingly, define them. And by doing so, bring to a realization that the creative "community" is an enormous and therefore powerful group of people. This was not just painters or designers. It was everyone that worked as fine artists, as poets, as designers, as musicians, as inventors, as dancers, as programmers and many other areas and professions. Ultimately, what is creativity but the ability to solve a particular problem in a new way. You may be thinking "Well, I do that in my job." Guess what, you are creative.
But all this is only setting the scene. I had heard of this theory before but it was a keynote speaker that delivered the idea in a concise... and entertaining way. Dan Pink, author of "A whole New Mind" stood up and began his delivery with a model of a brain. Left and right hemispheres... nothing new here. Then on to the idea that the left hemisphere is more mathematical and the right is more abstract and creative... still, nothing new here. But where he went from there was very interesting. The theory is this. We, as a culture are moving from a time when the majority of business success was generated by the left brained logical thinkers to a time when the creative and innovative right brain is equally in demand and mandatory for future success.
Everyone has theories and they are especially fun when they are different enough to provoke curiosity. As a person with my fair share of cynicism I was thinking "OK, interesting, but I'm going to need more before I go off waving the flag of a new idea." The explanation went something like this. What are the economic challenges we face? 1) Abundance. Yes there are many that are struggling to survive but we have gone from a time when the average family in this country was lucky to have a car, or more than a single pair of shoes to a point where we have more than we need and require additional rental space to store the stuff that we don't have room for. 2) Asia. Asia is entering the competitive landscape at an incredible rate. That means more competition for us in every area of business. 3) Automation. Most aspects of the business world are becoming automated. Some of the examples that Dan uses in his book are John Hennery, the mythical railroad spike driver that lost to a steam driving machine, and Gary Kasparov, a chess master that won against a computer... for a while, or until they designed a chess computer that could analyze two to three million moves in advance.
So clearly, the challenges are there. But how does creativity solve this problem? The truth of the matter is that there is no magic bullet. No simple pill to take, creative or otherwise, that lets us connect to people and sell a product or service. Either high quality, low price and or an emotional connection is required. As I (actually Dan) stated before, the quality and price issues are being replicated due to the three points made earlier. What is left? Emotion. This emotion is delivered by Design, Story, Sympathy, Empathy, Play, and Meaning. They are all ways of connecting to the emotions of a potential customer. Think about a well-designed kitchen item that you bought not because it worked better than a cheap one, but because it was "cool." Do you learn better by hearing a string of facts or by hearing the background, the whys and wheres behind the facts? How many ads deliver a message by relating their product to a common experience? Think the Apple ad where the PC man has a virus. This is Symphony, the ability to weave together disjointed pieces into a strong message. Empathy is the ability to imagine yourself in someone else's position and to intuit what that person is feeling. Not rocket science here. Are you more likely to trust someone who you think understands your feelings? Of course. When you are having fun do you want to stay there or run off to do your taxes? Play is simply desired and it can be a strong component to delivering a message quickly and completely. The military is using games to train soldiers, and not because they want to entertain them. I am finding that I am I happier when my work makes a real difference for my clients, when it has meaning. I'm not sure if that is a function of just living on this planet for more years or if it is inherent in this time in history. My guess is that the human species needs to know that they are making a difference. All these things are not the formula driven or born out of the mathematical left side of the brain. They reside in the right creative hemisphere. And according to Dan Pink, this is the creative side of the brain that will take us into the competitive future.
I have just boiled a book down to five paragraphs. This doesn't do justice to the idea or certainly to his book. So if you found this thought provoking do yourself a favor and buy "A Whole New Mind" by Dan Pink. And no, I'm not getting a percentage. But the topic was very interesting.
To Shout or Whisper
To get your message across to potential customers, and therefore increase your potential sales, do you shout at the top of your advertising lungs or do you softly whisper at them with hints and subtlety? There are endless styles of each and endless ways to think about that question. But let me dive into the underlying issues a little. It might create a little food for thought on your next promotional campaign.
First off, how does one graphically shout? Visually shouting can be done with loud colors, with large type, with aggressive or extremely bold imagery. Shouting can involve quick changes and strong contrast. It brings strong composition, surprise and something new to the viewer. And it delivers a feeling of innovation, new thinking and a possible delivery of a new experience to the perspective customer.
A whisper on the other hand, involves the choice of light or subtle color contrasts, the borrowing of more formal or established "classic" compositions and a feeling of trust, respect and relaxation. This is often created with traditional type faces, images that show elegance, often centered design compositions, open space in a layout and smaller font sizes.
Both of these directions rely on a visual language. A language that is subliminally understood by the viewer. That language changes with the age of the viewer... or desired customer, the experiences of the viewer and the competition's promotional efforts. Ultimately it is a matter of matching the visual language of the promotional material with the visual language of the target market. A friend of mine referred to his photography business as visual therapy. I think that term fits even better into the graphic design business.
Now, if you are anything like me you are thinking "Give me a break! He just simplified the entire design & Marketing process down to two approaches and three paragraphs. Is that all I get from AXIS... A or B?" On the contrary, this is only a single aspect of what goes into the design process. A base level question and a few simple descriptions. There are many, many other factors that go into an effective design or concept. Besides, the fun part is in the combination of the two approaches when a company needs to deliver a formal trusted personality but with innovative products, or a new, radical company needs to deliver trust in a brilliant but new and unexperienced product. But those subtleties can't be covered in this short article. It is also that ability to analyze the need and develop the appropriate visual language that separates a good designer from someone who merely knows how to operate the graphic tools.
So, we know what a shout and a whisper are, how they are used, BUT, any rule, including any that I might state or hint at here can be broken... in the hands of a professional of course. But, the first step in the shout or whisper decision is "What are you selling?" Is it a product that relies heavily on trust to sell it? Or is it something new that the majority of the potential customers only want to know that they will experience something unexpected? Second: What is the competition doing? If you follow in their footsteps will you be seen as a "Me to?" just a copy of what else is already out there? Note: some companies and products do very well being a "me too" but rarely move to the level of a dominant product. Third: What is the personality of your company? This is a difficult one because frequently a business has this internal image that it neither delivers to it's employees or to it's client base. So maybe the question should be "What image that is conducive with the internal workings of the business or product are best for creating maximum sales results?" Forth: Define the target audience. Are they young, old, urban, rural, male, female or any umteen hundred dozen other possibilities. It's more the norm now than an exception, but in most cases the target market is some combination of any number of traditional categories. Which brings us back to the idea of working between the shout and whisper lines, to combining the two approaches with the correct balance, the correct combination, the correct... seasoning.
MTV will shout until they create such a consistent texture of shouting that a whisper is noticed more than the shouting. Lawyers have whispered and are now learning how to add an element of shouting into their advertising without disrupting the trust needed in their business. Truck companies shout. Cadilac has shifted from a whisper to a shout in an attempt to gain a younger audience.
Needless to say, there are many, many other decisions that go into a promotional campaign, and many other elements that help to deliver the desired message. But this is one question that may be helpful, To shout or whisper.
New Work from AXIS
A recent logo and CD package. To see many more samples of our work please visit our website at www.axisvisual.com
Problem Solver No. 1
Thank you for taking the time to read this. If we can help with your design and marketing needs feel free to contact us.