Being creative in the era of the hive mind

The 21st century creative workplace has evolved into a total-visibility layout, open plan office spaces with easy mobility and horizontal seating structures encouraging staff collaboration, discussion and camaraderie.

This has sat alongside the evolution in communications from old-world telco to voice-over-IP, and with the birth of the cloud, collaborating remotely has become a part of how people get stuff done: Skype, Google Hangouts, DropBox; we all have our favorites. Work spaces have transcended the physical barriers of the past, opening new exciting collaborative possibilities. Creative projects can be live, non-stop, 24-hours across time zones.

This new scenario, however, poses a challenge: how to be creative in the context of hyper-connectivity? Sure, we have more access to information than ever before, making research for both creative reference and technical solutions easier. But can this hinder the individuality of creative impulse? We often see trends appear and repeat themselves ad infinitum, monotony gradually compromising creativity. Whether it is a warm-flare photo filter, the neo-bistro branding, brush lettering, or predictable stock imagery, sometimes it feels like recognizable is preferable to original, trendy better than good.

As creative teams, we work with a common goal, seeking excellence when delivering a project. Scope of work is assessed, fee proposals are drafted, timelines are established and, ideally, projects are delivered in a timely fashion. In this scheme of things, the role of the creative is not above the rest of the other team members. Designers are expected to bring ideas to the table, yes, but also to think strategically, stick to a timeline, deliver updates regularly, make amends swiftly. The designer must assume a role as 1-of-many. But this structure may become stifling at times, producing creative work that feels square.

(I love this tumblr for a logo design used far too often)

To make matters more complex, the creative team is not the only one connected to the internet. Clients briefings come paired up with expectations and specific references: the dreaded ‘I want it just like this’. These examples often create more roadblocks than solutions if taken too literally.

So, how to keep a creative team motivated to produce inspired and original work?


Today’s paradox is that while we are connected like never before, we are often times still working in silos, within the studio or towards the client. Instead, designers must be able to have healthy dialogues to come up with informed solutions. Regular discussions between designers, workshops with marketeers, conversations with developers or suppliers will result in work that is both more efficient and long-lasting, relevant to a purpose rather than a trend.

Champion initiative

Ideas are not easy to come by. You can’t bully a designer into producing great work. Instead, create an environment that fosters initiative and empowers creative people. We want designers to think with audacity, but may react negatively when they come up with concepts that seem risky. Ask designers what they would do instead of telling them what to do. That way they will enjoy taking ownership and be motivated to produce the highest quality of work possible.

Promote individuality in the studio

Knowing the team’s skill set can be a huge advantage if used effectively. When possible, briefings should be distributed to put individual talents at play, allowing exploration of new techniques and perfecting the craft. Photography, illustration, typography or 3D, you can fuel inspiration by acknowledging a designer’s personal interests and strengths.

Curate your references

The search for originality can be paralyzing and result in creative block. A good approach to overcome this issue is to broaden the spectrum of where we find ideas for design solutions. The understanding of current trends is as valuable as is the search for diversified sources of inspiration. The internet gives us access to a wealth of references. We can use the opportunity to combine elements from different disciplines, trends and movements to obtain a unique look and feel, rather than falling into predictable, trend-following temptations.

Hopefully this process will result in work that resists the test of time and passing trends.

As we move into a future of increased connectivity, augmented reality and internet of things, it is challenging to find ways to stay creative. Whether it is sifting through new techniques and materials, or looking to the past for reference, we should stay committed to producing work that is inspired, reassuring and timeless.


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