Embracing Originality in the Creative Process

Around the turn of the 21st century, creative agencies still set aside large spaces in their studios for libraries. These would be where shelves and shelves of big bulky stock library books would be stored.

In looking to create themes or territories with which to express a new brands’ direction, or to provide a spark of an idea, creatives would take piles of these big bulky books back to their desks – scan in, photocopy or (if they had no soul) cut the images out of the books to create their moodboards.

And because they were photocopied or cut and pasted, the client would only ever see them as such – mood or inspiration images. The intention was never to use these exact images in a campaign, because it would be obvious that a photographer or illustrator or lettering artist would be commissioned to create the final imagery if that route was chosen by the client. Presentations were more crude as creatives would have to laboriously mock these photocopied images onto specific pieces of collateral by hand – often using Letraset to transfer words or headlines onto them to create the right tone of voice. Everything would then be cut out and stuck onto big sheets of foamboard using the incredibly environmentally friendly Spray Mount.

But then along came the English engineer and computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee. The world wide web that he conceived inadvertently changed the creative industry forever. Amongst other things, it gave birth to online image libraries. Getty started buying up all the competition and we could all find images and get inspired in much quicker, and some would say lazier, ways. We wouldn’t ever have to move from our desks any more. Around the same time Jobs and Woz were developing their little Apple Mac contraptions – and everyone then thought they were all designers. Combining these two things meant that speed became the big factor – clients started to expect more and more from their agencies in much shorter spaces of time. Those brand owners (and indeed creatives) that placed value in ‘craft’ and originality were becoming fewer. Client presentations not only began to look more professional – but first stage presentations started to take on a more finished air. Rather than crudely sketch out a concept, or have a visualiser draw it by hand, we’d be able to grab an image from a stock library and drop it into a store window or onto a billboard or packaging – and (foregoing Letraset) we could type out entire blocks of text using myriad fonts over these images, drop on the logo, and to the uninitiated it looked like a finished campaign or brand. 

This ultimately meant that clients began to expect this as the norm. New marketers coming into the industry simply didn’t know any different. Budgets could be stretched further because the perception of the creative process had become cheapened. Things could be changed quickly at the turn of a mouse after all. Stock libraries and off-the-shelf typefaces quickly became the be all and end all. Some even started creating generic logos and icons to be sold on websites aimed at people that just wanted something quick and dirty – and who didn’t place any value on brand originality. And now in 2018, this is the new normal. 

But we all have a responsibility to educate. To show people, peers and clients that it sometimes takes longer to create something truly original (and that’s why that little clause about owning the IP in the contract is so important) – be that writing a brand proposition, slogan or campaign line, or creating a new logo, typeface or imagery. It takes time and it requires originality of thought and application.

I’m constantly drumming it into the team about the importance of using sketchbooks. The very best ideas come when you least expect it. Just ask Keith Richards about Satisfaction. The internet, digital devices and software should only be used as accompanying tools to further the idea – NOT the go-to first base. A couple of years ago I wrote about the importance of craft. If you have time or the inclination then take a read here. For those that don’t, then to paraphrase the crux of the piece: 

“Agencies should not only be encouraging and empowering interns, graduates and junior designers to further their natural talents by filling up sketchbook after sketchbook with ideas, but they should be embracing and utilising the skills of brilliant artists all over the country and world to bring their ideas to life in the most original ways. By hand. With strong ideas. Time should be factored into EVERY project for this – rather than just jumping straight onto the Mac or pilfering second rate, often seen, designs from Pinterest, Dribble or Behance or whatever new site is in vogue at a particular agency.”

Championing the new is a big part of what we do. But its what every creative should be doing too. What is the point of spending hours trying to find the perfect stock image, present it to the client and then discover a competitor has used the same image? Unless of course the client is happy to pay tens or hundreds of thousands to acquire the exclusive global usage rights for it, in perpetuity. Which is just plainly ridiculous in this day and age when there are so many amazing photographers, illustrators and lettering artists in the world. And that’s without considering how long it takes for a creative to find that image in the first place – time that clients don’t always consider is worth paying for.

Since 2010, we’ve worked with some incredible image makers across the globe. Right now, we have over 15 live projects being worked on in the We Launch studio – and we have commissioned bespoke imagery for all but two (the first of those being a small pro bono charity project, and the second is because the client already has a huge bank of images taken at previous events). We’re working with young illustrators – in the UK, Europe and Australia, as well as a lettering artist in London, and photographers and directors – with a variety of styles – based all over the world. Collaborating with these brilliant people – and introducing them to clients – is a huge part of what we do. And always will do.

Creating and launching a brand or product these days is infinitely more than just knocking up a logo and sticking it in the corner of a stock library image, alongside a headline typeset in a default font. Customers are savvy. They’re getting sold to everywhere they turn. They see the same things time and time again – at home, whilst commuting, at work, on holiday. That’s why creating something completely fresh and different – that brings your brand to life in the most unique yet relevant ways – is vital. It will not only surprise, delight and resonate more with your customers, but it will be something that none of your competitors will be able to replicate….at least not without being accused of copying.

The craft will always live on if creative minds insist that it is vital for originality to flourish. But for mindsets to change, more voices need to stand up and bang the same drum, at the same time.

Out Of Office

The sights, sounds, and everything all around. From inspirational exhibitions to our favourite new bands. These are the things that are shaping our year...