Creative process aka why Jonathan Ive bothered me a bit

Jonathan Ive was at Design Museum a few days ago, as some of you may know. I was bothered by some things he said. Saying “I still haven’t lost the wonder for the creative process..” is beautiful and emotive. Saying “…the way it comes from nothing.” not so much. He talked about how on a given day at 3pm you have nothing, then at 5pm you have an idea.

Much as many of us are now full paid-up (and how!) members of the Apple fan club, this struck me as odd.

This is the sort of stuff that feeds into the myth of creativity, creativity as a “genius” thing, rather than a “process” thing; that encourages people to continue in the unawareness that even where there is a pretty front-end,there is likely a complex, messy back-end that enables that pretty front-end; that leads to many people — including customers of creative products and services — to expect “creativity on tap”.

I run a creative business, and all this bothers me.

I find that some people expect “creativity on tap” because they may have previously experienced a “creative” person ideating in real time, while they explained their problem. They confuse the process of ideation with what it takes to come up with that one perfect creative solution that will appeal to the creative and the commercial alike. The ideation, I am afraid, does not take place in a vacuum.

I also think that many people simply do not understand the creative process. The trope that creativity is an inborn talent or a “genius” element is perpetuated both by creatives and non-creatives alike, and sometimes, just sometimes, it comes back to bite us. Creativity, that can be scaled, that is sustainable and that does not run out of juice, is a process. When we create a new collection in our jewellery business, it can take us anywhere from 12months to 18months before we are anywhere close to saying “right, we are happy putting this out there!”. The effort that goes into the research, the brainstorming, the iterations, the prototyping that go into creating every single piece is not effort that can be overstated.

And last but not the least, people expect pretty things — outcomes of creativity are often expected to be pretty when it is equally true that creative problem-solving in complex organisations isn’t really a pretty process or a pretty outcome — to have pretty, magical back-ends. When people think, for instance, couture, they think Vogue magazine, fancy photoshoots, Fashion Week and models, who wear pretty stuff and feature in Tatler magazine’s party pages. They do not think months of toil, ideation, whittling down of perfectly good ideas, actual design process, sourcing of materials, trial and error, fitting, discarding of entire pieces, restarting, just the whole painful process of creation.

I do not believe in making or keeping the creative process mystical or mythical. If the product of that process is pretty — or meaningful in any other way — to the customer, most customers want to know more about what went into making it. The overused term “storytelling” is what customers often want. My experience is when they do understand what went into creating the product they are so taken by, they respect it more, they question the price tag far less and they “own” it. There is no greater reward for a creative person than a customer, who internalises the creative idea and the process so profoundly she owns it. Jonathan Ive and his team’s creativity has brought us to that point of emotional ownership, but as he said 99% of us will never look inside our iDevices where most of the magic lies.

More’s the pity.

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