Technology and Creative Design

We live in an age of remarkable technological advances. The microchip keeps getting smaller and more powerful. Flat-screen TV's keep getting sharper and less expensive. Smartphones keep getting smarter. Videogames have become so realistic that perhaps we should consider their artistic merit. And it won't be long before hybrid cars give way to electric vehicles.

In design, technology has become so pervasive that it sometimes overshadows other important considerations. If you want to be a graphic designer today, you better feel comfortable in front of the computer. Your basic toolset should include Adobe Creative Suite. And if you're wise, you should buy a Mac, because people who use PC's aren't really creative types.

If being a successful graphic designer means owning the latest copy of Photoshop with Snow Leopard, then I think we've overlooked what it truly takes to achieve great design. It's easy to be seduced into believing that the latest gadgets and software inherently lead to better creative, but I have found that better creative requires something more than powerful engineering.

With all due respect to Apple Computer and the wonderful computers and gadgets they create, I don't believe that you need the latest and greatest technology to create a masterful logo, a brilliant ad, clever copy or a head-turning brochure. What does it take? Good creative, the product of trained minds. Computers are wonderful tools, but they won't automatically make anyone a better designer, or for that matter a better engineer.

In Mad Men, we get a glimpse of what it may have been like to work in a top Madison Avenue Ad Agency during the early 1960's. They have phones. They have typewriters. The art department sketches out concepts by hand. They smoke a lot of cigarettes and drink a lot of Scotch. And they wear great suits.

Fifty years later, the essential creative process really hasn't changed that much. Our culture has changed, and so has advertising. But the difficult process of delivering a winning concept to a client hasn't changed all that much.

The hardest part of what we do is this process of concept creation. I've written about the agency download, the process whereby we absorb all there is to know about our client's business. Not only do we need to understand the client's business; we also need to understand the culture in which we live. The job of the creative team, then, is to sift through that mountain of information and produce a design solution that's relevant, appropriate, and inspired. And it doesn't seem to get any easier with time.

I haven't a clue how that process works. I don't know how the mind's supercomputer filters, combines, refines, compresses, and translates facts and figures into a visual result. What I do know is that it takes practice and hard work. My colleagues in this profession have formidable talent, and for all I know they may be using formidable technology. But I also know that every graphic designer out there needs a great creative director, and every creative director a smart copywriter.

And if the computers break down, then maybe it would be a good idea to keep a typewriter and a sketchpad around just in case.

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