Does technology kill creativity? Or do we need to think “outside the box” as to what creativity means in a world of coding, automation and technology driven innovation?
Recently I was lucky enough to be invited to Steelcase and Microsoft’s “Creative Spaces” launch with a panel of speakers specially flown in for the event – Julia Atalla (Microsoft), Chris Congdon (Steelcase) and John Ravitch (IDEO) (As a sidenote – Great to see a panel with two female panelists out of three!)
It’s not often you get the chance to participate in a session run by people of the caliber of IDEO – although only a couple of months ago, I was also lucky to participate in an amazing project based session with Cat Burgess from Frost Collective! I always find these kinds of workshops inspiring, even though there is still that school kid part inside of me that groans at the idea of group work! I also find I can get my own ideas and inspiration as to how to run strategy and design workshops. Clients are so often very busy people or just unenthusiastic about the prospect of spending 2 hours in a design workshop, and it takes a lot of knowledge and skill to get the best out of participants when you are running such workshops.
While the Steelcase / Microsoft event was more panel than workshop, there was a workshop element included at the beginning – asking us to define what creativity meant to us and come up with a shared definition with a partner (and one you didn’t already know) A number of audience ideas were shared and we then heard views and further discussion from the panel.
As an architect, designer and writer, creativity is clearly a topic of interest to me. It’s one that has any different viewpoints and definitions. When you think of creativity do you think of artists and designers or is creativity today more broad than this definition? Are “concept designers” the only creative people in a design studio? Or is a software programmer creative? Can a computer be creative? In an age where it is likely a combination of our softer “human” skills and our ability to program the machines, are going to become more valuable, these are important questions, particularly for designers of any kind.
Is being defined as a creative a compliment or potentially an insult? Why do so many people see creative and organised as opposites? Or more recently – being creative and able to use a computer as mutually exclusive? Creativity is not just about someone’s ability to sketch. Sketching in itself is not necessarily creative either – its just one method of communicating creative ideas. It has the benefit of being a quick and emotive one though. In our profession people who are good at sketching have always had the advantage. Not necessarily because they are any more creative but because they are able to better communicate their creative ideas. However today, communicating creative ideas though software is becoming easier and easier. Creativity isn’t just about the tool.
I frequently read or hear people criticising software, particularly BIM software for creating boring architecture or killing design and creativity. Software is not what is killing creativity in our industry. Low fees and a lack of community or government appreciation for what we do is what is killing design. Low fees alongside a university system that does not prepare graduates for actual jobs, have also created a huge gap between those who know software and those who know buildings. Many practices have not invested in training, or encouraged experienced staff to learn or sometimes even to understand new sortware and technologies (I’ve seen them be actively discouraged). I”m not talking about staff that are about to retire either, I’m talking about people have 20 years or more before retirement (as if any of us will retire at 65 anyway!)
For me, technology has always been a path to improving creativity. Whether it’s though the automation of the boring bits of our job to free our time up for design, or the abilities of generative design to help create thousands of options to quickly optimise the functionality or buildability of design, I believe technology can be used to enable creativity. For me personally, technology has become an essential component of my design process and a communication tool both to my team and to clients. My definition of creativity is in fact that it is something that comes out of the intersection of ideas or people from different disciplines. For me this has been a combination of technology, architecture and design and multidisciplinary ways of working.
Which is why I loved John Ravitch’s definition of creativity:
Curiosity plus progress = creativity
Isn’t that awesome! The panel went onto a discussion about how creativity today is about problem solving, not about what discipline you work in. A data scientist may not consider their work to be creative, but interpreting and communicating the data to others, is a creative task. I’m sure lawyers, accountants and doctors – all professions we don’t traditionally think of as creative – or in our own industry, even project managers and documenters – know that the best people in the fields do something differently to the most average. To me that is creativity, it’s thinking differently about whatever the problem is you set out to solve.
One thing that we do know is that creativity is not just about inspiration. Creativity (and design thinking) can be taught. Creativity can also be trained. By writing, drawing or doing whatever it is every day or every week, you will get better and you will be more creative. Not everything you do will be your best creative work, the idea of the creative genius is actually very rare (great article on this recently from Aureon’s Just Imagine blog). Meditation can also help you to rewire your brain and be more creative. By coincidence, a few days after I’d written this paragraph, I started reading about these same topics this week in Manage your day to day: Build your routine, find your focus and sharpen your creative mind from 99u.
You don’t have to be inspired to start being creative. But I think being creative is what makes you feel more inspired about whatever it is you do. So after months of feeling uninspired (and somewhat cranky with our industry – but that’s another story), reflecting on this Creative Space event and thinking about creativity has got me writing again. Hopefully this article inspires you to do whatever it is that makes you feel creative, inspired and excited about your work and life.