The C Word(s): Commercial Creativity – AKA Can I Do This And Still Have a Soul? Part I

The C Word(s): Commercial Creativity – AKA Can I Do This And Still Have a Soul? Part I

Published by September 29, 2019 1:38 pm Comments Off on The C Word(s): Commercial Creativity – AKA Can I Do This And Still Have a Soul? Part I

It took me a while to grasp that this is a difficult subject to address and do justice to. I found that the questions and suppositions that I had made along the way, now made me reassess my understanding and question my existing values and perceptions.

The question that is directed at myself is this: Commercial Creativity – can I do this and still have a soul?

Spike Lee said that ‘All art is commercial – deal with it’

and much as I don’t agree entirely, I do think that opens the topic up nicely.

What a thing to be an artist. The word ‘Artist’ is defined by dictionary as:

“A person who produces works in any of the arts that are primarily subject to aesthetic criteria.”

I don’t want to offend or denigrate any artist, so I would offer up that art is a form of self-expression. An extension of the self. A part of you that manifests as some form of creative output that cannot be contained and needs to be drawn out. Is this for art’s own sake – or for the artist’s? On this matter I’m not sure I have the right to comment.

But then, perhaps to show one’s art implies a need or desire for it to be judged and the artist validated. Or perhaps it is to share, just to position it as a viewpoint, an opinion, a moment in time that we want to offer anyone who will look or listen. All of which is valid.

However, were one to offer up this self-expression for sale, to demand money for this thing that is yours and of you would imply more than just acknowledgement of our struggle or journey and (in my humble opinion) a greater, more needy and salacious vanity, a craving of justification, a monetisation of something that is produced for its own sake, a creation of a ‘product’ after the fact to placate or inflate the artists’ ego.

I may be over-stating it … and what gives me the right to say this?

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So – to the First C word : Context

Let me give you a little background: I’m the owner and creative director of aitch:creative limited, a small design agency in Hitchin. I founded the company over 25 years ago after being made redundant from a position as a design minion in one of the Marketing Departments at British Aerospace. I had almost no formal design training. I had almost no computer experience – certainly not with the ‘design industry standard’ Apple Macintosh system. And at 21 I was ‘let go’.

But I was young, hungry and more than a little arrogant. I rented a Mac, an office and managed to land a friend-of-a-friend client whose boss was interested in cost-effectiveness and prepared to support a young designer, and whose company wanted a new corporate identity – which I created for them and used that experience to learn and develop most of the practices and skills that set me on the path to where I am now.

Which is where myself and my team of very talented designers produce concepts, design and artwork for packaging, engagement, branding, advertising, web design and promotional artwork for four key business sectors:

•Film & TV




We pride ourselves on great service and top-notch creative which we attain by really investigating and investing in our client’s needs and requirements and going that bit further to ensure that we deliver according to their budget, timescale and satisfaction.

I’d love to attribute our longevity to alchemy or voodoo, but the truth is that I believe that people work with people; and it’s mostly about being friendly, warm, approachable – and delivering what you promise.

The truth of the matter is – in writing this – it occurred to me that I may not actually be objective any more. I may well have developed a kind of Stockholm Syndrome to create a self-palatable version of what I do, for myself – and I may be deluded.

But let’s be true and honest. Which is what I’ve tried to be while writing this; and I’m happy for you to poke sticks at me and my rationales in the comments section.

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Right – the BIG C Word: Commerciality

As many of us are, I am paid to provide a service. I, like many graphic designers, do not (often) consider myself an artist as such, but some of the work I produce is considered commercial art. Images and forms created at the behest of our clients.

My clients come to me and my agency for a number of reasons.

Some because they realise that they have a requirement; that they need to communicate with their audience and want to know how best to achieve that. They solicit and want to hear our opinions and solutions – they want to know how we will help them. They respect our collaboration and we share input. Some clients consider us an out-of-house partner, brand guardians, safe hands.

Some come for us to be their hands. They have ideas and can’t actually make them – so they engage us to make them, then change them. And change them again. We try to understand what they’re trying to achieve, offer guidance, best practices and ideas on how to convey their message differently (which is the diplomatic version of “better or more effectively”).

It’s a developmental process and it’s still shared to an extent.

And there are those (often companies requiring packaging for retail) who don’t really know what they want – they just know that they have a bunch of words or images and a product that they really need to sell – primarily to the buyer at the retailers – and often less consideration is given to the end-user, as, if their product does not have a retailer buy-in, it will not get a decent exposure to the general buying public. The basic rule being, if it’s not in Tesco or Asda, your sales are VASTLY impacted.

And sometimes these buyers have ‘unique’ opinions or narrowed reasoning:

Make it look like the last successful thing that sold X hundred thousand – so it MUST therefore be good.


I’m not buying into that, because I don’t like yellow.

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Rationales such as these are one of the main reasons for the homogenisation of on-shelf retail design, too few channels having too much power…

We take each project on its own merits, and I’m proud to say that regardless of which of the categories that they might fall under, we give them all the same examination and exploration. As I say, I am paid to provide a service – and I work damn hard to ensure that we (my company) provide it to the very best of our ability. And throughout the process – we try to solve the problems and ensure that the end result is as effective and suitable as we can possibly make it. People pay us for the solutions we provide. We do this to make our living. And that makes us commercial.

Come back next week where we look at other C Words – all the way to a Conclusion.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your views on this – so please comment. If you want to talk to us about concepts, design and artwork find our contact details here.

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