The C Word(s): Commercial Creativity – AKA Can I Do This And Still Have a Soul? Part II
In the last article we looked at what it means to be within the creative industry via the use of several safe for work C Words; starting with Context and Commercial.
Well, it’s time for more. Ring the C word bell!
Now, even typing this, let alone saying it, made me feel a bit sullied. Offering my wares to whomever needs them. A gun for hire, if you wish.
And I’ll be honest – it’s not a new feeling. I’ve had this nagging at me for many years.
I don’t mean I’m akin to some back-alley, Victorian-era snaggle-toothed lady of the night from an ITV Jack the Ripper drama. I’m a bit more ambitious in my self-image than that. Think more along the lines of eighties Rebecca DeMornay in Risky Business. But I’m not as well dressed.
The reason I feel this way is simple; and comes down to a basic insecurity that I (and I understand, many others) have.
As mentioned last time, I’m not formally trained; nor am I a ‘proper’ (by which I mean trained) businessman. I do, however, consider myself a designer and although I sometimes question how great I am at either job; I damn well enjoy it! I just occasionally feel like I’m ‘getting away with it’ – and that the day will come when someone calls me out and rumbles me as an imposter. Untrained and unrestrained – with no more right to a design opinion than the postman, let alone to be CHARGING for that opinion!
Maybe I’m paranoid. Maybe it’s a classic case of imposter syndrome. Anyway, over the many years of my career, I’ve become reasonably adept at surfing the waves of highs and lows, of arrogance and insecurity.
So, now let’s address…
Creativity is vital and crucial to every project – solving problems that our clients ask of us can be a combination of many disciplines.
and, as the Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘creativity’:
originality of thought!
Aside from my insecurities and suspicions that I’m selling my flesh, I really do love what I do. I also worry that I’m painting myself into a corner of obsolescence … or becoming less relevant to the world at large, or that perhaps I’m just not as varied, or relying on my knowledge, my arsenal of tricks and standard responses.
And then every so often I sit back and take stock. Because these self-doubts, this monitoring and worrying about my own abilities and worth seem to be quite beneficial.
As, in doing so, I’m frequently looking at what I, and my amazing team do, our methods and our output; and that means that we don’t rest on our laurels, we don’t trot out the same old set of solutions because ‘they’ve worked in the past’ and it means that we do keep a reign on what we do.
It means we strive to monitor the rest of the world and the sectors in which we operate to make sure that we understand the trends, we don’t HAVE to follow them (even though we often do – commercially and by request); but that’s all about knowing the rules so that you can bend, and/or break them. That helps keep us fresh and relevant in my humble opinion and goes a little way to placating these raging insecurities.
Clients and Challenges
It seems many business guides, mentors and gurus on blogs and sites constantly advocate that you should ‘focus on a niche, become an expert in that’ and the business will come to you.
But, right or wrong, I have never believed in, or agreed with this.
It seems illogical to me – to LIMIT your thinking, and options. and potential clients and projects.
I believe that you should have a broad enough variety in your challenge-base to keep your brain firing and to force you ask different questions from the previous project, to be aiming your thought processes at a different market.
To address a different client, in a different medium, with a different goal – and still do the best you can to explore, develop and deliver what they require.
We are very fortunate in that through the life of the company we have always generated most of our business through word of mouth, where customers recommend us, or clients leave one place and contact us from their new job, which is both flattering and immensely satisfying.
And because we’ve been around and had a website for SUCH a long time, the companies who Google ‘Graphic Designer, Hitchin – or Web Designer, Hitchin – find us high in their results.
But what we also find is that it’s not necessarily what we deliver for their sector that they come to us for. A potential corporate client who comes to our site might see and like the spread of branding work that we’ve done : but we get the largest chunk of our Corporate ID work from people who see the Film Poster designs on our site, and then cagily ask us if we’d ‘be interested’ in ‘just’ doing some corporate ID work.
Yes, we LOVE corporate ID work! It’s SO different to everything else we do – but the clients seem to have this aspirational or insecure feeling that maybe their projects are too mundane or dull for us, as we work on entertainment properties perceived as being fast-moving, exciting, expensive, and continually bathed in champagne. It’s seductive and lures them in with some kind of perception of an associated coolness.
Everyone that has been involved in the industry knows that it is the artifice, the glossy shop front. That it’s what they want to see, and we’ve learned this, we utilise its selling power and are happy to let this little misnomer bring in clients from different business areas.
All those business gurus (yes, them again) say to ‘show the type of work you like to do, and that work will come to you … ‘
Well, I say show your work, and let the clients who like it – no matter which part of it – come to you, then you can assess them and see if you and they are a good match.
It used to be that I’d take on any client who came a-knocking, but I’ve been burned a few times now after being naive with bad clients, and with blind faith allowing some to run up bad debts. It’s made me wary, and empowered me to turn away the clients that I’m not 100% on board with, if I, or my team, don’t like their ethics or products, if we see potential personality clashes or maybe I just think they may be tricky to work with.
I did originally type ‘too much hassle to make it worth my while’ there – but deleted it – as it’s not always about the money.
Sometimes it’s about the work.
Having fun is sometimes more important than earning money.
Taking pride in what it is you do and why you do it and creating work that you are proud of. Or possibly the opportunity to work on a project that will actually do some good, to raise awareness and communicate a strong, clear and positive message, to make a greater impact for a smaller charity, or to help educate, be it helping kids have fun while learning, or young film makers learn more about the importance of sound. Sometimes it’s just the opportunity to work on a property or with a brand that you admire.
These are important things to me. I’d rather cover my costs, take a modest wage and be happy, and do what I can to create great work … and to stay creatively stimulated.
One area that I love, and would like to be able to explore further, is (cue the C Word Bell)
What I’ve also found is that an external stimulus in your working day is very beneficial.
Be it as a sounding board, a critic, a brainstorming associate, someone to challenge your rationale. Even a drinking buddy, but having a collaborator is also a very great asset in the quest for fending off stagnation, and for generating inspiration.
In my time I have rented out desk space and brought in freelance staff, sometimes out of necessity, and sometimes – in exceptional circumstances – more as a shot in the arm for myself and my team.
In the spirit of musical artists whose music and/or methodology I respect and find massively inspirational like Jack White, Dave Grohl, PJ Harvey, Damon Albarn and of course David Bowie (it was only a matter of time till he got a mention).
It’s their process of meeting, collaborating, creating together briefly – then going their separate ways and still getting the best out of their time. That really gets the brain and the pulse racing.
I love working with my team, our dynamic has been honed and smoothed over the years and the variety of valid solutions that we are able to create in the work that we produce is a constant, the differing viewpoints and approaches to the same brief mean that every project has a considered depth and that all decisions can be challenged, worked through and rationalised.
I know that we all benefit from having other creatives about or involved in a project, be that in-house or remotely – and some of the excellent people that I have the good fortune to associate with I see regularly at the Creative Meat, a monthly gathering of Hertfordshire creatives. And I’d like to thank them too – their opinions, input and fresh perspectives are of real value.
In summary – maybe by keeping our projects spread across different disciplines we are engineering the need to keep pushing, to be creative in order to be fulfilled.
We’re not tortured artists ‘working for the man’. (Well, not all the time!)
We’re creatives offering a service that demands we push ourselves to deliver Creative answers to other people’s problems and projects within set parameters – be they budgetary, time, market, size or appropriateness.
To conclude – I’ll put this to you again.
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, creation of a product after the fact to placate or inflate the artists’ ego?
What I do is offer a creative service (that I have deliberately structured to allow me to be creative) generating a saleable solution and delivering an end result for which I am paid.
Maybe they’re not so different – maybe Spike WAS right after all.
And If that DOES make me a lady of the night – then I’m fine with that.
I have become what I beheld, and I am content that I have done right!
Eliott Ness, the Untouchables
I really woulld love to hear your views on this – so please comment. If you want to talk to us about concepts, design and artwork find us here: https://aitchcreative.co.uk/