Has the digital age killed creativity?

There is a recurring theme in the creative world. As designers, art directors and creatives grow older they begin to lament the golden age of creativity, those heady days at the beginning of their careers when creativity was strong and effective and wonderful and was, most importantly, a far cry from the terrible new stuff that pollutes the industry of today.

Scan the comments and blogs of creative publications and design articles and you’ll undoubtedly find the disgruntled ‘old guard’ ranting about trends, fads, phases, ‘emperors new clothes’ and how it’s not like it was in their day. Here our senior creative Neil Harrison considers the subject and asks do they have a point?

The biggest gripes seem to centre around digital. They consider it to be fad-based, trend-based, fast-moving and cheap. It’s the fast food outlet of the creative industry. It does, it’s fair to say, produce a lot of bad design and bad creative work, but surely to bemoan the medium misses the point.

There has always been good and bad creative work. Good creative is (practically) timeless. In the commercial creative world it’s all about getting people’s attention and gently persuading them to take a certain course of action. To buy the product or endorse a brand, it doesn’t matter if it’s happening on a sandwich board, a billboard or a digital leader-board, it’s ultimately an exercise in human psychology. The measure of good creativity is in the mind of the audience not in the nature of the medium.

The art of persuasion can take many forms, but it comes down to a handful of psychological techniques: surprise, juxtaposition, harmony, beauty, fear, humour, novelty, sexual attraction or flattery.

Take for example the famous Economist billboard adverts with their striking red backgrounds and witty lines. They pose a clever visual pun. You solve the pun, feel good about it, reflect on the cleverness of the copy writing and your own success in solving it. ‘Well done clever clogs you solved me’ – the advert says. Self-flattery is the creative weapon of choice in this instance.

And this technique will continue to work for years to come because as human beings we love to feel clever, love to feel good about ourselves, and love to be entertained. This technique can be applied to the digital arena as easily as it can to a poster-board.

Creativity is a way of thinking and doing that can permeate any industry. It’s not the business sector or the (digital) medium itself that is lacking in anyway, it’s merely the quality of the creative that’s tactically deployed that is either up to the job or not.

To moan about the end of the golden era of creativity is to miss the point entirely.