Creative Minds Create Markets
How important is creativity to commerce?
How do you translate ideas from mind to market?
How do you balance investment and innovation?
How is the maker movement changing product design?
I recently participated in a great panel discussion that explored some of these questions as part of the Round Rock Chamber of Commerce’s Creativity and Commerce event. The topics and insights we discussed were quite illuminating—and extremely important to explore, in my opinion.
Why? Because we’re all busy. And there’s a danger in busyness. As product designers, it’s easy to get caught up in completing tasks, accomplishing goals, meeting deadlines, etc. It’s important that we do all these things, but if we never take a step back and consider the big picture, we can end up checking the wrong boxes, spinning our wheels, and wasting valuable time.
The Importance of Creativity
The fact is, translating an idea from mind to market isn’t just about meeting demand or leveraging assets. There’s a big injection of anticipation and imagination involved in game-changing product design.
Creativity is fundamental to what we do. All businesses are looking to stand out in some way, and we as customers can almost always discern gimmickry from the truly creative and novel.
In commerce, creativity is the difference between leaders and followers.
But creativity without strategy is just as flawed as development without creativity. So how do we strike the right balance—a balance that will lead to a successful, marketable product in the end?
The key is embracing the brand and becoming an ambassador for empathy.
Design is about connecting a brand to an experience. This could be a digital interaction, a physical interaction, or a blend of both. Designers must be able to distill a client’s idea or technologies into their most fundamental intentions, and then transcribe those intentions into an experience. This requires a deep understanding of the client’s brand and a strong sense of empathy for the stakeholders’ needs. Once we truly understand the big idea, we can scale the experience across channels.
This is where I feel fortunate to work with a design consultancy, because we are able to cross-pollenate ideas among the various industries we work in—which often leads to the most unexpected yet delightful solutions.
Keeping a Smart Eye on Innovation
Innovation and creativity can be expensive. So how do you pull it off without an over-the-top investment?
At the end of the day, businesses sell products to people. And we aren’t all as different as we think we are.
By creating a knowledge base of potential stakeholders, we can make some foundational, empathic assumptions about what will resonate with one target group or another. We call these personas. As consultants, we use personas often because they help provide insight into the motivations of potential stakeholders, which quickly enables us as designers to respond with relevance.
Tools like these, which have become an essential part of our process, are a big boon to efficiency. We use them to help streamline our research methods, so we don’t need to continually reinvent the wheel.
Another highly valuable tool we use is design language. This is a way of visually mastering a brand’s visual and experiential DNA as a set of guidelines, which allows designers to focus on solving a product problem without wasting effort iterating on already codified brand elements.
Professional Process vs. the Maker Movement
Over the past few years, a shift in creative mindset has been taking place: Some groups are moving away from closely controlled production methods in favor of more open platforms. It’s a change that’s often referred to as the “maker movement,” and it’s been making some ripples in our industry.
The democratization of technology isn’t necessarily a replacement for conventional production methods. Rather, it’s an augmentation of the creative thinking and problem solving process.
In many ways, the maker movement has taught us how to accept failure.
By taking tools that were once relegated to professionals and putting them into the hands of the public, people have become more empowered to experiment. With experimentation comes failure, and with failure comes learning.
That process allows mere ideas to be vetted more thoroughly before engaging more professional resources. Which substantially increases the rate of success.
However, what we can’t do is kid ourselves into thinking that we don’t need quality control anymore. Controlled production methods are designed to keep us safe, and those methods are best left to the trained professionals.
But this is an important conversation to have. In fact, debates and dialogs like this are critical to our continued evolution of our craft—and even (dare I say?) of society at large. We all benefit from these conversations. So the more that we, as designers and makers, engage in our communities in order to make a difference, the better off we all are.