Ask any creative person what their biggest pet peeve is about working in a professional environment, and odds are that “design by committee” tops the list.
Everyone attached to a project seems to have an opinion, from your creative peers and your account team to the client. Like it or not, this is part and parcel of the career path we have chosen. And while we defend our own work like a mother protects her offspring, we freely critique the work of other creatives like a catty clique of teenage girls.
These days, unofficial brand redesigns and ad campaigns can garner significant amounts of attention (and traffic) in the creative blogosphere, but more often than not, this unfettered creative work is missing the most important piece of the puzzle – Context. And context comes from more than just the USP on a creative brief.
The Next Microsoft
One of the recent stars of creative freedom The Next Microsoft, is a student project from Andrew Kim, an experiment in rebranding the Redmond giant. The work has been hailed by everyone from Brand New to Fast Company. And while I find it a far fresher take than the real deal, the very freedom from the opinions of anyone other than its maker is also why it's student work, talented or not. Completely casting off the clutter of the past is far easier to do in theory than in practice. And Microsoft’s own internal design team understands this all too well, I’m sure. They likely had to sit through meeting after meeting with product and retail managers, all with their own opinions and goals for the brand.
Dear American Airlines
This one goes back a bit, but it's still a great example of the importance of context when discussing (and dismissing) the creative work of our peers:
A user interface designer, after a horrible experience on an airline website, decides to take some free time and provide them with an improved user experience design. The post, Dear American Airlines, made the usual rounds in designer RSS feeds, likely getting lots of head nodding and “hear, hears.” Including my own. And then something unusual happened. One of the UX team responded with a letter so full of context it was fit to burst. It's a great read, and it really lays out the kind of information that someone outside the creative process will always lack.
Glass Houses and All That...
We may like to think that our work is entirely our own, but creative, both good and bad, is collaborative and always contextual. Target audience and objectives are often trumped by personal opinions, piles of analytics, real-world experience or even the dreaded lowest common denominator. But next time you jump to a conclusion about a bit of creative, remember that context is king. And it may be your own work that other creatives are taking to task over a pint after work.