SXSW Interactive 2014: New Rules for the Creative Process

The second in our series of guest posts by Michelle Campbell, senior planner and digital strategist for the TELUS account at TAXI Canada. Michelle is filing from Austin, Texas, where she is attending the SXSW Interactive Festival. Read her first post here

Although this is only my second time attending SXSW Interactive, I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons. The first is that you should never assume you’ll be able to find a taxi. The second is that if you want to come away with tangible learnings that you can apply once the conference is over, you really have to dig.

With this in mind, I focused a lot of my time on attending sessions about creativity in the hopes I’d find inspiration from outside and inside the advertising world. Based on those sessions, here are four lessons about creative process and culture that agencies need to take to heart:

1. Ideas come from everywhere

Colin Raney of IDEO spoke of the importance of having “enlightened novices” in the room during the panel “How Creative People Arrive at Good Ideas.” He said experts are great, but sometimes you need people to come to the table without an understanding what’s already been done and what hasn’t worked.

In the same panel, Erin Clift of Spotify explained the process of hosting “hackathons” within their organization, and how one of the keys to getting great ideas is having everyone involved — whether you’re a designer or a receptionist.

In advertising we often rely on people with the word “creative” in their title for ideas, but we forget that inspiration isn’t taught. It comes from real life, and anyone can bring that to the table.

Photo by Michelle Campbell

A Re+Public digital interactive mural in downtown Austin, TX speaks to the creative process. Photo by Michelle Campbell

 2. Work faster and more iteratively

We don’t move fast enough. The traditional creative development cycle is crippling innovation. I first heard this in “Permission Engines: Facilitating Creativity,” a panel that brought together speakers who were experts in enabling innovations in art and technology. Jenn Hobbs of the Flux Foundation put it bluntly: “Don’t covet ideas. Not sharing slows the process.”

In “How Creative People Arrive At Good Ideas,” Scott Aukerman of Comedy Bang Bang shared a lesson he learned from Bob Odenkirk while working on the Mr. Show: if you take five days to do something, you love it and become precious of it. If you come up with an idea quickly, you aren’t upset if it needs to be changed.

At agencies, we’ve grown used to spending weeks on one idea only to have it thrown away at the last minute. If we opened up this process to more sharing — among ourselves and our clients — we’d have more time to build and evolve better ideas.

3. Authorship breeds preciousness

Another lesson that Aukerman shared from his days writing for the Mr. Show was that things worked better when people worked together and removed the sense of authorship from ideas. The same way that working slowly makes someone precious of an idea, so too does creating a culture where everyone wants authorship and ownership of their ideas.

Patricia Korth-McDonnell of digital agency Huge suggested in “Chaos and Creativity” that agencies can help challenge this by creating a culture that celebrates effectiveness over awards.

4. Test and learn

Session after session, I heard people from all walks of life say that no idea is perfect out of the gate. The importance of user-testing has certainly grown and is being recognized by more creative professions. Korth-McDonnell said at Huge, it’s essential for creatives to observe research rather than get handed the information — it’s better to witness 10 people not locate a button on a website than to just be told to make that button bigger.

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  1. [...] from Austin, Texas, where she is attending the SXSW Interactive Festival. Read her other posts here and [...]