Creativity In Marketing: versus pure originality

Creativity and Originality in Design, Advertising and General Marketing Collateral. 

Marketing: I hesitate to even type the word. If ever there was a sinfully misused business term, it is this one. I will try by all means not to add to the problem. “One thing” I am certain of is that design is not marketing, neither is advertising nor branding. Marketing is marketing and under it or supporting it are the former  three and that digital doppelganger.

What is also sinfully misunderstood are the concepts of originality and creativity which in my equation equal innovation and invention. Innovation requires originality and creativity of thought, perception and/or process. Invention requires originality and creativity of the idea; the concept. The later is more rare. Innovation is more common, being inspired by various influences in our environment. It follows inspired iterations of what has been before; breathing new life and meaning into the familiar and this requires creative dexterity, but, not necessarily original conceptualisation in its strictest sense.
However, it must be noted that within an iterative innovation inspired by a non original concept, there often exists a string of sub-concepts or ideas stemming from pure originality.

Originality + Innovation = Innovation
Inspiration + Iteration = Innovation
Inspiration + Serendipity + Originality = Invention
Inspiration + Originality = Invention

The Issue Of Originality
At this point, it may be a good idea to clarify an issue of graphic design that many people seem to find confusing. In the past, when things were not as easy to do as they are today, most photographs and illustrations or other graphic elements where specifically commissioned for each particular assignment, so there was less room for doubt with regard to issues of originality of work. Given the choice and a decent budget, this is how I would still prefer to work on all projects today.

As the graphics industry grew and developed, so too did the elements or alphabet of graphic design –mimicking the organic development of other human languages. The alphabet and dictionaries of design grew to include stock photography and illustrations accumulated over time. One no longer has to commission a photographer or illustrator for each and every project; you can simply buy or source for free, what you need from a stock library or clip art library and do what you need to do with it. See the problem yet?

Well, let me help you out; if a designer buys an exquisitely prepared illustration or photograph and “simply” adds a little text to it, how is that original work? Or, how original is that work? How is that not plagiarism? Well, firstly; “simply” is not that simple, but, this is a valid question all the same and one that needs to be addressed. Remember we said graphic design is a language and every language has an alphabet which consists of very limited, set, elements and characters as well as a dictionary of limited vocabulary and expressions. Although in graphic design there still remains infinite possibilities and flexibility with regard to developing original non-textual alphabetical or dictionary elements, there are some elements that are already set and varying them for the sake of originality may be, on a standard job, very costly with no meaningful positive return on investment or benefit to the desired outcome. A circle is a circle, a square is a square and a black boy riding a bicycle is still just a black boy riding a bicycle etc. etc. and there are enough variations and effects of these in stock libraries to suit a wide variety of messages and purposes. The greatest challenge is that these libraries are not exclusive and one image or illustration may be used by a hundred different designers for a hundred different jobs and purposes. That being the case, the question is, how then is originality possible in such cases?

The easiest way to understand how this can work is to draw a parallel with the written language alphabet and dictionaries; while there are millions of different writers all over the world, all using the same 26 letter English alphabet and the same set of available words, it is still infinitely possible for each writer to write a truly unique and original story. All the stories – just like this book – contain words and characters (letters) that are identical to those used in millions of others, but, it is their context and arrangement – their “design” – which create a unique story. For centuries, authors have achieved uniqueness without having to create new alphabets, words or letters each time. This is where true creativity shines; being able to take a word or in the case of a designer, common everyday object or element and breathing into it a new original meaning and freshness; different from that originally intended by its original creator. However, wherever possible, it is recommended to always make adjustments or edit stock images and illustrations to suit each new concept – not just download and paste. Where budgets permit, however, it is always better to create as much as is possible from scratch. Some projects do not require a high level of originality in individual building block elements, but, in the overall concept. Architecture works in much the same way; thanks to an advanced degree of standardisation. A lot of what goes into what appears to be truly original architecture is standard bricks, glass, frames, nails, tubes, wall paper, switches, tiles, paints and other finishings etc.

It is important to note and remember that graphic design is neither an exercise in illustration nor in photography; these two are just elements used in graphic design. Therefore, while a design must be original, the elements used to construct it need not strictly be so. This is another reason it is critical to work with professional designers so that we do not end up with what may be little more than just “legalised” plagiarism; avoiding this requires a sensitivity which will not be found in non-professional “designers”. Where stock libraries are used, clients should be made fully aware of the risks of coming across competing artwork that contains elements identical to theirs and also made aware that original design is not synonymous with original photography or illustration. It must be noted though that a stronger sense of originality is created when these two elements are also original. Such things are best explained to commissioning clients ahead of time, lest one be accused of fraudulent practice. 
Extract from the book Riding The Consumer. Click here to order a copy.