Creativity Kills

People are creative. It’s a fact of the state of humanity. People want to make things. It’s built into the human condition. But there is a difference between haphazard creation and focused, goal-oriented development.

Andy Rutledge states that creativity is not design. I agree with him. Creativity alone does not solve problems. Creativity, when allowed free reign, is as much a destructive force in business projects as it could be a productive partner.

Creativity can be a great driver for new ideas, but when creative focus remains the primary focus, the end product is bound to suffer. Web sites can prove a noteworthy breeding ground for creative direction overriding good problem solving.

I will avoid mentioning any sites that I have found which are better macaroni and finger-paint project than they are solutions to existing problems. I tend to agree with Steve Krug that it is hard to make a really effective site and easy to botch the job.

Andy Rutledge has already said quite enough about creativity versus visual design that I don’t feel I should elaborate any further. There are plenty of other aspects of a project that people get slick and tricky with.

Visual elements within a design can be a killer when you have someone that wants to expend lots of time being creative. Regardless of the fact that the visual elements on a site can be referred to as artwork, it is not art like they have in your local coffee shop.

Before I started working at my current company, there was a designer that was interested in photography. When working on a particular marketing folder, he spent weeks creating a set, cutting out styrofoam letters and shapes. He set up backdrops and lights. Eventually he came away with just the right shot. Truth be told, it looked so perfect I swore he rendered it in a 3D imaging program.

The problem is he was more focused on being creative than working on business needs, The folder he created looked nice but it was far too costly in time and salary. Creativity can be a major expense on a project for only a small improvement, if there is improvement at all.

Even if your designer stays sharp and focused, other issues can arise. Copywriters can get creative, which can be as detrimental to the message as any overwrought design. A good copywriter will stay focused on company goals, speak in simple language and cut straight through the goals of the business.

Bad copy can take a good design and tell your user that the company looks great on the outside, but suffers from a lack of direction on the inside. Creative copy can be painful. Often, a creative writer is going to show their love of the language so they will use too much of it. Focus and simplicity is key.

The last problem I am going to bring up, though there are a large number of other issues that arise out of overly creative thinking, is creative development.

Development involves anything from site hierarchy and architecture to coding and various other elements which make the site recognizable as an interactive information machine.

When an information architect or user experience designer/developer allows creativity get in the way of focusing on the user, the results can be disastrous. The site flow will suffer and navigation will become obvious to the user.

Obvious site navigation and structure is painful. The user notices because they find themselves frustrated and lost. Lost, frustrated users leave, never to return.

Finally, the engineering development which goes into the site must be clear. Problems must be solved in a clean, thoughtful way, but creativity cannot drive this aspect of the project.

One of the most detrimental things to a project life cycle is a creative engineer. Engineers that are being creative first and solving problems second are engineers looking to add unnecessary features.

The cliche of the feature-happy engineer comes from a creative engineer. Good engineering requires a smart, creative problem solver. The key is solving a problem. If an engineer is allowed to create a solution that lacks a problem, the engineer is guaranteed to derail your project as fast as you can imagine.

In the end, business solutions require a clever, focused team. Creativity should be harnessed and directed toward solving existing problems. When creativity is allowed to run rampant in a business environment, the results can be damaging to the user experience and the business image. Go forth, solve problems and make the web a better place.

2 Responses to Creativity Kills

  1. Chris says:

    @Marco

    You’re absolutely right. Steve Krug addresses this issue in “Don’t Make Me Think,” and points out what each party has in mind for a single project. I’ve run into this several times with various project here. Everyone wants to steer the boat and people need to learn when it helps and when it’s just getting in the way of business.

  2. Marco says:

    The biggest problem with creativity is that everybody has it, to a certain extent anyway. When it comes to design and UI literally everyone has an opinion about it. Like I saw someone say on Twitter the other day: “Everybody is an armchair designer”. Very true.

    When a company / project group allows all these ‘armchair designers’ to have a say in the project the whole thing tends to end up in an epic mess.

    Things get even worse when people with power (execs, sr. managers) push their ‘creative ideas’ through and have them implemented because most designers don’t have the balls to tell their superiors to stick it where the sun don’t shine.

    I see this happening. A LOT.