Opinion

Technology should help creatives – but don’t put down the pen and paper just yet

Copywriter Ben Yabsley argues that with so much technology at our disposal, it’s becoming harder and harder for creatives to find time for basic ideas to flourish.

Advertising creatives have never had so many toys. Computers are more powerful than ever, software is cheaper, and any piece of new creative technology can be easily self-taught through an endless array of YouTube tutorials.

But with so much at our disposal, it’s becoming harder and harder to protect the time needed to come up with ideas for these creative toys to craft.

As a result, the work that the advertising industry makes is getting prettier and fancier… but not necessarily smarter.

Part of the problem is that technology has become a crutch. It’s easier to sell an idea to a client if it looks more tangible. So, creatives become locked in an arms race of sorts… trying to craft their ideas better than the teams that they’re up against, in the hopes that their ideas are the ones that get picked.

Photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash

This has lead to clients increasingly expecting to see work that resembles the finished product the very first time it’s presented to them.

But it wasn’t always like this.

The conceptual and crafting processes used to be more distinct than they are now. Ten years ago, creatives sold their ideas as rough drawings. The ideas would be evaluated, one would be bought, and then they’d go away and work on the crafting of that idea.

Today, the time that creatives used to spend generating ideas is becoming more and more eroded, and being replaced by the time they have to spend crafting them.

To come up with ground-breaking ideas, creatives need to generate a lot of them. They need to get the easy, expected ideas out of the way first before they can get to anything interesting. And the faster they generate ideas, the faster they hit pay dirt.

This is a creative process championed by AWARD School – Australia’s most prestigious advertising portfolio school. Australia has always punched above its weight at advertising award shows, and perhaps part of the reason lies in AWARD School’s novel approach to teaching the creative process.

“Reducing your thinking to pen and paper means you can get ideas down quickly, so you use your time to come up with lots of them and eventually get to the good ones,” says Karen Ferry, state head of AWARD School.

Throughout the entire 13-week course, students are restricted to using pen and paper only. The emphasis is entirely on concept. And it’s a strikingly technology-free experience. Ferry explains: “Typically, the goal we set our students is to come up with 200 ideas for one brief in one week, and the good stuff doesn’t come till about 100 ideas in.”

Now, it stands to reason that if you’re spending a lot of time crafting your ideas in the early stages of the creative process, you’re never going to reach that 200th idea. You’re limiting yourself to the expected ideas that come early and easy.

And by evaluating ideas in their naked, un-crafted state, it forces them to be judged on their own merit. “When you strip away execution, when you strip away the nuance of good design and photographic angles, do you have a good idea in your hands? Could this shine regardless of your craft budget? Because if it can’t, maybe your idea could be better,” Ferry continues.

There’s no denying that technology has the potential to be a powerful conduit for creativity, but it’s important to make sure that we’re still protecting the time we have to play in a purely conceptual space first.

If not, creatives run the risk of becoming enslaved to the very tools that are supposed to make their lives easier.

And that’s never going to lead to smarter ideas.

Ben Yabsley is a senior copywriter at Anomaly.

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