20 Apr Are you nerdy enough to be creative?
I was talking to a prominent figure on the global awards scene recently and the conversation turned to data. Is working with data just part of the business and marketing mix or is it a discipline that deserves professional recognition of its own? Do we need more categories at award shows for data visualisation and interfaces, dashboard design and info-graphics? Is the capture, analysis, application and representation of data a creative art, or is it merely linear left-brain thinking? And are the people doing this amazing work too nerdy to be admitted to the creative industries “club”?
They’re good questions to be asking. I’m a great admirer of “data artists” who bring new dimensions and experiences to visualization and storytelling. But there are bigger questions here that cut to the heart of creativity itself.
For centuries there’s been an elitist view of creative work suggesting that only a few people are clever enough to fully appreciate ideas and artistry. These few are the curators, critics and commentators that congregate around the art world wearing thick-rimmed spectacles and a preponderance of black.
This same elitism has sidled over to the world of design, architecture, marketing, advertising and media where small tribes of practitioners still gather to exercise their opinions and judge the work of their peers.
But “data” opens up a different conversation because it’s not about opinions or hypotheses or history or personal preferences, it’s about the reality of people’s behaviour. There’s nothing elitist about it.
For me one of the most exciting and challenging creative opportunities is to work with that accelerating reality. What you do in response to data is an ongoing chance for creative greatness, not a one-time event like making a television commercial or marketing campaign.
While you might feel more comfortable thinking of Google (to name just one example) as a company of nerdy engineers, I see them as a wildly creative bunch constantly working to better their user experiences and stretch into new services not on mere whims or hunches, but informed by data.
Precisely the kind of creative thinking that deserves to be stimulated, nurtured and celebrated in our schools, universities and workplaces.