I Am Not a Creative

Magic Hat

I’ve never liked the word creative, especially when it is applied to me as a noun. But this is not an argument about grammar. Saying that someone is creative says nothing about them, as being creative simply means being human. We’re all creative. Physicians can be creative. Dentists can be creative. Lawyers, restauranteurs, shopping mall security officers, administrative assistants and certainly accountants can all be creative. I refer to myself as a designer.

I have no ill will toward those who use the term, it is not generally meant as an insult, but it carries with it some heavy baggage. People may associate being a creative with a few of the tasks I may perform during the course of the day. Working with color schemes. Choosing fonts. Art directing photo shoots. All of that is fair enough.

But the term carries with undesirable (and completely off-base) associations as well. “Creatives” are routinely characterized as moody, eccentric, arrogant, flighty and habitually making decisions based upon emotional reactions.

Unfortunately, many designers and illustrators have done little to dissuade this stereotype. So we’re at least partly to blame.

The truth is that design, illustration, writing and photography (I’m sure I’ve left out many fields that are labeled as creative) are all old crafts. Each is a noble craft with its own long history of being valued as a business tool. Each are practiced by designers, illustrators, writers and photographers (not creatives).

The process of practicing any of these professions involves making careful decisions. Which color evokes the right mood? Which typeface communicates the message the text is trying to say? Which of these six nearly identical photos has the right combination of frame, color space and lighting to fit the composition without being distracting? Making these decisions requires thought, practice and skill.

I know this takes skill because I’ve seen myself grow over the past fifteen years, and I’ve watched many young designers learn to use their tools and perfect their craft. I don’t believe there is a such a thing as a “designer’s eye”. I don’t believe any of us perform magic.

Put another way, what is often written off as creativity is not magical wizardry that is bestowed upon a few lucky (or unlucky) individuals, it is a muscle that needs exercise.

Designers, illustrators, photographers, writers and the like provide business services. These services help communicate the needs of the clients’ businesses. They are valuable services. Therefore Designers, illustrators, photographers, writers and the like are a valuable asset for any business.

Professional demeanor and actions come first for anyone. But the language that we use to describe ourselves should reflect this. Creative is a term loaded with images of flighty liberal-arts majors who cannot stay on track in a meeting. Creative is a term that conjures up someone who may get their feelings hurt if the big bad client doesn’t like red. But worse—and more importantly—it does nothing to describe the actual work we do, the skills that we have, and the value that we impart to a business.

I’m not a creative. I’m a designer.