The ongoing debate about the future of the agency took a wrong turn at quite an early stage. I think we are all clear on the outputs: clients need ideas that sparkle with zeitgeist. But the debate lost its way when discussion quickly turned to the agency structures that delivered these ideas – the argument that organisationally an agency needs to restructure to ‘keep up’.
To me the more important question is how does an agency create an environment where people can be creative in a different way (if that’s not a contraction in terms) – a way that is more relevant to today’s culture? Insert your own cliché here on what that you think that is, but for me the best illustration of 21st century behaviour is seeing people stop half way up a flight of stairs to check their Facebook – #stairsarethenewsofa. It happens all the time.
To date, the art school model has done us proud. I remember systematically learning through experimentation every aspect of the medium that could now be described as ‘2D off-screen’. Tone, colour, texture, line, space expressed through printing processes, paint, mixed media, photography were the building blocks that you used to express your ideas. Without a clear understanding of the craft your ideas could not be expressed with absolute clarity.
And learning art and design history has stood us in good stead too. The breakthroughs in this history from Renaissance and perspective to logos and Paul Rand have excited and inspired creatives for decades. But these breakthoughs seem a bit moot now somehow.
It is now becoming clear (to me at least) that this education points us to Big Ideas that are dictatorial, one dimensional, and patronising – no matter how knowing they are (and ok, a bit funny too). This campaign leaps to mind – and this riposte illustrates how old fashioned creative is open to a creative broadside.
Agencies need to be the place where ideas come from. We need to dissect today’s medium of choice and train people about its building blocks before we endlessly restructure our agencies. We need to teach people about the history of creativity in today’s medium (a good place to start as any, ohh and here and here too) before we jump onto the next bandwagon.
Let’s not get distracted by the platforms, more interesting questions lurk – what are the different textures of interactivity? – what’s the interaction that’s taking place when people cry when a fictional character dies? How many tones are there in portable? Why do people stop on the stairs to check something that delays them getting to where they want to get to – what is it they are carrying that makes this stop so important? How many colours of creative control are there? Are we teachers, dictators, or the dudes sitting in Tin Pan Alley?