by: Idris Mootee

I received over 50 emails on this controversial blog post "The Death of Creative Director" and thanks for those who expressed their views here. Here's one from a friend of mine Barry Robinson (a CD) which I want to share with you. It is good to see a digital agency Creative Director's view of this topic.

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Interesting take. Funny enough, I buy this hook, line and sinker. But I feel it is less about death of the Creative Director and more about death of self interest. And in corporate North America, that isn't an easy change to achieve. But it should be something that corporations strive to achieve.

I was asked to help define Agency.com's process. One of the key aspects of that was to level the playing field. We'd have a lead for each small group of 'creatives' (group being a designer, copywriter, IA, strategist, interface developer, technologist, depending on the project). Anyone could be the lead, and this was tied to deliverable responsibility than the 'say so' person. That lead could be a copywriter, an IA, a strategist, or for that matter anyone who had relevant experience to that project. But from a creativity standpoint, everyone was on an even footing.

In this set up a CD isn't defining those ideas, but is there, when requested, as a catalyst. A CD is less to do with being the sole idea machine, and more to be there in support when needed. The question being... is this needed?

It depends on the team. A core team should always be capable. Some rely on the CD's to support teams that are not as capable as they should be. Or to save the day because due to poor planning the team simply doesn't have the time required to develop solutions that are good enough.

To me, the sense of self interest, career growth and territory is something that has seemed far more prolific in North America. But it was a growing phenomenon in Europe. Change is the responsibility of the corporation. Reward mechanisms need to be rethought. Recruitment strategies reassessed. The way projects are approached and project teams are built needs some serious thinking.

I mean, how do you know who you need until you know what it is that is needed? And if we're truly offering a bespoke creative solution to our clients, then wouldn't the point at which you know be some way into the project?

I could easily switch the titles in you argument and it would be just as relevant. If I was to list the most 'creative' people I have known, the top 10 would be a mixed bag of PMs, an MD, an accountant friend of mine, a handful of strategists, two copywriters, a guy I know who runs a battery firm in the UK, and a couple of designers. Point being that even though I know many many designers who can craft a beautiful mock, book, poster, logo, it takes a different sort of capability to deliver solutions. True creativity. An effective creative is a masterful thinker and craftsman - thinker+graphic design, thinker+branding, thinker+copy, thinker+coding. Ignoring one or the other is going to get you in trouble.

A successful initiative needs faultless multi-disciplinary thinkers with unique skill-sets at it's core, it also needs supporting skill-sets at hand. As the initiative progresses, needs get defined, the supporting skill-sets change. The core team stays connected for reviews, but if their specific skill set is less required, there involvement becomes less.

If you think of corporate structures, where people are brought together to achieve stuff, and collaborative structures, where people choose to come together through common interest to achieve stuff, at a point somewhere between the two is where we should be aiming towards. Supporting infrastructure and hand picked core teams, with collaborative working practices where involvement is not limited to title.

My point being, you can't swap out the role of a CD until you change the way your corporation works. Any CD of worth would welcome this change.

Thank you Barry. Good thoughts. The advertising industry is no question in a state of flux. The big shops are scrambling to buy and build capabilities in desperate attempts. Many of the first generation of interactive agency is carrying their shares of legacies. Customers are bombarded everywhere with advertising, free offers and can't-miss opportunities. Where once there were one or two companies in a particular niche, there are now tons all competing for the buyer's shrinking attention span.

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With the need to communicate ever more complex messages to their audience, marketers have begun to seek out creative thinkers for everything from brand development and new product ideas to the development of the company's mission-critical digital infrastructures. More and more, designers are being invited to participate in senior marketing and strategy discussions. As a result, a new breed of strategic designer thinkers has emerged – called them the Strategic Designer or Design Thinking Strategist. In fact, if you looked at the most successful creative directors in the advertising world, they were Strategic Designers rather than Creative Designers. They designed the greatest brand of the last few decades.

What qualifies the Strategic Designer (or Design Thinking Strategist) to sit at the table with senior management, discussing brand innovation and marketing strategies? Very few designers are trained in business or marketing (and even branding), what can these creative individuals offer to the process of developing a company's innovation strategy?

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Strategic Designers are "conceptualizers"". They have the ability to create order from chaos by breaking down complex business stories into bite-size chunks. Difficult concepts are reduced to a simple visual element. Complex marketing systems are captured in simple elements.  Suddenly everything makes sense and comes together. They build prototypes both to test the design and to align stakeholders in the process and help clients navigate through the system.

Strategic Designers are creative "metaphor" users. When they start looking at a problem they usually express their ideas as a metaphor.  In design, metaphors are viewed as heuristics that help organize.  Metaphorical reasoning is an iterative process through which designers gradually increase their knowledge of a situation. Basically, the use of metaphors aids in structuring business problems, which by definition are non-routine Thus, when solving non-routine design problems, it is difficult to predict what a solution will look like. In solving a business problem, they use when fuzzy metaphors aid reflection about the essence of a situation. Reflecting on a design situation was seen to have a strong effect on the perception, analysis, and framing of a problem. Not only can metaphors assist in problem reflection but also help to break away from the limitations imposed by initial problem constraints. Many great creative directors I’ve worked with are so good in using metaphors to lead in a strategic solutions.

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