The Irrelevance of Relevance
If someone told you they knew how to measure creativity, they’d likely have won a number of awards for their work in doing so.
They’d also likely have graced the “stocks to watch” sections of huge global financial publications. They would have been the subjects of those Leibovitz-esque cover shoots, their elbows set on the shoulders of their business partners, smug looks and all, leaning against a perfectly paint-splattered chair or ladder, almost royal-like, with the headline “Ruling Creativity.”
Unfortunately, here we sit knowing full well that the only ruler here is creativity itself, the magic to which we creatives are ultimately beholden. Still, this doesn’t stop us from suggesting the very factors against which we hope our creative endeavours will be measured.
When we asked those in our survey to choose one metric that best captures how they’d like creativity to be measured, the results suggested we, as a group, are keen to know our work actually means something.
Almost 40% of respondents said that “positive impact” is key. “Measurement needs to look at a number of angles, with positive impact being at the top and the rest feeding into it,” says Mark Liney, the group CEO at DesignStudio, a London-based agency.
As for the rest, a distant second was “category defining,” with slightly more than 13%. And, perhaps one of the most telling is the placement of “awards” as a measure of creativity, which came in dead last, with 0%.
But the trickiest of the bunch was “relevancy to customer,” not for how it indexed in our survey, at slightly more than 11%, but how respondents addressed it in their explanations about our original question:
“How do you measure creativity?”
Standing in the shoes
“I chose positive impact because it's probably the most generic thing on the list; to deliver positive outcomes in a multitude of different ways,” says Simon Elliott, founder of Rose Design, a London-based agency. “I think that that's not to say there weren't others on the list that we felt were highly relevant.”
A number of our respondents explained that things like measuring financial gain are certainly near the top of the list for commercial clients. By contrast, for cultural sector charities, or public sector organizations, financial sustainability is a huge aspect of what they do, but positive impact and relevance to customers is huge too.
But when this group specifies relevance to customers it can mean either the client or the actual audience the work was intended for.
“If a design team is bringing us in and there's a senior designer or creative director, if we can do right by them, we're making them look good, you know, it's job security for them,” says Brent Couchman, founder and creative director at Moniker, a San Francisco-based agency.
In many instances, it’s safe to assume that every brief has two audiences for which the creative outputs need to be relevant. “What I like is the confidence to know that your work truly makes a difference and not just to the client,” says Simon Dixon, co-founder at DixonBaxi, a London-based agency.
The fight between light and dark
“I never thought as a young graphic designer that I could have the audacity to say that we can use design for good or do anything other than just deliver against the client’s brief. Now we go way, way, way further than that,” says David Johnston, founder of Accept & Proceed, a London-based agency.
Now it’s commonplace for creative minds to be at the table with big decision makers, driving whole enterprises forward, helping them think differently about the organizations they run and work with. Johhnston says that’s a clear marker that creativity is, in this moment, seen as a way to drive positive impact, and that it’s a sign of the times.
“Doesn't it feel a bit like we're watching this kind of slow motion collapse of global society?” he asks. “I am by nature an optimist, but it feels like it's almost a fight between light and dark and I feel that if our work can be having a positive impact and thereby creating more light in the world, which I think is possible — which is audacious.”
“It's great to win awards and all that kind of stuff. But, yeah, I think you've got to be careful about the clock of bullshit that comes with this stuff.”