The New Creative Team: A bigger playing field & the growing importance of creative teamwork

A blog series by Chad Otis, Executive Creative Director

Creativity is often characterized as the ability to generate original ideas by making new connections between seemingly unrelated ideas and things. In the world of digital product development, the already vast array of ideas and things that can be connected continues to grow and the ability of those of us labeled as “creative” to understand all of those things well enough to conjure up truly innovative solutions on our own is, quite frankly, a thing of the past.

Where not long ago we were first confronted with the challenge of considering phone screens in addition to desktop screens in designing user experiences – that challenge seems almost simple when compared to now what’s at hand. The current array of screens and contexts, and uses of said screens, along with physical/digital connected experiences and even broader possibilities of an Internet of Things, has brought us to a new level of complexity. We’re now challenged with designing experiences for the users of these ecosystems and all of the diverse channels and touch points that can exist within them. It has become a challenge that requires creative thinking from everyone involved. More than ever, we all need to be creative.

“It has become a challenge that requires creative thinking from everyone involved. More than ever, we all need to be creative.”

Cross-disciplinary collaboration

Creativity is no longer something that “creatives” can or should guard closely, but instead we should be actively seeking participation from everyone involved. Strategists, researchers, user experience designers, programmers, visual designers, industrial designers, quality assurance engineers, project managers – the long list of client stakeholders and many others must all have a hand in the definition and development of a successful product or experience. As a result, at Smashing Ideas, we are constantly evolving our approach and methodologies to be more inclusive, to promote design advocacy internally and externally, throughout development. For example, we keep client stakeholders engaged, not just providing them with updates at milestones, but getting their feedback and ideas as team members. It’s not surprising that, very often, a client stakeholder might be sitting on a handful of ideas that they’re more than ready to share in a collaborative exercise. Ideas that can provide insight and become valuable fodder for creative solutions.

Group-think versus thinking in isolation

Collaboration is critical. However, I’m a firm believer that group-think needs to be balanced with individual rumination. This is a sentiment shared by Susan Cain, author of the book Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Using examples like Steve Wozniak, a self-proclaimed introvert, Susan suggests that in a world that exalts extraverts, the most creative, innovative solutions can come from introverts who spend time turning over ideas on their own. I’ve found a repeated cycle of isolated thinking combined with collaboration can work best. Brainstorming as a group can quickly generate a large quantity of ideas, then fitting all the puzzle pieces together can take longer periods of time that stretch out over parts of team members’ lives not deliberately intended for finding solutions – time when an individual can make connections between seemingly unrelated things and ideas – those “Eureka!” shower moments, for example. It’s important to remember that creative collaboration doesn’t necessarily mean defining a creative solution by consensus. That can happen, but more typically, individuals come back to the group with the gems that lead to an innovative solution and, very often, a single person or very small team will need to define and own the bigger creative vision.

“Collaboration is critical. But, I’m a firm believer that group-think needs to be balanced with individual rumination.”

A collaborative workspace

At Smashing Ideas, we’ve created a flexible workspace, where people can easily be moved and grouped to put project teams in close proximity. We’ve found it’s especially critical that designers (both visual designers and UX designers) and programmers are able to work closely together – to rapidly generate, share and iterate on ideas. So, for example, creating an environment where a programmer, up to date on the very latest in iOS code and best practices, can simply lean over and offer a “yes…and” improvement to a designer’s approach to a transition onto screen of an off-canvas menu, leads to a next-level of design polish that might not happen via scheduled meetings or reviews. After all, we’re designing experiences in which every interaction can be critical to its success – experiences in which every part might need to be inspiring, motivating, useful, useable or optimized.

As “creatives,” it hasn’t always been easy allowing “non-creatives” a bigger role in our domain. But, on this ever-expanding playfield, the need to not just welcome, but proactively seek insight and creative contributions from everyone involved has become very clear. Go team!

Next up…Beards, Beanies and Bucks: The co-existence of trends & innovation

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