Companies pay top dollar for creativity. For the vaunted companies like Apple and Tesla, creative design is at the forefront of decision-making. They think about things like how people will use it, how people will perceive it, how it will feel in their hands, what feelings will it evoke when you drive it, all these qualities and more go into initial molds and concepts.
Steve Jobs was relentless in his pursuit of design exceptionalism. It was everything to him. It is still everything to Jony Ivy, Chief Designer at Apple, which was why Steve referred to Jony as his kindred spirit. They were on the same spiritual plane when it came to design and creativity. They both really, really thought things through and tested the hell out of their ideas before they went into full production. Steve loved these discussions with Jony, typically going well into the night. Jony Ivy gets paid top dollar for his creativity.
Elon Musk doesn’t just snap his fingers, bark at his minions and then have Tesla Model S’s roll off of the assembly line. A hands-on CEO, Elon is deeply concerned about the design details of his cars and how they feel to the end user: Why is this button here? Why does the door open this way? It should open this way. When I walk to the car, it should unlock automatically because it should recognize it is me, the owner, trying to get in. This range isn’t good enough. It will give people anxiety about longer road trips. We must do better.
In case the public was wondering, pursuing excellence in automobile manufacturing is hard. Especially when you’re trying to do things that have never been done before. Elon Musk pays top dollar for creativity.
Can you inject creativity into firms?
IDEO, a northern California design consultancy, gets paid top dollar to inject creativity into firms. They do this largely through anthropology. They study human beings and what they actually do, not what they say they do. Unfortunately, for focus group moderators, what we say we do and what we actually do are often divergent. The power of social proof and others’ testimonies skew our own views, even if we don’t admit it. Fitting in is just too important to us unconsciously. So, we tend to go along with the group, the essence of Groupthink.
In one-on-one interviews, we do the same thing. We consciously ask What does the interviewer want me to say? What is she looking for? How can I best please her? I better be careful with what I say. And we behave accordingly.
See, we’re trying to get along and fit in again. This is crystal clear in job interviews. Of course, we’re trying to fit in to the firm we’re trying to be hired by. What could be more important? We want them to perceive us as one of them. When hiring, nothing is more important than fit.
They leave the building to go and see for themselves.
To combat this bias and to gather better data, researchers at IDEO conduct field studies. They leave the building to go and see for themselves. I’d like to repeat that because it is really important to their deliverables: They leave the building to go and see for themselves. They don’t sit in their cubes and offices, pontificating what people might do. They don’t wait for people to fill out online surveys hoping to get good data that way. They don’t buy data from data service providers. No. They leave the building. They go out into the field. And they gather their own data the old fashioned way: live and in-person. This ensures they get to the truth of the matter.
What is good design?
Here is the gold IDEO gather by being there live and in-person with their subjects: accurate data; minimal human bias; behavioral insights; keen, fresh thinking about an existing problem offering new perspectives. Think of an IDEO researcher as a psychiatrist observing and listening to a patient. They take notes. They ask a question on occasion. But they’re really there to listen and observe and see the unseen. Or, at least, unstated. They see linguistic and behavioral patterns. That’s really what IDEO is selling: a new way to look at old problems. This is largely the essence of good design. A new way of looking at old problems. Good design is solving problems through deep empathy.
After they’ve completed their field work, IDEO researchers return to the building and create their deliverables for the client. Typically, the client is astonished at what the researchers find because what they thought was correct about their customer — again, what they thought their customer wanted, what they thought their customer actually did despite what he told them he did — was incorrect. In many cases, it is the exact opposite of what they thought. The only way to find this out was to hire IDEO, have them leave the building and go and see for themselves and conduct their field research like a good anthropologist. IDEO gets paid top dollar to do what it does.
Companies pay top dollar for creativity. Look at new branding campaigns, new logos, slapping logos on the side of buildings, etc. These make me want to cry while the advertising agencies that sell them celebrate. It isn’t that the advertising agencies do shoddy work — far from it. It is that they’re doing work that often need not be done. And we all know what Peter Drucker said about that 60 years ago.
What does a good logo need above all else? A good logo needs perceived familiarity on the part of the customer. A good logo cannot be too esoteric or “out there” that when someone looks at it for the first time and they cannot get it, the company has already lost. To combat this, firms usually go conservative and go with what the other guy is doing. Especially new companies. They, in particular, are correct to do this. This logo strategy is boring, but safe: nobody ever got fired for mimicking IBM’s logo (that we know of).
The problem is firms spend far too much time on their logo when they should be simply out there, selling and solving problems for people. At the end of the day, the customer does not care about your logo. (Designers, I love you, but they really don’t care about it. Customers will never know it the way you do. Your logo design isn’t their creation.) They care about themselves and their concerns and their families and their upcoming vacations and what they’re having for dinner tonight. This is why you should not spend too much time on your logo.