On originality, creativity, and templates: 5 rules for choosing a solution

pimptheface-com-400x288I made the image above using a web-based service (pimptheface.com) based on the police sketch artist’s toolkit called identikit. I have an undergraduate degree in the fine arts. I have done many self portraits. None has exactly this look, feel, or tone. None was as easy or quick to make. This looks like a police sketch and carries a lot of interpretive content related to that idea. There is a lot of value in that. Some might say “but it’s not yours” or “it’s cookie cutter”. My response is that for this particular application, that was the point. One should not dismiss services or tools when the result is the right result.

I wanted to talk a bit about my consulting experience on clients and predetermined feelings about originality, ability, and creativity.

Often when I first consult with someone I’ll ask the questions below to get some sense of what they are trying to do. If a client says that they want a web presence that they can update, and they want it up next week, I will invariably respond with WordPress or Drupal as a solution, depending on the number of pages and other factors of complexity that they need to have on the site.

I try not to expect the response “Oh, I don’t want a blog”, but that is usually what I hear. The problem with the response is a bias against blogging: commonality, simplicity, and a lack of creativity and effort. The engine itself is not predetermined to produce uncreative, unoriginal content. When they say, “well, I don’t want it to look like a blog”, I explain that the look and feel of the site is completely customizable and extensible, and that the reason that you see so many blogs that have the same look and feel is because the work of proper theme choice and customization has not been done. I try to explain that creativity, originality, and effort are all possible with these solutions, and that the words, images, video and other media that you produce and share are what will tell your viewers. A lot of my work in web development starts with convincing clients about the potential success of the solution. I have also often suggested Facebook, Google Plus, or Tumblr as the entirety of one’s web presence. It’s the content, and the audience’s reception to that content, not the platform, that determines success. I offer the following questions to help you to start to think about what the purpose of your design is.

  1. What are you trying to do? In other words, are you trying to get the word out? Are you trying to learn something new? Are you trying to get more customers? Are you trying to reinforce brand? Are you trying to change your audience? Those questions, more so than what do you want to use to do it, are the important ones, and will lead us to a solution that meets those needs. Do we need to beat a new path or reinvent the wheel to do that?
  2. What is your best result? What does success look like? If you are trying to get more customers, how many more do you want? If you are trying to sell more plates of food, how many more will it take for you to see value for effort? If we have a goal, we can work towards that goal, track it, and know when we’ve accomplished it. Now, what is the best way to go about that?
  3. What are you an expert at, and how do you carry out your success there? If you are a successful multiple restaurateur, what gets people to come in? Is it the food? The ambiance? The site? The service? All of the above? In what ways will that help us to decide the directions we take with your project? If we treat your design project the same way that we treat a new dish or new restaurant, you will have a better sense of the choices you should make to make success there too. The solution we choose in graphic design or technology choice should please you as a successful new dish would.
  4. What is it that makes your service, product, or organization unique? If you are doing something in your work that is also done by 20 others, why would they choose you over someone else? If I’m already at Wal-Mart, or CVS, and they do the same thing you do, and I have to go through the register here, what about your service is going to make someone say “I’d prefer to do this at Joe’s”? Answering this question tells us what we need to emphasize in our project, but if you don’t have a good answer for this, you might want to look at another business.
  5. What is your brand? As always, we want to know what it is that you are trying to underline about what you do. We want to have alignment between what you believe about your organization and what your customers and potential customers believe about you. What design choices, technology choices, and marketing choices do we make to do that?

Interested in these questions? The answers are even better! I’m at lemasney@gmail.com



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