Top Five Creative Insights from SXSW 2022

2 Minutes Read

Making cool stuff is easy. Making valuable stuff is hard. Making valuable and cool stuff is impossible… unless you have the right design team. And that’s hard. So, how do you find that right team? You don’t. You grow it.

Since we are constantly reexamining ourselves and looking for ways to learn and improve, I recently asked Jessica, our lead designer, to attend SXSW to see what tidbits of inspiration and wisdom she could bring back to our growing team. Jessica did not disappoint.

She met Guy Raz who reminded us of the ever present truth: “If you want to create something valuable it has to be hard, else everyone would create it.”

In a presentation from Ann Hiatt we were reminded that we’re not the only ones in the world excited about unleashing latent potential. Ann encourages us to “discover and empower underrepresented entrepreneurs.”

In a presentation titled “A Peek Inside a Car Designers Sketchbook” Igor Bauer-Scheinhutte, head of Porsche's Advanced Design Team, insightfully shared, “design takes time. Ideas need room to breathe.”

These are all great tidbits and encouraging reminders, but the real meat was a fantastically elegant, yet surprisingly fresh list of Five Things that Kill Creativity. Our list comes from Brent Anderson of TBWA and I’ve added some personal reflection on what they mean to me. In case you’re short on time, the last one is my favorite.

The Illusion of Inspiration: Creativity is an act of will.

You know that feeling like something is missing? Maybe we should stop and figure out what it is? Hmm. No. We should keep going and figure out what it is. Creativity isn’t elusive; it’s just hard work. 

Consensus: Creativity is a risk that requires mischief.

This is fun and while I come from an engineering background, it rings true in that space as well. I’ve sat in meetings where everyone is discussing how to fix a bug or do a thing and then some rogue developer gleefully announces, “I just fixed it!” The obvious answers that hover near consensus are probably adequate, but they’ll never be the breakout idea that sets your product apart from the others. Mischief! How can we encourage mischief!? How can we reward initiative over conformity?

Fear: Creativity isn't a thinking game. It's about doing, failing, and evolving.

This is Agile at its core, but it only works in healthy and safe teams. It’s surprisingly hard to make a place truly safe, but it’s magical when you do. I like to think about it kind of like vision. If I only have one eye, I see in 2D. If I have two eyes, I see in 3D, but from one perspective. If a team has dozens of eyes that communicate what they are seeing then we can actually see an entire environment and comprehension skyrockets.

Complexity: Brand building is successful if it's so simple that it doesn't have an option but to break through and connect with people.

This one is deeply fascinating to me. The idea of making something, then stripping so much of it away that it’s barely there, but what is there is pure gold, is genius!

Laziness of rigor: Make it smart, make it beautiful, and have fun.

I was just talking to a friend about how entire teams can chase their tails by trying to be rigorous. Sometimes you’ve got to say, “screw the process; let’s just do the thing.” I love the way Brent frames it though, because it highlights how we can trick ourselves into thinking we are being virtuous by “doing the right thing.” Sometimes the right thing is to do the wrong thing.

So how do you build that right design team that leads the way to products that are both useful and cool? We do it by showing up where the conversation is happening and taking to heart the insights that are shared. I hope the insights captured here can help you as well as you build your own winning team.

By Christopher George