THE QUEST FOR CREATIVITY: RETHINKING ORIGINALITY IN DESIGN

Explore new perspectives on creativity and discover insights to up your design game.

2/19/2024

Ever wondered what really sets your brand apart from the rest?
In a landscape of ever-evolving branding strategies, understanding the essence of originality and creativity is crucial.

In design, from childhood doodles to professional endeavours, the quest for creativity remains a constant. Yet, what defines originality in a world where ideas are constantly reshaped and reinvented?

Walk with me through the core of design principles and their pivotal impact on brand identity, unlocking insights to shape the trajectory of your brand.

But first, let's establish some definitions. Creativity and originality are often intertwined but distinct concepts. While originality implies being the first of its kind, creativity involves the generation of innovative ideas and approaches. Here, we'll analyse the nuances between these concepts and examine their intersection in design.

Let's go, starting from a simpler time.

When I was nine years old, spending the summer with my grandparents in the countryside, I found myself completely absorbed in an ambitious art project. For a whole week, I carefully drew a spaceship's interior using coloured pencils, charcoal, and crayons. Every detail mattered: from the expansive control board covered by countless buttons, levers and sliders to the five astronauts seated in the command center, gazing out into the endless expanse of space beyond the glass.

I even thought of the emblems proudly adorning the lapels of space crews that I had seen—likely in Star Trek—and decided to incorporate that detail into my drawing.

I poured considerable thought into the design. It had to be enigmatic and mysterious and undeniably amazing.

The result? Two outlined triangles intersecting to form a hexagram—a very sophisticated symbol representing the stars my imagined astronauts aimed to explore. It was a moment of profound creativity, leaving me in awe of my own imagination.

Excitedly, I rushed to share my masterpiece with my Grandpa. His response caught me off guard. "It's a fine spaceship, but why the exclusively Jewish crew?" 

Now, I'm not entirely certain what my understanding of Judaism was at the time, but I know for a fact that my space mission had no connection to it.

The embarrassment of that moment lingered as a reminder that originality is often shaped by one's depth of knowledge. As our knowledge broadens, recreating the sense of originality I experienced that one time when I accidentally designed the Star of David becomes increasingly challenging.

Thankfully, with time, we typically become more skilled at discerning the patterns in our surroundings. It's likely that beyond elementary school, most people recognise universally familiar symbols of religion and culture.

But what about those that are less universally recognised?

Curiosity, a hunger for knowledge, and an unwavering quest for experience are essential attributes for nearly everyone in the creative industry. As designers, we take in the visuals we encounter daily, storing them away for future inspiration, while continually expanding our understanding of culture, history, art, and design. Yet, human capacity to absorb information is limited. Furthermore, the creative process often works on a subconscious level. Recollections of images from the past may manifest as our own surge of creativity. And while our own designs may feel entirely original at first, as they gain visibility, the likelihood of similar concepts showing up elsewhere increases. In essence, we don't create from scratch; after all, the number of shapes and symbols available is finite, and we all use essentially the same tools. In the end, design comes to reorganising existing components into a fresh configuration.

Can a design really be original then? 

It's unlikely, but that's alright—designers sometimes grapple with the fear of being accused of plagiarism. However, it's very important to recognize that every idea originates from somewhere. And unless we intend to steal something outright, the probability of producing an exact copy is minimal. With enough time invested in our craft, we naturally cultivate approaches unique to each of us, evident in our work.

While achieving absolute originality might be nearly impossible, what makes a design efficient, which is its primary goal, is the conceptualization behind it—the rationale and thought process driving the choice of imagery, composition, graphics, and language to effectively convey the key messages. 

And that's where creativity happens.

However, it is essential to ensure that our tools serve their purpose, bridging the gap between sheer creativity and actual effectiveness. As designers, this is our main mission.

Our fellow marketers from The Content Authority have it wonderfully explained here.

“One of the most common mistakes people make is using style as a substitute for concept. Style refers to the visual elements of a piece of work, such as colour, typography, and layout. Concept, on the other hand, is the underlying idea or message that the work is trying to convey. While style is important, it’s not a substitute for a strong concept. A beautiful design without a clear concept is like a car without an engine – it may look nice, but it won’t get you very far.”

So, what might nine-year-old me have done differently (aside from getting some rudimentary education)? 

→ Firstly and most importantly, she could have conducted proper research. By digging deep into the essence of the brand, understanding the audience, and scoping out the competition, she could have gained valuable insights to inform her decisions and ensure that her work resonated with the target audience while also setting the brand apart from competitors.

The first step would have been understanding what the brand embodies. 

In the real world, whether the design process begins with a concise one-page brief or a comprehensive brand strategy developed collaboratively between the business, strategist, and designer, it must always start with a clear purpose.

Working with a proper brand strategy report is thoroughly enjoyable—it offers deep insights into the essence of the organisation, its mission, values, and extends to positioning and competitive landscape. 

However, knowing that the younger version of me couldn't get a hold of one that summer in rural western Bulgaria, let's envision the crew she was dealing with as StarQuest, on a mission to "Explore the Universe, One Star at a Time”, committed to pushing the limits of space exploration and uncovering new horizons.

This is still enough.

Image by Adam Evertsson from Pixabay.

Ideally, much of that groundwork would have been laid during the brand strategy stage, in collaboration with stakeholders and strategists. However, a final review for peace of mind never hurts.

From there, she could have outlined a simple strategy for her design to remain distinctive yet recognisable, maintaining her straightforward style while infusing inventiveness into the concept.

→ Next, she could have asked her Grandpa for feedback before finalising her work. Did he find the design easy to read? Did it effectively convey the intended message? Had he encountered something similar elsewhere? She could have even invited Grandma to participate in a focus group. While young me might have heard some random feedback that could be disregarded in the long run, she would surely have noticed any common issues if they arose.

→ Then, she could have compared her design to existing ones on the internet. Although it might have been a bit more challenging for her back in the early 2000s compared to us now, with tools like TinEye or even the good old Google Image Search at our disposal. Additionally, she could've explored the Global Brand Database for further insights.

→ And lastly, she should have relaxed a little. It's hard to imagine a designer who wouldn't like the recognition of being the one to reshape the norms of our craft. The design journey, though, whether undertaken by a nine-year-old fascinated by spaceships or a seasoned professional, is a process of continuous learning, exploration, and refinement. 

By embracing curiosity, being open to feedback, and utilising the available tools and resources to compare our designs with existing works, we can indeed craft creations that stand out in a crowded landscape.

Achieving absolute originality may be nearly impossible, yet what truly distinguishes successful design is the depth of conceptualization, the underlying idea or message driving the visual elements. While striving for originality is important, perhaps our primary focus should be on efficiently achieving the intended purpose. As long as our design effectively serves its purpose, we may have fulfilled our role as well as expected.

So, whether we're exploring the universe one star at a time or navigating the complexities of modern day design, maybe we should just embrace the journey with a spirit of creativity and determination. After all, it is in the pursuit of the unknown that we discover our true potential as designers and storytellers.

Excited about design? Let's have a conversation.

Curious to see how far I've come since the StarQuest branding mishap and how I can be of any help to your business?

Let's transform your goals into impactful visuals together. Reach out now.

If she were to start by extracting concepts from that short scenario, she would have gathered at least ten keywords to delve into: space exploration, cosmos, universe, stars, frontiers, crew, fearless, epic, mysterious, and discovery. Then, she could have analysed the tropes and established visual symbols associated with each. Next, she would have searched for intersections, areas for expansion, or opportunities to develop something unique.

A brand extends far beyond its logo. In fact, the logo doesn't even mark the beginning but rather serves as an insignia, which can take any form. It could be as simple as a letterform. Could it still have been a hexagram? If so, how should it be crafted? Alternatively, could she have effectively communicated the brand's personality through typography alone, and should she have considered it?

After exploring all elements and drafting her initial ideas, she would have to examine the brand's competitors and survey the entire industry: what symbols did they use, what typefaces, what colours?

What variations existed among other hexagrams in the field (aside from the obvious one)?