The Beatles, John Coltrane, and Thom Yorke – they all have one thing in common aside from being famous songwriters. The Beatles embellished – or perhaps invented – the rock and roll scene with original melodic tunes early music fans had detested; John William Coltrane used scaled modes instead of the overused chord progression as a harmonic framework which was almost omnipresent at that time; and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, refused to learn notes despite the music industry’s frequent criticism about his musicianship. All of them, in spite of the public’s disapproval and social norms, have chosen to take the roads less traveled by many. You can call them innovators, pioneers or whatever, yet for them, what they did was just plain honesty to themselves.
We can’t be innovators anymore
Fine. We can call them innovators. But at this point in time, innovativeness is the only thing we will not ever get to imitate. We’re a bit late, and becoming an innovator like them is untimely, or, perhaps we can say that we’re in a wrong time when anything we can think of already exists (unless you think like a spec fiction writer and marry concepts that are logically absurd like baseball with refrigerator, ballpen with cerumen cleaner, or flat shoes with built-in incubator). Yet we can still be like them in some ways, and it is by taking the road less traveled, places that are still uninhabited and ways that aren’t yet tried.
Take the road less traveled
As designers, as hired individuals, we all imagine – or dream – of a world where we can full take part in our every day jobs. We all want our ideas to be part of our work, we all want to incorporate our own style, ideas, and approach to every project assigned to us. But this is impossible. Every day, we go to our respective office tables with one clear thing in mind: do what our clients want us to do. Yet we all know that most of us want to be different. Since we cannot innovate, all we can do is take the road less traveled.
In a world ran and operated by professionals in Armani suit and tie, we designers are as minute as puny when it comes to hierarchy. Our imagination, creativity, concept are nothing but paid entities; we use it to perform what they have paid for. In a nutshell, they pay, we design – just like controlled marionettes; like a battery operated Russian doll. In the commercial world, the harshest thing every employed designer can experience is having his ideas bypassed by their no-brainer clients. And since they are just paid employees, all they can do is bury their ideas on the ground and start designing according to their bosses’ taste, even if it doesn’t involve artistry.
Yet we can defy this. It all starts with believing that our imagination and creativity are not just nothing in this world. Take the path less traveled; do it the clean an proper way. Clean way, meaning, you don’t have to act like an activist and ignore all your bosses’ and clients directions and all. You are still in a company, in an organization structured by hierarchy, levels, and positions. Communicate and have the guts to express yourself, to deliver your ideas to the system in a very popular way.
But this thing isn’t just a fantastic quote or an inspirational motivation. We all have to work for it. If we want our creativity to be part of the system, of our every design campaign, we literally have to toil for it. It can be through directing to our bosses, writing a formal letter, organizing a small group or what. Anything can be possible; it can be an absurd thing or a weird way, or a simple, direct to the point one.
So where and what are the roads less traveled? Where can we find them? Where are these roads?
Well, it varies. It depends. You are the only one who can identify it for yourself. Every design company has its own way; every situation is unique. Yet whatever it is, you have to find it.
What the innovators did
When Lennon and McCartney first sang their compositions in public, they never forced their audience to embrace their music right away. They spent months and years in communicating, writing same kind of songs to condition the ears of the listening public. It may sound ordinary these days, but during that time, introducing rockabilly-pop songs was absurd. British people were still into jazz and Simon and Garfunkel, and their music was rather absurd than ear candy. And so same with John Coltrane with his pioneering modes. No one thought that his modal- bebop jazz music would eventually give birth to hundreds of funk-jazz American bands a decade after his death in 1967. Even Yorke’s obstinate mindset continues to fascinate not only hot girls and women but respected musicians as well. These three had seen the least traveled roads by themselves: The Beatles did it through composing their owns songs and releasing it apiece and little by little in singles, Coltrane sang in bars full of audience searching for a new kind of jazz music, and Yorke, by sticking to his keyboard without familiarization of notes.
In your commercial design environment, what is the road less traveled?