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Your Creativity in the Commercial Design System: Taking the Road Less Traveled

Posted in Design By Warner Carter

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?


I love this article. As a new web designer, who decided to go freelance right out of school, I found a lot of these struggles right away. I work for a start-up called BizBrag and I think that I got a unique insight into how things should be designed. I work with the company's Founder, the Chief Engineer and the Lead Developer. The way that we approached designing the whole site was as a team. If an Idea got out voted, we moved on and tried something else. Another vote that we took into consideration was the user. We got a lot of feedback from our community that showed us the right direction to go with design and layout. There were battles that I felt strongly about going one direction and I was wrong. There were also plenty of times that I said "Look, I feel it needs to be like this but we can do it your way instead". Then later, through our normal processes, we found that my ideas were spot on. You have to pick your battles. Is changing this one element going to really effect the overall design? Also remember, you are the designer. The one with an eye for aesthetics and the education in effective typography and it is your job to show them the right way. Every one has an opinion about what they think looks good but we are the ones who went to school to learn the rules of effective design. I believe that is part of the bigger picture that some designers and bosses alike, just don't understand: we are artists because of our abilities but designing is a profession that has some rules and guidelines to follow.

Warner Carter
Warner Carter

@Chris: Thank you for your insightful comment


Design is a process. No human being processes information in exactly the same way. Everything connects differently depending on previous experience, and or genetic disposition. There are pieces of art work, fashion, and design that I simply just do not connect with, and find to be sloppy and less than masterful, yet they wind their way somehow into a museum and become widely popular. The arts can all be interpreted differently. However, clearly portraying the meaning behind a piece in an understandable manner should always be a central point. In music it is often emotions, plays it is often ideals, art it is often a combination, and any of those can be communicated through any medium. Design requires the ability to clearly convey the meaning. We all have different ways of getting there, the road less traveled to me, means taking a chance, being bold, daring to move forward when others are twiddling their thumbs. Sometimes you just need to move forward in a different direction. It's not the final end that matters, its the journey.

Warner Carter
Warner Carter

@Timm Thank you for a really great and interesting comment