Collaborative Creativity

Today the boundaries of design are rapidly dissolving. At university I was aware of the confusion this caused, particularly in trying to explain what it was I do to friends and relatives. However I kind of believed that once I started working it would all be cleared up. Yet the term product design is becoming more ambiguous with every day that passes.

It would be crazy to imagine one person being an expert in more than one of the expertise included under the term ‘product design’ today. With even just expertise in one of those areas being difficult to imagine. But the overlap is good. It’s good for creativity, and our combined point of view, at the end of the day we all care about one thing, the customer. Right?

Personally I believe that while I can work across the different areas of product design, my passion and expertise lie in design research and engaging with people. Expertise of individuals combine into exciting creative teams able to break down and create solutions around any challenge.

This collaboration is at the heart of design thinking. Inter/trans-disciplinary teams that approach challenges with creativity and an open mind. Curiosity and exploration of a given challenge will yield results that couldn’t yet have been imagined. Instead of skills of this team the key to the teams success is that every member of the team is excited and interested in the challenge, in turn each will make themselves useful — learn the skills needed at any given point in the project.

Last year at Wunderman we pitched for a lot of new business. In the process becoming quite good at it, we quickly learned that the power of small mixed teams to be creative. They can explore ideas quickly, making quick prototypes and testing them even just on passers by to generate feedback and iteration. A different world to a war room with 20 people shouting at each other to get their point across.

How do you lead these creative teams?

I’d quote the good old comforting voice of Johnny Ive here — ‘ideas are fragile’. Well, so are the teams. They need cared for and protected from the elements, they can’t be getting chased for insights when they’re setting up a new prototype, they need to be trusted and left to produce.

This exploration of a subject, or theme, sometimes extremely abstract can pull people in deep. They need to be guided through the ambiguity in places, encouraged to explore further or to step back and take stock of the findings. This can mean setting the right challenge for the team to explore or providing inspiration when needed. I’d recommend IDEOs course on leading for creativity if this is something you want to explore further.

Where do you find these people?

Design thinking has been slowly making its way into design education for some time. It’s appropriate that more and more design programs are exploring the possibilities in between disciplines. Institutions should (some are) teach how to think and attitudes, for the skills are easy to pick up later and responsive to each project.

There are also new courses being set up out-with traditional institutions, again IDEO are providing vast amounts of material online, but on a bigger scale you have organisations such as Hyper Island designing their courses and material so that business and individuals can stay ahead of the curve, when the existing way of learning is dated.

Education isn’t the only place to find creative, intelligent people. Many companies are removing degree classification from their entry requirements, EY just the other week removed their traditional 2:1 ‘because there is no evidence that university equals success’. I’d agree, and I think that’s why we see the rise of more vocational experience based programmes.

And it’s not just young people, everybody is capable of creativity. Everyone has it and can do it, it just has to be fostered. Again, I’d recommend IDEO’s course on leading for creativity, available at