I’m always wildly uncomfortable when people use the term “creatives” to define the professionals who do the kind of work I do. It harkens back to the pre-digital advertising agency world where a copywriter and a graphic artist teamed up and waited for somebody else to tell them the direction the client and the agency had decided to take for a campaign. Armed with instructions from the agency’s account team, the creative team would churn out their copy and graphics. The creatives’ jobs were essential to their agency’s success, but their work was strictly constrained within a specific stage of the project.
I guess it made sense that as advertising agencies started doing Web work, they’d adopt a familiar system. And I guess it was logical enough that if agency creatives were making Web sites and user experience professionals were making Web sites that somebody would start calling UX people “creatives.”
So it’s not crazy to do that; It’s just wrong. Wrong as hell.
It’s inappropriate to equate user experience design with creating ads. Web sites, mobile applications and all the other digital products that demand skillfully crafted experiences are all about users and the satisfaction of their immediate goals. On the other hand, advertising is all about manipulation. (That, in itself, is not evil. Fiction writing, teaching and a great number of honorable activities are just as defined by manipulation as advertising.)
Design is what it does and what it does is solve problems. Visual design is one of the powerful tools we use in solving those problems, but it is a means to an end and not an end in itself. This is just as true of interaction design, information architecture, user research and content strategy. User experience work is a sophisticated mosh that requires expertise in all of these areas (although not necessarily all from the same person).
The term “creatives” instantly binds people to the more superficial aspects of traditional advertising, playing to the stereotype of designers as irresponsible Fruit Loops from some distant galaxy whose greatest contribution is to “make it look pretty.” And when designers refer to themselves as creatives, the label is a shield that they hide behind in an attempt to let themselves off the hook for the more daunting challenges of user experience work.
Unlike traditional advertising creative teams, UX folks best serve the project by being involved from the very beginning. Who are the client’s most important users for the project? What are those users’ goals? Of those goals, which ones can the project actually satisfy? These are business questions that if left unanswered at the beginning will haunt a project throughout its duration. The answers to those three questions should guide and validate every stage of the project. Quality user experience professionals revisit the answers again and again, refining and revising them as they refine and revise their work throughout the project. User experience work shouldn’t be constrained to a portion of a project because the user and their goals belong at the beginning, middle and end of all efforts.
Nothing about this reflects the traditional role of “creatives,” a term that marginalizes the people it describes and misinterprets the kind of work they do.