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The cost of creativity


"Your first idea is your best idea." You've probably heard that expression before, but I can guarantee that it wasn’t a creative person who said it. Your first idea is the most obvious idea – the one that comes from experience and logic. It might be really good. It might even appear creative from someone else’s perspective. But for you, it isn't.

Cost of creativity

To calculate the cost of creativity, or the lack thereof, we first have to define creativity itself. What is it? Searching for the answer in literature might confuse you even more. According to Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Peter Meusburger (yes, that is impressive), there are over one hundred different definitions of creativity. Over the last decade, the research has reached some general agreement that, as Michael Mumford puts it, creativity involves the production of novel and useful products. However, this is just describing the end-result.

If, instead, we look at creativity as a process, we need to move past the first, most obvious idea. Then, go past a couple of probably novel, but basically useless ideas – one or two ideas that are great but not applicable to the project at hand. Then you have to test, refine, turn it upside down and get real honest feedback from the brilliant minds around you. And if some of these brilliant minds are involved from the beginning, you might actually save time with something I describe as the "Ricky effect."

I was working on a design for an intricate subpage, but no matter how much I moved things around, changed colors, layout, typeface, contrasts, etc., it didn't give me the right sense of balance. Even worse, the information lacked a clear sense of prioritization. (In my next article, I will return to why prioritizing your site is a must for conversion). I asked for some feedback from my colleagues. Ricky, one of our Art Directors, glanced at it for just a second before saying, "Have you tried putting a line beneath the headline?" I hadn't. So, I did and the rest… is not history… but certainly a live site!

Should I have been able to catch this myself? Possibly. Probably, eventually. But how much more time would it have taken? And given that time, how much more would it have cost?

Having the right people involved at the right time is crucial for the creative process. Bad ideas are put to rest as fast as good ones come alive. In the intersection between the minds of people with the right talent for the task, magic often appears. And it can appear fast. With more people scrutinizing the details, you catch incoherencies and illogical sidesteps in time, thereby saving valuable hours in the end.

Should you always add people to the working group to cut costs?

Short answer: No. It is often useful to be a larger group at the beginning, when coming up with new ideas, creating the foundation of what is to come, and scheduling idea meetings during the concept process for certain functionality and elements. When it comes to execution, however, there is such a thing as too many cooks in the kitchen. It's crucial to get the most – and the best – out of the team by activating its full force for the right tasks.

Do you always need an extensive creative process?

There are lots of projects that are more straightforward from a creativity perspective. Putting loads of hours into creating a novel idea or product would only subtract from the user experience, especially if the idea contradicts already established behavioral patterns. There are also many situations where the internet community has come up with great solutions, that have been tested collectively and refined over many years, and that are as good as they get and often free to explore. There is no point in reinventing the wheel if a wheel is all you need.

However, we know that we live in a time where habits, trends and especially expectations are changing rapidly, and we need to constantly question and develop the solutions that are already there to meet tomorrows demands. After all, creativity is basically coming up with something new, whether it's an idea, a function, a new way of interacting, a project or a process. It is in fact, evolution.

So, what is the cost of creativity?

Creativity is first and foremost an investment. The initial cost might be slightly higher than just using the same old wheel. But given the right project and purpose, the effect of creating a tailor-made solution that enhances the target group’s experience and aids their day-to-day, will not only have a substantial effect to your bottom line. It will also build brand awareness and loyalty over time. Then creativity will be a cost-effective way to boost your business.

Want to know which projects could do with an infusion of creativity? Contact us.

Creativity is first and foremost an investment.
- Torbjörn Buhré, Creative Director, Petra Agency

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Torbjörn Buhré

Creative Director