by Matt Meckes
“I once introduced someone to a friend as one of the best coders I knew, and she looked at me like I had called her a whore because she referred to herself as a creative technologist,” said former JWT, Saatchi & Saatchi, and Ogilvy creative James Cooper.
As a proud coder myself, I know that good tech is full of solutions. So, what is there about being described as a great coder or a tech that just isn’t good enough in our let’s-call it-something-new-and-then-it-will-look-new business? Why do some people think that adding the word ‘Creative’ to our title changes everything – or anything at all?
We can all see the difference between a lightning speed typist and a great novelist, and I guess we all recognise that even the fastest user of an abacus might not win the Fields Medal for mathematics (currently held by Maryam Mirzakhani for her work with Reimann surfaces and moduli spaces, by the way).
Yes, of course both typist and abacus operator provide a valuable service, but when we come to talk about creativity there can be no doubt that the novelist and the prize-winning mathematician bring more to the party than just expertise with the tools of their trade. They provide something that springs from a deep passion for, and a thorough understanding of the language and possibilities of their chosen field.
The world of tech is never going to stand still and it is fuelled as much by the imagination as by knowledge. As Einstein realised, it is knowledge that will get us to the stars but it is our imagination that inspires us to reach out for them. Or in his own words, “Knowledge will get you from A to B but imagination will get you everywhere.”
We live in incredibly exciting times. With Creativity and Technology intertwined and inseparable in the world of film, video, virtual reality, games and advertising, anyone who loves sci-fi must feel as though all bets are off and all barriers dissolved. Good techs understand the field so well that we can and will always make that leap of the imagination to express our creativity through the design and manipulation of technology. Wizardry indeed.
Sadly in most cases so-called Creative Technologists are simply developers that are added onto creative teams as an afterthought. They are there to provide a tech-focused staffer who is appointed to add their voice to the creative team and explain to them which of their ideas might actually work in the real world.
As Jon Hackett said recently:
“As I see it the label “Creative Technologist” is a bit of crutch to get around a big perception problem developers face in the industry. Normally we’re seen as the “no” people who crush your beautiful ideas, due to some “technical limitations” that can’t be explained because “they are too complicated for you to understand.”
Without the investment in the latest technical know-how and exposure to ever-evolving cutting-edge technology, the embedded Creative Technologist can soon find him or herself isolated from their natural world and struggling to keep up with their peers in the industry. They are often underfunded and unappreciated, perhaps even derided as mere ‘techies’ and denied the latest technologies on which to demonstrate their skills.
We have been inside some of the top creative agencies only to find an entire floor devoted to Reception while the Head of Technology had a 5 year old PC and was having to write a document outlining the business case for a £50 upgrade. Astonishing but true.
In 1911, when Colonel Cody imagined his flight by kite machine, who else could have foreseen the development of the first military biplane followed by the creation of an independent, third arm of the Services known as the Royal Air Force, in 1920?
In the world of software engineering, technology is not just about ‘machinery and equipment developed from the application of scientific knowledge.’ It is about imagining something more, something different, something more engaging or exciting or more appealing . . . always looking beyond the boundaries of current knowledge for new possibilities.
It is only by understanding current technology that we can imagine and create the future.
Matt Meckes is Technical Director at Cohaesus. With over 10 years experience in front end development, Matt runs the Creative Coding team delivering standards-compliant accessible interfaces. He’s worked on projects for clients such as DuPuy orthopaedics, Diageo, Honda and WWF. You can get in touch with Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org or @ .