• Abopinion
Opinion

Opinion: Is outside reference a help or hindrance to the creative process?

Posted by Alex Bec,

This week ahead of taking up his new role as visiting creative director at Wolff Olins, It’s Nice That director Alex Bec asks whether a wide range of influences is an imperative part of the creative process or a distraction. As ever you can add your thoughts using the thread below…

It’s not a groundbreaking idea for creatives to look outside their own practice to seek inspiration and reference, to give their work that extra bit of life. It’s common sense that simply looking up and observing the world around you – other professions, other cultures, other others – gives a certain perspective on your day-to-day. But is this influence a help or hindrance?

In a world where access to all of these other things is so easy, does this outside reference actually enhance or homogenise the creative process? Do we benefit from scouring weird and wonderful blogs all day, visiting unknown places, or watching obscure Netflix documentaries? Or do we end up mindlessly copying what we see?

Should we be concentrating our minds, carefully and quietly obsessing over every detail of what we’re working on, leaving no time or space for any distractions? Or does this narrow-minded, blinkered approach lead us to forget about any context or perspective and dull the final product?

I think the devil as always, is in the detail, and the point perhaps is not necessarily what you look at, but how you look at it to make sure that we aren’t passive passengers to the stimuli we’re generously shown (the brilliant Sir Paul Smith made this point much better than I do at our Here symposium last year, see video below). Crucially in the abundance of content flying around us, we must be more proactive to make sure we don’t become lazy about what, who and how we’re engaging with the content we might not usually see.

I come to this point as I’m honoured to have been chosen to be the next visiting Creative Director at Wolff Olins as part of their series of temporary CDs. My role is to do exactly what I’ve been discussing above; to actively offer new perspectives and reference points to their team, sharing a little about how we work ourselves in the hope that there are some nuggets that can help them make even better work.

Although I’m following far more worthy and established creatives who’ve filled the role previously (Daljit Singh and Dan Germain), I will endeavour to bring some worth from the wealth of incredible creative work we enjoy every day in our studio to a company of people I admire as true experts in their field. Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t, but that’s part of the point – that actively seeking and learning from outside reference is surely better than having none at all?

comments powered by Disqus
Ab-300

Posted by Alex Bec

Alex is one of the directors of It’s Nice That who now oversees our sister creative agency INT Works. For several years he oversaw the Monday Morning Music Video feature until it came to an end in 2014.

Most Recent: Opinion View Archive

  1. List

    Portuguese graphic designer and illustrator Braulio Amado – who we interviewed here and who currently works for Bloomberg Businessweek – recently got in touch about the huge expense of entering (and winning) design awards. Here he is on the confusing reality of it costing more than $400 to receive awards from the Type Directors Club.

  2. V2-obama-selfie-itsnicethat-list

    Did you know that there are more images published every day now than there were in the whole of the 19th Century? Nicholas Mirzoeff has written a brilliant book about this fact, entitled How to See the World. Here’s Nicholas on the myriad ways in which this mass of visual information impacts our perception and creativity, and the “exciting, inspiring and anarchic” effect it might have.

  3. Tracey-emin_-sex-1-25-11-07-sydney-courtesy-tracey-emin-list

    Earlier this week I came across cover artwork Tracey Emin has created for the new Penguin editions of Henry Miller’s twin novels Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. Knowing full well Tracey Emin is a notoriously polarising force I was still taken aback by some of the vitriol this inspired. By all means opposing opinion and varied taste is what makes life more interesting, but sometimes I think people dismiss her work too quickly.

    People frequently decry her lack of technical skill. “She can’t draw,” they say. I think this tends to miss the point as much as the worn out reproach, “my three year-old could do that.” In the context of contemporary art, perhaps far more important than being an accomplished draughtsman is the ability to produce gesture and affect. Emin can do this. I also happen to respond well to her loose, evocative hand and think her gouache nudes are visually very strong. I remember reading a typically scathing review from Brian Sewell in the Evening Standard a couple of years ago where he described one of her drawings as a “squalid smudge.”

    Elsewhere I’ve read that based on her ability she is undeserving of her success, that there are more talented artists who will never reach her dizzying heights, that her emphasis on sex is gratuitous and that she shows contempt for anything that is pleasing to the eye. I’m not going to pick apart every criticism, but because Emin is successful and someone else is not fails to invalidate her work (I’d also add that the two are not contingent on one another), to channel her sexuality into her work is her prerogative as a woman in the 21st Century, and as for the question of beauty, by now art has shown it can be ugly and still worthy.

  4. Sm_lcc_invite_itsnicethat-list

    The days of beers in the park and ice lollies at lunchtime are nearly upon us, and with that comes degree shows, and lots of them. But who should be charged with designing the identity for a university degree show – should it be the students, or an external agency? Indeed, do degree shows need identities at all? We want to hear from you; you can add your thoughts to the comments section below.

  5. Marcel-ingloriousfruits-itsnicethat-list

    After the Design Museum names its six category winners for the 2015 Designs of the Year, Rob Alderson argues that the victor in the graphics section is a very worthy winner. You can add your thoughts using the comment thread below.

  6. List

    Ben Tallon’s new book explores the difficult transition to going freelance which many in the creative world make, and by which many more are tempted. To mark the publication of Champagne and Wax Crayons Ben has written a piece about how he found taking that giant leap. You can add your thoughts below…

  7. Grayson-perrys-dream-hous-007-list

    A few years ago, you wouldn’t have expected Channel Four to show a documentary about a cross-dressing artist making a house in Essex on a Sunday evening. But that’s the magic of Grayson Perry: there’s no such thing as low and high culture, no such thing as people not being “into” art, no such thing as stereotypes.

  8. List_sarah_lucas_i_scream_daddio_its_nice_that_

    One of my favourite exhibitions of the last few years was Sarah Lucas’ Whitechapel show, described by The Guardian as “Breasts, bums, blokes and their bits.” Naturally, I was thrilled when Sarah was announced as the artist creating the British Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale. Like the work of Jeremy Deller, the artist chosen in 2013, Sarah’s art can be messy and funny and fearless. It’s hard to make sense of, and big issues are frequently masked with a wry humour. Britain could be said to be the same; for all our perceived stuffiness, as a nation there’s a gloriously dishevelled side – a bold sense of “why the fuck not,” experimentation and our famed eccentricity which has made such a small place such a big deal when it comes to creativity.

  9. Oliviacharlesworth-itsnicethat-1

    At a time when debates surrounding art and design education and the way they prepare students for the creative industries are intensifying, Kingston University tutor Zelda Malan explains why it’s still so important that creative courses continue to teach ideas. You can add your thoughts using the comments thread below…

  10. Marianbantjes-designawards-itsnicethat-list

    It’s design award season (like the film world equivalent but fewer red carpets and more pictures of people staring at posters) and as ever the winners will be much discussed across the creative industries. But genuinely useful advice for those who enter has been thin on the ground, until now. Having relaunched her website, the brilliant Marian Bantjes has also started a new blog (huzzah!) and recently wrote a series of tips for those designers putting their work up for awards, based on her extensive experience as a judge. You can add comments below, or just soak up the wisdom…

  11. Newswall-itsnicethat-list

    Yesterday saw the launch of a brand new form of news presentation by Channel 4 in 4NewsWall – a Tumblr-hosted website dedicated to the day’s top news stories, listed chronologically, with each presented by a GIF. Thought up by 4Creative’s Jack Croft and Stacey Bird and developed by the creative team, it’s flashy, image-led and uncluttered – with each GIF offering a click-through button to a more detailed report – and looks set to be an interesting and exciting progression for news journalism.

  12. Graphicdesign_-opinion-itsnicethat-list

    A couple of months ago there was a lot of interest in this survey in which clients described the four worst types of creative agencies as they saw it. Now we have a chance to hear from the practitioners themselves, by way of Graphicdesign&’s in-depth industry study. Lucienne Roberts and Rebecca Wright have partnered with social scientist Nikandre Kopcke to create a questionnaire which explores “practice, perceptions and prejudices alongside the usual questions about age, education, work and pay.”

  13. List

    It’s fast approaching the time of all-nighters (not the fun ones), tears, last-minute panics and all the other things that come with the end of learning and the impending beginning of the terrifying thing they call real life. But like the mum that tells you you’re always the best and most talented and most beautiful, or the best friend that bursts into your house and pops the kettle on/pours the gin, we’re here to remind you of some of the advice that might be able to help you.