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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?

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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.