Kia ora! I'm Blair. I design fun, educational tools that help people take action.

Push Button Creativity

Blair wrote this on 08 May

Push Button Creativity

Like many of you, I’ve been to a few learning and development events over the years. It’s always interesting to me to observe the general desire for what I like to call push button creativity.

Here’s how that goes.

You’re at a conference and one of the speakers talks about this tool they discovered that allows you to do something like create animations or turn photos into cartoons or whatever. Cool right? Plus, the speaker points out that this tool is free to download.

This is also true of templates, icons, stock photography and so on. Someone else does the creative work and you download it, change a few words or colours and the pass it off as your own work.

And there you have it: push button creativity.

What is wrong with this?

While not everyone is creative (meaning that they have the skills to create something, not that they like to use lots of different colours) I think it is strange that people want to find tools that actually do creativity for them. In other words, they are outsourcing all the creative decision making and creative work to some software or another designer.

If that’s where we’re heading, will we reach the point where the head of HR (who typically hires other people to do creative work) just buys the software, presses a button themselves and all the creative work is done?

I should mention that these push button creativity tools exist in many industries, e.g. web design, app development. There is also a difference between tools that help you apply best practices consistently vs. ones that do the creative stuff for you. If push button creativity is the way that you work how valuable are you becoming to your company?

Of course the inevitable problem is that we all start using push button creativity and everything looks the same. A classic example is when a friend and I were pitching for a project and my friend pointed out that an elearning module we were asked to redesign looked identical to another totally unrelated project he had been involved in. It turns out there was a menu template provided in that particular software and the designers of these respective courses had used the exact same template. Is this creative work? The same problem arises with animations, icons, and stock photos.

To compound the push button creativity trend, it also seems desirable, if not expected, that such tools should be free. “Check out this free tool that turns any Word document into an animated tree frog. Plus it runs on iPads.” Yes I made that up but it’s not far from what many of us have heard from one too many conference speakers. So we’re basically saying that we want to push a button in a tool and get our creative work done for us. We also expect such a tool to cost $0. To make matters worse if push button creativity tools aren’t free, we find ways to not pay for them. So basically software piracy. Yet we charge our clients or our employers for our time and effort.

Which brings me to my main point.

It isn’t so much that some people want to be instructional / training / learning designers who find ways around doing actual design. It’s more the attitude of wanting something for nothing. It’s about putting the minimum effort (and expense) into a design task and expecting good results. Is this where we want the L and D (or any) industry to end up? I don’t think it is.

So where to from here?

You can start to change things today from the comfort of your own desk. Try these suggestions.

Start learning a new creative skill

The irony of this push button creativity trend is that we also live in the era push button learning. Thanks to the internet, it’s easier than it’s ever been to learn skills like photography, HTML, vector illustration, JavaScript, video production, animation, etc. It might cost you $15-25 per month. Pay for it out of your own pocket if you have to. It’s cheaper than a coffee a day and more valuable than most of the stuff you paid to learn at university.


Pay for everything

We all have different values. If you’re honest then you’re honest. The opposite is also true and that’s a personal choice. You expect to be paid for the work you do because you believe it’s valuable. The people who build software and templates and stock art believe their work is valuable too. Pay them just like you’re getting paid.

Acknowledge creativity

If you do use push button creativity tools make sure you acknowledge this. Either in your code comments, or a footer of a web site or somewhere. Especially to your client or your manager who is paying you to do creative work. You’re not out to get a pay cut or get fired. You’re simply being transparent about how you’re producing your work. (I don’t know for sure, but I imagine it would uncomfortable to pass off push button creativity as your own work only to have a client or manager discover this for themselves and question you about it.)


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