At Hyper Island, the hybrid creative is cultivated. But what about at your agency?

May 26, 2010

Digital or generalist? Hopefully both.

The debate at today’s Hyper Island Master Class (digital training for creative professionals) was one of craft versus utility in the modern creative department. The creative generalist vs. the digital specialist. Call them by other names, but you know what I’m talking about. Most agencies agree bringing these two groups together is critical. Doing it, however, challenges many of them.

I’m generalizing but bear with me. There is a latent tendency for generalists (art directors and copywriters) to obsess about craft (typography, body copy, design, etc) far more than the various species of digital creative. Conversely, the latter group tends to be more about the usefulness of the creative. Utility trumps aesthetic. Does your creation help the end user? If not, who cares what it looks like? Online, you’re just creating “digital ghost towns,” said digital creative consultant (and one of our instructors), Daniele Fiandaca.

Of course both are very important. Duh. Yet, there is much to be gleaned by extrapolating key pieces from this discussion (if debate is too strong a word). Pick any side. Both parties have much to say. Either way, it should be apparent that getting both sides aligned is in the best interests of agency, client and consumer.

Let’s stick with the agency, shall we? I work for the day when of all my colleagues are hybrids, with digital folks thinking high concept and their creative counterparts respecting utility.

The metaphor I like for this hybrid creative department is “guppies fucking.” Aquarists know that within a short period of time you can’t tell which guppy came from which parent. They are a strain of all. Likewise, we in adland will no longer be able to tell who came from a general background or the digital side. And we won’t need or want to.

“Useful,” stated Saatchi creative director and class presenter, Tim Leake “will be the new cool.”

The new, most desirable creative people will be keen on delivering concepts that are both useful to users and beautiful to behold. They will be adept at all of it and evaluated accordingly. As will planners, producers and account executives but I’m getting ahead of myself.

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9 Responses to “At Hyper Island, the hybrid creative is cultivated. But what about at your agency?”

  1. Tad DeWree said

    Digital has been around for over 25 years. (ie: Macintosh 1984 ad).

    Digital production for at least 20 years.

    All of us who wrestled with Adobe Illustrator 1.0, fought production houses to take Final Cut Pro 1.0 rough cuts and read HTML in 5 min to hammer out early websites
    are continually amazed at that ad agencies still even have analog Art Directors & writers.

    Our business requires both ideas and execution. Personally, as an agency creative I found rushing a rough cut at an editor very frustrating. Waiting on a studio tech to comp an ad a convoluted and wasteful for both of us.

    As an agency owner, I actually sought out production people with design potential
    instead of pure ADs and writers to make the economics work.

    What I found? Look for tech saavy creative that play drums or piano. Why? Because they understood process, dynamics, creativity…and how to do multiple things at the same time. The Arts in the Schools folks are dead right.

    We are in the communication business. We need to embrace every new technology, understand it, master it, and own it in our sphere of services.

    Concept is king. Always. But in business, execution, economics and efficiency are the cost of doing business.

    Fyi, this was written on an iPad. If folks work in our business and have yet to figure out how important it will be, they’re in real trouble.

    Great subject, Steffan. hope this stirs some strong debate.

  2. Isaac Viel said


    For a student who’s graduating soon, what would you expect a book to look like from someone who considers them self to be a generalist, jack of all trades, renaissance person?

    Coming from a liberal arts college (University of Oregon), we are heavily immersed in concept, creativity and strategy. We are also fostered to be insatiably curious about life, personable and interesting. It’s a a very exciting program that forces people well beyond the boundaries of AP, CD, AD, CW and into a roll that the industry is still very slow to adopt: the Creative Strategist. Creative Strategists are exactly what so many in the industry claim to want, but are still very afraid to take the chance because most of what is learned cannot be contained to little black, leather-bound portfolio. What we learn transcends individual executions and encompasses whole brand identities and experiences. Again, these are skills that cannot simply be presented in 5-minute lightning round portfolio reviews.

    Now, this does not mean that we cannot execute — we can, and we can well. We know the tools. We know type. We know art. We know language. We know media. But, we also know creativity, sociology, trends, UX, life, story, relationships, and, most of all, we know people.

    So, when you take all of these great things and drop them into a blender, you get a person who can take an idea or a story and make it an experience from top to bottom. A person who willingly attends all the meetings not because they have to, but because they want to contribute holistically. You get an extremely enthusiastic and interesting person who can find opportunities in the strategy and solve puzzles in the executions.

    This new hybrid, however, requires a new way of thinking altogether when it comes to the hiring or placement process. This is what WE want to bring to the industry: a new agency model that is based on collaboration as a vector not assembly through a chain of command.

    I’ve taken much of your time and posed many questions. I hope to hear from you and others on this. It came up a little during Nick’s panel at the Unconference, and again here. It’s obviously a great opportunity to change things up.

    Isaac Viel

    • SRP said

      Of your many great points here’s a beauty:
      “a new agency model that is based on collaboration as a vector not assembly through a chain of command.”
      Spot on.

  3. The “creative generalist” vs “digital specialist” and the hybrid creative is an interesting subject to me for a lot of reasons.

    You currently know me as the “digital specialist”, but only a few years ago you would have seen me as a “creative generalist”, a traditional AD. I spent years literally hiding my digital skillset because I thought it weakened my creative offering in the eyes of more seasoned ad veterans. In essence, I was in the digital closet.

    I didn’t want to be the guy making banner ads… or doing email campaigns. Egotistically, I wanted to make something that would impress people, something I could be proud of and back then digital wasn’t a good way that.

    Technology and the concepts that come with it have finally permeated the masses. Mobile devices and interaction design are forcing innovation and meaningful experiences that can redefine the way that we look at and experience things. We can use social media to communicate and connect on a personal level and activate people to activate other people. McLuhan’s Global Village has become a reality.

    But even with all those new shiny things out there to play with, I will always enjoy creating a print ad.

    I wholeheartedly believe in the concept of hybrid creativity and I look forward to hearing more of the insights you’ve gained at Hyper Island.

    • SRP said

      To our credit (yours and mine), we intuitively “knew” the hybrid creative was not “if” but “when.”
      I think some ad folk repressed that knowledge and, like you said, “stayed in the closet.” Fear of losing their identity and of being exposed I suppose. Great comments so far…

  4. Marshall MCluhan did a lot of mischief 30 years ago with THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE.

    The medium isn’t the message. The message is the message. And outdoor board is a medium. But it’s just a big white nothing until compelling pictures and words are put on it.

    Same with a blank tv screen or blank piece of paper or a blank web page.

    Problem is, I see a helluva a lot of web pages filled with stuff, but they’re still blank.

    They may contain “content” but they don’t contain anything useful, compelling, or memorable. Certainly not a message that will be remembered or engaged with.

    When TV came in 60 years ago, joining the other media, people had to learn how to use the new medium. And within a few years they were pretty good at it. Within twenty years, they were really good at it. And within 30 years, we got “1984”. Which may have been TV’s zenith as an advertising medium.

    Nobody expected creative people to become directors, producers, or editors. Just master the material needed for the former to put onto the medium using their particular talents and techniques.

    Today, a creative person needs to learn all the nuances of the Web. And invent new ones. I don’t think that ought to necessarily mean he has to master Flash or whatever himself.

    What happened to the concept of creative people and technical people and those who are both — like film directors and editors– working together in collaboration.

    What’s wrong with the Web is too many geeks who are all tech and no ideas, still dominate the Web.

    That is why the great ugly secret is, the Internet sucks as a brand building medium.

  5. Medium is indeed NOT the Message – not an “Adman” but as a “Filmie” digital is the new medium and I’m fortunate enough to have partners that still adhere to the principals of film both in construct and execution but leverage the medium to deliver that message or story cost effectively. Me? I may have a conceptual understanding of Final Cut, but Medium with out Message is just pixels. I write I direct I act. I collaborate with an editor I collaborate with a Cinematographer. Neither of us can effectively do each others job. Seperate we are elements. Together we are Product.

    Ultimately it’s a tool. It’s advancement. So while I can’t contribute to the industry side of this discussion I can say that “If you light it like film it looks like film” And thankfully voice technology still hasn’t evolved to make us VO guys obsolete – so my two cents is: Digital Content has no meaning without creative vision and a message that resonates. Blend it – collaborate Creative and Construct to build Connection – That’s all we really buy.

  6. SRP said


    Odd fortune that AVO still human!
    Though Roger Ebert is talking via previously recorded words…

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