I was a voraciously curious child. I devoured books on ancient cultures. Dug up my parents’ back yard in search of fossils and artefacts. Explored the meaning of life both at scale through my telescope, and in minutia through my microscope. My obsessions shifted daily depending on whom I wanted to be when I grew up each morning: anthropologist, biologist, palaeontologist. No matter which fleeting ambition I settled on, they all had one thing in common: a scientific mindset.
I’ve come to learn that, in the creative industries, a scientific mindset can be a real strength.
While branding may seem lightyears away from astrophysics, creativity and science aren’t that far removed from one another. All you need to do is look at Leonardo Da Vinci, one of history’s greatest artists who also happens to be one of its greatest scientific minds (not only did he make discoveries in neuroanatomy, but he was also the first to pith a frog). Both disciplines involve experimentation. Both attempt to understand reality. And both are fundamentally rooted in ideas.
Often there’s a misunderstanding of what creativity is and what science isn’t. But science is absolutely creative. In fact, I’d go as far as to argue that it’s a scientific mindset that makes brands truly successful.
The scientific superpower
At the core of this conviction is the balance of credibility and creativity that a scientific mindset affords. Too many brands fail because people fall in love with a creative execution first and retrofit the strategy to justify it, rather than leading from a strategically sound idea at the outset.
Through the scientific process, however, you’re always asking yourself, ‘Does this methodology address the challenge’, ‘Will I be able to prove this out?’, ‘Do we have evidence to back this up?’. Those questions can apply so beautifully to ideas in the creative industry too. It’s not about putting together an 80-page deck of evidence, but about asking whether something has been properly thought through and grounded in insight.
One key aspect of the scientific mindset is the ability to check your biases. When you write a piece of research, part of the process is reflecting on and spelling out your presumptions.
At its core, branding is about understanding audiences, and that involves setting aside one’s own preconceptions and approaching others with a sense of wonder rather than judgement. In the creative industries, this couldn’t be more important – especially since there’s still so much work to be done, both in developing more inclusive design and in encouraging a truly diverse workforce. So, it’s important to evaluate work from the perspective of objectivity as much as possible – otherwise, you can risk distorting the relevance or missing the mark on a human truth, the holy grail of any successful brand.
The connections in complexity
The first, and often most tedious, element of any research is a ‘literature review’. Not only is it a matter of due diligence, but it also grounds a study in previous research, identifies knowledge gaps (and opportunities), and communicates the value of the work.
Another key element of the scientific process is drawing from different areas of knowledge and finding new ways of looking at things.
This approach – in a different guise – also informs great creative work; work that truly answers the brief. It needs to be based in the ability to pull from different places, and often it’s the intersections and anomalies that hold the greatest insights.
When you start seeing connections in complexity, the red thread between different sectors, trends, cultures, and cues that you normally wouldn’t have seen; when you start to identify the patterns across various types of information whether consumer behaviours or semiotics; that’s putting a scientific mindset to use – and that’s what gets you to truly novel and impactful work.
The rush of rigour
We’ve all heard the phrase, ‘slow down to speed up’, and while it may be cliché, there’s truth in it. There’s a reason doctorates take three to seven years to complete. Why pharmaceuticals take multiple rounds of testing to approve. Why Dyson famously took 15 years and 5,127 prototypes before creating a vacuum cleaner that worked perfectly. That’s because great ideas take time. Something we’re often short of in the creative industries, where the deadline for everything is yesterday.
And while the industry loves a ‘they cracked the brief on the back of a napkin in less than three hours’ myth, it’s just that. A myth. Strokes of genius are often the result of years of cumulative insight, knowledge, and experience, not to mention the hours of research that went into the brief in the first place.
Just as you wouldn’t expect a print-ready design within three days, you can’t expect an impenetrable strategy within the same time frame. It’s worth building time into project scopes to fully flesh out ideas. To shape them, to challenge them, and, of course, to give them room to evolve. Because they inevitably will. And I can promise you, the more rigour you apply upfront, the easier the sell-in will be down the line, and the less revisions you’ll have slowing you down at the end.
Celebrating the idea
Our industry too often neglects the value of a scientific mindset – the strategy. It tends to celebrate the creative output – the campaign, the design or even the creative individual. Yet, a beautiful creative idea will have insight and evidence hidden within it, becoming so intuitive you don’t even see it. Rather than focusing so much on the output, maybe it’s time to focus on the ideas in our industry and the beauty and creativity implicit within them.
Perhaps we need to reframe creativity less as a discipline, and more as an action – cracking the code. Because, whether strategists or creatives, that’s what we all are. We’re codebreakers that can understand what will make a brand last, what can drive growth, standout and fandom no matter the commercial climate, no matter how technology or culture evolves. Cracking that code of what makes the brand work, understanding those patterns in layers, beneath what you see, is what makes brands last, and ultimately, what makes them successful.
I challenge everyone in the creative industry to nurture a scientific mindset. To take the time to unearth the insights that unlock great work. To dig up your conceptual backyards, if you will, because you never know what treasures might be buried there.
Cover image source: BrAt82