By: Aaron Bergunder

Currents: Rethinking how we create

Designers and creators are shelving their high-end “industry standard” tools and making the best of the basics. So what does it say when the pros move on from pro tools?

It’s 2024 and you’re a full-time creative looking to put together a digital portfolio. Choose your adventure:

A: Jump into one of the many solid site-builders with refined templates that will have you looking polished pretty quickly.

B: Craft a site from scratch, going deep into the design and code, perfecting each piece to your own exacting standards.

C: Point your domain to a Google doc and get on with other things.

There’s no universally correct answer there, but the rise in popularity of folks choosing “C” in recent years highlights an interesting trend of creatives making the most of the least. We’re seeing photographers shelve their premium 100MP powerhouses for pocketable point and shoots. Designers and brands are finding beauty in spreadsheets. Filmmakers are creating in native social apps over heavy-lifting editing software.

The previous hallmark qualities of products being made by highly-skilled professional creatives are being questioned or done away with: finely tuned color grading, nuanced typography, high bandwidth uncompressed files, ET AL.

Is this an improvement though? What does this mean for our crafts? And how do we stay relevant?

Limit your tools, push your ideas

Design tools and creative companies are in a fierce race to build products with limitless power. Every feature on an infinite canvas in an instant. But creatives know the true value of parameters. It’s the difference between working to a well-crafted brief and “do whatever you want.” The boundaries force fresh ideas to form.

And when we take the time to really investigate our ideas, we open up to rethinking what a creative tool really is. Senior designers know that spreadsheets are as necessary as Creative Cloud to get things done. The real solutions aren’t necessarily what looks great in a presentation. When that big brand you’re building goes from mockups to reality, the limits of media will hit hard and fast so you might as well start thinking early about the Outlook email signature you’ll inevitably be asked for. Build from the bottom up.

Questioning professionalism

Progressive social change has brought enough awareness to investigate our industry standards, the privileges and powers at play, and the whole notion of what it means to be professional. For creative industries, these standards have been what uphold our value and separate the juniors from the directors. The old promise was that you dedicate your 10,000 hours to a craft, naturally mature with it, and rise up the creative ranks with your strengthened skillset. For marginalized communities that promise has never held true. And in exciting and equitable ways skillsets come faster now than ever, while the institutions gatekeeping the technical knowledge of our crafts are being superseded by TikTok tutorials.

So we have an opportunity to reset the systems which have defined professional quality work. We can evaluate creative success from new perspectives and with new criteria. On soundness and value of the idea. On the sustainability or accessibility or equity of the work. Aesthetic trappings are no longer the requisite signature of a trusted product.

The appetite in marketing for user-generated content (UGC) and authentic imagery support this notion. Campaigns continuously aim to capture the feeling of your friends’ photo roll. The memory of the moment. Who cares what you caught it on?

The irresistible allure of breaking stuff

The creative industries also have an unquenchable thirst for things they’ve never seen before. It might be one of our core qualities in common: we want something completely different. How’d they make that? Why is this so moving? What am I even looking at? We’re forever chasing the thrill of these questions. And the ability to create work that evokes them isn’t hinged on the medium, or expertise, or popularity. It’s driven by ingenuity and experimentation and surprise.
You get there by breaking stuff—expectations in particular.

Standing out by blending in somewhere else

The rat race creative world is more crowded than ever. The tide of quality is rising and it’s easily arguable that more products are better-designed and that the baseline of good keeps getting better. For many, this is what keeps the career exciting; stay competitive and your next project will be your best yet. But the climb of mastery in a field eventually plateaus. Jumping from the peak of one domain to the valley of another can be a revitalizing step in any artist’s journey. In 2024 it doesn’t need to be a whole Dylan goes electric event, but more of an opening-a-Slides-deck-first because that’s where your colleagues are at.

We’re at a peak opportunity to upend our processes. So examine your work and ask why it is how it is:

  • How could you invite more collaboration?
  • Where could you be more transparent in your creative process?
  • What do you do “because that’s how it’s done?”
  • What would you never do, and why?
  • What do you need to do to make something completely unrecognizable as yours?

Maybe you’ll discover that it’s still essential to use Söhne as your brand typeface and that even a fallback to Arial would be unforgivable. Creative Cloud might really be the essential tool of your craft. Or maybe you’ll find that a disposable camera lets you tell stories that your DSLR was getting in the way of.

Get inspired to break your next creative project.