Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Counting creativity

Guy Julier (Leeds Met) and Liz Moor (Middlesex) have convened a research project called Counting Creativity, whose first workshop was held at the Design Council's offices in London last week, bringing together academics and practitioners. The project investigates the growth in practices of accounting, routine organization, systematization and measuring in design studios and companies.

In their introduction to the event, they wrote:
"In recent years, design and, by extension, branding, advertising and design in the built environment, have been increasingly subject to these effects, both internally in their working practices and externally in their evaluation. No doubt this reflects many wider trends in society, but it’s particularly interesting where creativity and systemization actually meet head-on in the design industry. Everyone in creative fields has a view on this. However, we are interested in finding out why this has come about, analyzing what are its effects and considering what can be done to improve design processes."

Hearing first hand from people working in commercial studios (such as an ad agency) or in public sector museums (such as the V&A) brought to life these questions. If designers now have to account for their time in six minute chunks (but actually create a week's worth of data on Monday mornings), how does this make us think about which bits of their work are "creative" and which are not?

In my presentation, I talked about projects in which I undertook unauthorized versions of such practices of evaluation and measurement, for example my book Audit and collaborative project Personal Political Indices (Pindices) with sociologist Andrew Barry. I used these to raise issues such as: being attentive to how these practices are embedded in networks of relations; how data is produced, not gathered; and how data production is tied up with data representation.

I argued that design companies do not have to take an uncritical approach to evaluation and simply reproduce established (and now challenged) practices and procedures drawn from management. Designers might even see the drive to account for their creativity as an opportunity to (re)design such artefacts, building into them the ambiguity and not-knowing which are essential parts of the design process.

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