A key question kept cropping up during my time at the Cannes Lions this year: Is technology killing creativity? My answer is, unabashedly, no. Emerging technology—such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, new programming languages, augmented reality (AR) and the use of voice—can be an incredible provocation, tool and opportunity for great creative work.
Brands and creative agencies that feel the pressure to jump onto the next tech bandwagon need to take a step back toward the basics. Utilizing a new piece of tech simply for the industry, PR purposes or to prove future-facing thinking almost always ends badly. I caution my teams to never start from or relent to a client request of “We need an X tech idea,” as it will degrade into a round-peg-in-a-square-hole situation. Instead, the idea should start with a clear brand purpose and message that allow a level of focus and freedom in the creative-ideation process.
Use technology to inspire concepts
Creative technologists and interactive producers—those skilled at bringing creative concepts to life in the real world—start to engage during the creative-development stage by pulling references and quick-turn prototypes and going on studio visits, keeping in mind the brand’s end goal. We then determine which platform is best for the message we’re trying to communicate to the world.
Allow creative to be at the forefront
I often describe my recent projects as “analog tech” since so much of them involves audience-facing physical fabrication with incredible though unseen technological complexities. Clever use of technology slips that same tech into the background, allowing the creative idea to be the focus.
While I was in Cannes reviewing the Digital Craft submissions, I was charmed by a project out of Grey Brazil called “The Canceller” for Reclame Aqui. They trained a relentless AI bot to interact with psychologically frustrating call centers and cancel customers’ mobile accounts. For users, this was a simple tool that helped solve an annoying problem. Consumers don’t care about what it took to create the bot; they are just grateful for its existence and that it works.
Embrace the tension between technology and creativity
Leaving behind the overly familiar world of forward-facing bots, Adobe’s vice president of design Jamie Myrold, artist Mario Klingemann and Pentagram partner Natasha Jen spoke about how AI can be utilized to increase efficiencies in more mundane tasks such as swipe searches to see how an identity system works across various placements or ideation provocation. Or, in other words, tools that assist creative teams—not replace them—by relieving creatives of time-intensive exercises so that they can focus on conceptualizing.
The seeming tension between creativity and technology was further discussed by Pinterest co-founder Evan Sharp and Colleen DeCourcy, chief creative officer of Wieden + Kennedy, during their session titled “The (not-so) Secret Lives of Creatives.” During their chat, DeCourcy shared an inspiring reminder that sums it up perfectly. She explained that, since innovative tools are becoming increasingly accessible for content creation via online databases, bundled software and apps, there is a higher demand for the quality of our ideas to be such that they break through the clutter. I would add the following thought: How do we leverage clever and seamless technology to take creative ideas to the next step and help bring them to life?
All that said, while technology certainly is not killing innovation, it’s critical to let the creative idea drive the use of technology to ensure it ladders up to and assists the brand purpose and end goal(s) in a smart way.