Creative Conference

By The Drum, Administrator

April 11, 2003 | 12 min read

Met Studio’s slide show , part of James Norton’s presentation

The Drum’s second annual two-day Creativity Conference was held at The Lighthouse last month and the debates, based around the conference’s theme of “Originality is Great but Plagiarism is Quicker”, were certainly passionate. Taking the floor were speakers from different creative disciplines to look at the issues of plagiarism and to question what originality entails in modern-day creative businesses.

On the first day, our speakers were invited to talk on topics such as original thinking, whatever happened to the avant-garde and whether there is any space left for unique solutions to a creative problem. Following on from each speaker’s allocated twenty minutes, a question-and-answer session was held to round off each section.

The chairman for the first session was Stand’s Stuart Gilmour, who had the unenviable task of chairing a discussion on original thinking and whether it exists in this day and age.

First up to state his case was Dave Waters of ad agency DFGW, who instantly got people talking by stating that he did not feel that there was any originality in the type of work being done within the advertising industry.

“Nowadays we seem to take existing bits from various different areas and recycle them in order to create something new. This means that it is both quick and cheap to do. The best advertising comes from our popular culture and therefore that tends to suit clients who normally are looking for something that is quick and easy.

“Everything that has come into play has been used before, and therefore I would say that originality of thinking is very rare. For example, take the recent Guinness ads. They are pretty amazing, but I have never looked at them and thought that the work was truly original. I mean, the music is Leftfield – I have heard that before. It is shot in black and white – hardly original - and the words are not new – they were written for Moby Dick. But being able to recycle all theses ingredients means that something not original, but truly amazing has been produced.”

Next up was architect Ian Simpson who, with his company Ian Simpson Architects, has produced a variety of projects in both Manchester and London. For Simpson, intuitive thinking was what was truly important and whether that thinking was original or not was an entirely different matter.

Simpson was, however, very critical when it came to plagiarism with architecture: “In the 1960s buildings suffered from plagiarism because what we got was a ripped-off idea that had come from France. An architect who has no sense of creativity is not able to add anything to their work or to the surrounding areas.

“The point that a commercial architect has to make is that they can see an idea and take it and apply it to something new. Instead, what happened in the 60s was that designers were just reproducing an idea and actually adding nothing to it.”

After lunch came the afternoon debate on “Whatever happened to the avant-garde?”, which was chaired by Kenny Harris of Headsurf.

First to answer this question was David Chaloner from the Conran Design Group, who ascertained that it still existed, and that if we were to look at it in historical terms it would always exist on the outer edges. “I believe passionately in the cult of originality, and I also believe passionately in ideas. I do think that out there in the real world there are still the seeds of the avant-garde. The Greeks copied the Egyptians’ idols so therefore there has always been an element of copying from one age to the next. But by copying ideas things are changed automatically, so that the way we think about an idea or concept will never be the same again.”

Following on from Chaloner was patron of the arts Professor Richard DeMarco OBE, who has had a wealth of experience on the subject of original thought and the avant-garde. DeMarco was dismissive of what the Scottish Arts Council had achieved, and was relieved that there was still original thought happening, even though it was occurring on the outskirts of the creative community. “Design is merely a buzzword – the word has only been used over the past thirty to forty years and has been used to replace the word art. The word art is now associated with ghastly words like leisure and recreation and sport. Great artists don’t think about making art or creating art. They are simply living.”

The final speaker of the day was Jim Northover, of Citigate Lloyd Northover, speaking on the topic of whether the unique selling point is actually dead and if, in this day and age, the brand is king. Penny Lewis, Joint Editor of Prospect magazine, chaired this session.

“I’m not convinced that, in a world of communications and in the industries that we are part of, being truly unique is always a virtue. What I tend to look for these days is a sense of creativity with a purpose and the ability to improve people’s lives in some ways. Therefore we can take something that exists and change it into something entirely new,” said Northover, adding, “Originality is something that does not always have to be shouted from the rooftops.”

Day Two

Adrian Searle of Freight Design chaired the first session on the second day of the event. Top of the agenda for the first session was the question “Can you put a price or value on original work?”

David Hamilton of Priestman Goode was the first to speak on the topic, and said that both working for international companies as well as experimenting on brands and pieces of work internally helped the company think in a far more creative manner, yet still enabled them to think about the clients’ needs and wants.

“We need to get into the habit of lateral thinking – balancing the knowledge that you have between the naivety that you can also bring to the table.

“Diversification is the key and it is crucial when you are working. We make sure that designers are able to weave together a variety of different ideas, and collaborate with each other, as listening to the client and to one another is of paramount importance.”

Patrick Baglee of EHS Brann followed on from this, defining his interpretation of the term plagiarism, and asking whether clients understand what they mean when they ask for something original.

“There is no place for plagiarism in the purest sense of the word and in terms of the work that we do. Some people can self-plagiarise, which is fine if they are willing to do that to their work. If it works for them then I guess that it is fine.

“Originality and innovation is the key ... but being original isn’t something that we are naturally disposed to. People are forced to be original although throughout their lives they have been forced to conform and therefore it can be difficult to be told to go away and create something new.”

James Norton of MET added to this line of thought by asking the question: “Is originality a design cliché?” “I think I would say that yes it probably is. Ultimately, the client is the most important person because, at the end of the day, they are the ones who are paying your wages. People must be careful of pursuing originality just for originality’s sake. I think that I would say that innovation is a far more important aspect. We should ask clients what they mean when they say that they want originality – and even try and get them to somehow define and explain what they mean by it.”

Kenny Harris of Headsurf made a reappearance on the second day of the event, throwing his thoughts on creativity into the mix, and trying to enable clients to understand what the creative needs from the relationship. “Some of the most original ideas people have had have been rotten – they simply didn’t work. Pastiche, homage and parody. Whatever you might call it – if something works then use it, as long as it is something good. Boundaries are important, but at the same time they still need to be stretched. The perfect client is ultimately the one who will set certain types of boundaries, but at the same time they can cut loose and let you go a bit mad.”

The final debate of the morning asked whether the old saying of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery actually meant that it was alright to plagiarise, or copy, others’ work.

Andy McMillan, Emeritus Professor of Architecture for the Glasgow School of Art, stated that copying an idea is not necessarily a bad thing – as long as something new can be added at the same time. “You can copy things but at the same time bring other personal experiences into the mix. Originality is the key, but there will always be references to other great masters who have been there and done it all before.” McMillan went on to cite the example of Charles Rennie Mackintosh using others’ work as a building block, but at the same time being able to create something entirely new.

Ken Dixon of Newhaven asked the question: “Does irony make plagiarism acceptable? If it is done in a knowing fashion then is it OK to plagiarise? Every industry plagiarises, but some do it in a more clever way than others and that really is the key. In advertising we pay homage – but we never copy!”

That, to Dixon, was the most important differentiation to make. “Ultimately, people love to think that they can be as original as possible, but really what it is about is standing one step ahead of the rest. We move so fast and are still expected to reflect what is going on within the popular culture that sometimes it can be understandable that there seems to be a lot of copying.”

In this day and age how much help are the creative industries managing to get from the public bodies, which all have schemes that are aimed at benefiting the companies, and whether the country as a whole will ever be able to become a world-renowned creative force.

A heated debate, chaired by Danny Meaney of NMP, ensued as to the nature and identity of Scottish creativity.

For Andy Harrold, from Harrold Contemporary Furniture, probably the best part for him, when designing his new chairs, was being able to work with agencies such as Scottish Enterprise. “Part of the creative process was engaging with local agencies, who are able to help you and go forward with it. Using a public agency is an important part of the process but not the be-all and end-all – but I do believe that people should use it for all the help that they might need along the way.”

Architect Alan Dunlop raised somewhat of a chuckle with his comments when he declared that he had never heard of the abbreviated SE – and that he had never had anything to do with the public body may well provide an explanation to some of the shortcomings of the Scottish creative industries and their relationship with public bodies. However, he did add that within the architect sector Scotland is sorely losing the battle that they once had won in being world renowned for their building works. “A few months ago the Scotsman ran an article about international Scots in the world and what they have achieved. The thing was, none of these people were architects. Our industry in Scotland has yet to make the world stand up and take notice and that is something very worrying as Scotland historically has always been renowned for its architecture capabilities.”

Adding to the debate, Campbell Laird of Tayburn stated that companies should look outside of the country and try to broaden their horizons, believing this is the only way that the country can go forward in the push for creative excellence. “I do believe that if it wasn’t for Scottish Enterprise there wouldn’t be a creative industry within Scotland. The funds that they provide for the creative culture within Scotland need to be taken seriously ... But we also need to be aware that we can’t be too pro-Scottish and anti-everything else. We need to be capable of competing within a level playing field whether it is in Scotland, Britain or even within Europe.”

The final speaker of the creative conference was Gordon Young, publisher of the Drum. Young, a passionate believer in all things creative and Scottish, was, as always, forthright with his views. “Scotland really is one of Europe’s creative forces and in terms of the UK is second only to that of London. What is Scotland’s secret? We have a world beating creative community but we also need business as well. At the end of the day the Scottish government need to focus on how to generate wealth as opposed to how they will spend it.”

Over the two days numerous speakers representing the creative industries shared a variety of views. Whilst those within the advertising community may say that plagiarism and irony are acceptable, there are others from the world of design who believe that original thinking is something that needs to be achieved in order to create something truly innovative and unique. Yet whilst some may argue that truly original thinking is a rarity in this day and age, all maintained that it was a necessity in order to progress and to achieve creative excellence.


More from Christmas

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +