Why fear sells, passion matters and creatives need to be allowed to fail: Key takeaways from ADCE Festival 2016

Art Director's Club Europe

The Art Director’s Club of Europe has brought together creative minds from the worlds of design, sport, marketing, dance and more for a third time at its annual festival to celebrate and recognise the role creativity, graphic design and new creative solutions play in overcoming the challenges and disruptions of modern life.

Taking place in Barcelona this year’s festival looked to show the importance of ‘unexpected connections’ and how industries and roles you would think have nothing in common are more similar than you initially thought.

Hosting talks from the likes of Virginie Gailing, Lawrence Zeegan and Kathryn Ferguson to name a few, here are five key takeaways.

Space for failure is important

Drawing on his 25+ years’ experience in design education Ravensbourne School of Design Dean, Lawrence Zeegan, made an impassioned plea to the creative industries – and design schools – to start accommodating ‘happy accidents’.

“Design education is becoming very measured and is too much about striving for perfection, working in the creative industry requires you to be able to mine from your experience as a student and if you strip that away you don’t have any space to fail,” he argued, encouraging more agencies to allow staff to “take wrong turnings” and follow ideas that might not have a commercial application.

“A very small percentage of designers re-enter education of any kind – and this includes short courses and training,” Zeegan revealed. “Companies don’t have the mindset to nurture creativity and that’s why a lot of designers tip off at 30-35 years-old.”

Passion matters

With all of the speakers coming from different fields the central theme in all of the talks was passion, from fashion filmmaker Kathryn Ferguson to choreographer and dancer Cesc Gelabert.

“To make something happen you must believe in it,” noted moderator Jamshid Alamuti.

Having tried – and failed – to break into the UK radio industry early in her career podcaster Helen Zaltzman said the biggest lesson she’d learned from creatives was simply – “you don’t need an invitation to do this”.

Creativity needs to have a cause to make sense

Starting off life as an agency side project Virginie Gailing’s ‘Redesigning Death’ movement highlighted that for creativity to matter there should be a reason for doing it.

“For me, sharing and moving knowledge is the objective, not designing funeral coffins. Redesigning death is challenging as you won’t change things with a fancy coffin or urn,” Gailing said. “Creative ideas are always about people and humanity.”

Food creative Joel Serra-Bevin, who left behind a steady consulting role at KPMG to launch food startup Papa Serra, echoed Gailing’s comments. “Creativity is about bringing together disparate ideas and hoping you touch a nerve,” he said. “It takes a lot of stamina, look at Airbnb it was unknown for several years before finally connecting with the mainstream.”

Just Do It

When we’re growing up it’s ‘good enough’ to simply try but in the real world it’s a case of you either do it, or don’t do it, argued Alamuti.

Zaltzman, speaking of her father – who is a sculptor – commented that having a ‘financial cushion’ meant he’d never really tried hard enough with his art.

“You have to do the creative work and then do the marketing side of it too if you want to be successful,” she said. “My father had a financial cushion so he never made the marketing side of things work and his left him a bit unfulfilled and I agree that, for me, without the need to make money from it I’m not sure much creativity would ever happen.”

Fear sells

In addition to passion, another theme of the festival was fear and how it can be a fantastic driver for new business ideas, or to convince bosses to allow you the time and space to try and do something different. But activist, designer and software developer Aral Balkan drew attention to a different kind of fear with some harsh insights into the technologically-led world we’re sleepwalking into.

Claiming we live in 'The Matrix inverted,' Balkan took aim at Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg stating when he says “privacy is dead” he only means yours. “When Mark buys a house, he buys all the houses nearby, and when Mark uses a laptop he places tape over the microphone and camera,” he said.

Joking that only two industries use the word ‘user’ – Facebook and drug dealers – Balkan warned that all the data we throw at Facebook et al is used to creative “living, breathing” simulations of customers for big business to exploit arguing, “data about something is the thing itself”.

Pointing to how to control our data from regulation to legislation and creative solutions Balkan asked those in the room to consider one thing when “all design is influence and design without ethics is manipulation” – where do the brands you’re working for fall?

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