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Creative Agency Leadership Creativity

Creativity as a common language: an ode to commercial creative

By Tom Inniss, Writer

Brew Digital


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June 29, 2023 | 8 min read

Brew Digital’s Tom Inniss argues that art (whether on a canvas or a digital ad) is about communication – and, with enough practice, anyone can master it.

An assortment of fridge magnet letters and symbols

Creativity is a common language, argues Tom Inniss of Brew Digital / Towfiqu Barbhuiya via Unsplash

In any creative medium, there’s a risk that discussing art can feel highbrow or exclusive: a domain that belongs only to artists and creatives, rather than a shared experience open to all. We view ‘artists’ as true creatives, coveting their ability while denigrating our own capacity for creativity.

But, while the output from a professional artist is of a higher ‘quality’, there’s no mystery; it’s just practice, and a willingness to embrace the creative process that lays dormant in all of us.

Art, understanding, and communication

Stephanie Smith, Brew Digital’s head of design, epitomizes this natural creative inquisitiveness that has powered human evolution. “I got into design because I like knowing how things work, and ergo, how they can be better,” she says. “I got into art because, really, that's all about understanding stuff too. However, instead of ‘things’, it’s about understanding people and their motivations. It’s surprisingly psychological.”

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Creativity is many things to many people, and it’s all predicated on the same premise: communication. Creativity calls upon our need to listen, and to be heard, and then turns that into something tangible. It’s a conversation, be it a dialogue between two people, a missive from one person or company to many, or even the individual exploration of a feeling or expression for themselves, never to be seen by the world.

And it’s subjective. Two people can look at a piece of art and hold diametrically opposed views on it. That’s ok. That’s human. Enjoying, celebrating, challenging and being challenged by art: this is its foundation and its intention. The meaning is wholly individual, ubiquitous only in its ability to evoke – and our ability to interpret and respond.

Creativity is a common language; the original babel fish. This is most evident when observed in children. When we can be free of expectation and the pressure to create ‘good’ art, we can be creatively unbridled; from concocting fantastic worlds in pictures, extracting the outlandish from the everyday mundane, to problem-solving. Creativity is a muscle, and it needs exercise to grow stronger.

10,000 hours

This is certainly the thinking of Brendan Purchase, our principal designer. He views a big part of his role as providing developmental support to the junior designers on his teams. As a mentor, he needs to find the balance between presenting and exploring their own ideas, and ensuring they are responding thoughtfully to clients’ briefs. “I explain the problem to the designers; what we’re trying to achieve from the brief, how they might get there… I can help steer them in a better direction to answer that question,” says Purchase.

“It’s not telling them what to do, it’s more guiding them… telling someone what to do stifles creativity. There’s so much passion, and it's just honing that passion and directing it.”

But even those who don’t consider themselves creative aren’t beyond discovering their creativity when permitted. Brendan cites Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours concept; with enough practice (10,000 hours of it), anybody can be proficient in creative work.

Here’s Purchase again: “I do believe some people are more creative naturally, but if you put in the work I think you can learn. I used to teach, and those who started further back developmentally could surpass ‘naturally gifted’ if they had the time and the drive.”

Aesthetic v commercial artwork

Our designers spoke about commercial versus personal art; that which serves a function, and that which is purely aesthetic. Hazel Thacker, a digital designer on the Brew Digital team, commented on the perceived differences between the two: “Commercial artwork is created with a purpose, to solve a problem or answer a need: form follows function. Aesthetic artwork can often be about stimulating an emotional response, it doesn’t necessarily need to serve any other purpose other than to make someone feel something. It is all about form, and the audience is generally oneself.”

Thacker further reflected that commercial artwork is in many ways more creative and active than aesthetic works, and exists to create a connection. “Commercial artwork always exists within constraints – the dimensions, the palette, the content… These confines allow creativity to truly be pushed. It prompts the refinement of complex ideas into simple yet clever forms that streamline communication. Unless self-imposed, aesthetic artwork ultimately has no limit. When creativity has no bounds it can be overwhelming, directionless and complicated.”

Aesthetic artwork is passive; it requires no action from the viewer. Commercial artwork is active, it communicates suggested actions, like ‘pick this book’ or ‘explore this feature’. It requires interaction to be successful; it’s all about inviting someone into something.”

But attempting to delineate art (and therefore the creative process) is to miss the point. Creativity is uniquely human, and whether it’s being applied to problem-solving, canvas, page, stage, or screen, art resonates with us – even if we don’t understand its complexities and nuances or lack the professional training to conceptualize the creative process.

What’s fascinating is that when asked directly what they considered creativity to be, our designers found it hard to quantify. One confessed to having never really thought about it before; “you just do it”. That’s the definitive ‘truth’ to creativity, the not-so-secret secret to its manifestation. You just do it, because it’s innate to all of us.

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