Jot ﬁve: Creativity in collaboration
Creativity in collaboration
Why collaborate? That's what Luke McCarthy, designer and founder of Pim-Pam, and Josh Thorpe, professional writer and tutor, came together to discuss at Jot five. They used their experiences to explore the benefits of collaboration on creative projects, from being able to create all-round better work to earning client trust and loyalty.
We, I mean me, I mean us
The first thing I had to decide when setting up my own studio was what to refer to myself as. Is it we or me? Do you want to take the full credit for the work you produced yourself? But what about when you collaborate? Collaboration is something I do on almost every project so I decided to refer to my agency, Pim-Pam, as 'we'.
The juggling act
That was just the first step in the agency. I soon realised (fast!) that there are five main areas I'd be working within on a regular basis. These are:
The work. Actually finding time to do the work, which is the main thing that drives the studio and what I'm most passionate about.
Client relationships. The importance of keeping and building on existing client relationships is huge. Ultimately, if there are no relationships, there's no work.
Project management. It's a massive part of running a studio, and in turn can often take up a lot of your day-to-day. Creating timing plans (and sticking to them), estimating and invoicing work, meetings, calls, workshops. You name it, stick it on that invoice and call it project management.
Business development. Between all that, you need to find time to seek out new work. It's not a given that projects will continue to come in, so keeping in touch with clients, looking into new areas of work, cracking on with those passion projects, creating case studies – it all plays a part here.
Crippling panic attacks. Adding that all up can lead to the odd 'what the hell am I doing?' moment. All of these things are clearly more than one person's job, which is where collaboration comes in. And that's how you maximise a brief.
Deciding who to collaborate with
Not everyone works well together. Which is why you need to learn who you can work with, trust, and feel comfortable letting into your space. Hopefully this is a bit of good advice for those starting out in the creative industry: There’s a good chance that who you work with now will be someone you end up working with again in the future. It could be a year, five years, 10 years, or more.
When you were a junior, so were others working with you, or your clients. As you advance in your career – so do these people. They move sideways, up, become the people leading projects, being in charge of budgets, running businesses of their own or even seeking support or advice in your industry. So 'work hard and be nice to people' might sound cliché, but it's key to building a good network of people you can work with and trust.
I work with a range of copywriters, designers, developers, animators, photographers, printers and more on a regular basis. And most of those people are contacts I already had.
I collaborate to make better work. And this comes back to maximising the brief. You might be working on a brand, website, piece of print or digital content – and the ability to bring and / or 'sell in' these skills to the project and the client can be invaluable.
Take copywriting for example. Before starting Pim-Pam I worked at a Glasgow-based copywriting agency. My role was as a senior designer and it was there that I got to understand the importance of copywriting at all stages of a project. It gave me a real appreciation that I maybe didn’t have before, and now when speaking with clients about their projects, it's often one of the first things we’ll discuss. Recently, we won work not only on our initial design concepts, but with the ideas for copy we delivered as well. It showed that we understood their audience on another level and gave them even more confidence that we could deliver the project.
Opportunities to collaborate
There are always opportunities to collaborate – and you never know what these will lead to. For example, we love to take part in Poster Project – where dozens of designers come together to create posters based on a randomly selected word.
One of the posters we created was for the word 'last'. Our poster was based on conservation tied to an existing campaign called Tiger Time. Through taking part, we were contacted by the David Shepard Wildlife Foundation who wanted to share our work. Six months later and they're now one of our clients, and we regularly support them on campaigns and project work.
It goes to show that things can happen from even the simplest form of collaborating, be that within the creative industry or somewhere else of interest.
Text is material
As a writer, I often work with designers to materialise texts. The earlier we get together, the more developed the product of our efforts can be. So both the designer and writer can influence the mood, vocabulary, typography, sound and beyond – all through the collaborative and material experimentation.
In other words, ideas and intellect are our usual grounds for collaboration, but the material and physical properties of words and sentences can be a fruitful ground we don't always explore (but should).
Writing is a material process
We tend to think text = ideas. We think of writing as an intellectual or communicational practice. We also tend to think that text is therefore just information – adaptable and equivalent no matter how it is conveyed.
I don't think that's right. I think text is material. And that writing is a material, physical, embodied process.
Place and space
Text takes up space. It leaves an impression (literally). It takes place, exists. Whether on screen, on paper, on glass, on billboards, in small scale, in massive scale, in public, in private, read this way, read that way, or whatever...
And each of these is different.
If we accept that text is material, so is its making. In other words, writing is not only an intellectual activity, it is a physical and embodied one. We forge a text. We can build it or break it; we can flip it or shake it. We can employ strange methods like cut-ups (see William Burroughs). We can select words by chance or use arbitrary rules to determine syntax. We can limit ourselves to certain letter sets or word sets, try to use an inordinate quantity of the letter X, for example, or write with no adjectives...
Or we can simply change the medium or the circumstances of the writing. Write in a team. Write in the park. Write with quill and ink.
Then there’s sound. We forget sometimes that writing comes from sound. Did you know The Rolling Stones used to build lyrics from phonetics? Their oooos and nggggs came first, then the words. So for The Stones, the priority was in the feeling, the energy, of a sound made by the mouth, not in any kind of semantics. Don’t forget about sound.
In order to write with sound and rhythm in mind, you have to say things aloud. Beanz Meanz Heinz? That’s a materially tuned-in campaign. It must’ve come about through play with sound. The result plays on phonetics, spelling, typography, and even a kind of perceptual pleasure in that awkward but lovely nz. I think to come up with stuff like that you need materially oriented writing habits.
Try something else
Materially oriented writing yields different results. Different from the default sit-down-and-try-to-communicate technique. But these methods don’t have to yield results, per se, they can also be effective ways of breaking dumb habits, unblocking blocks, and setting the imagination to work.
So, text is material, has physical characteristics, and can be constructed using materially oriented methods.
Based on these material attributes, texts can also be described, delimited, measured. And today, thanks to the work of linguists and programmers, we have a lot of tools that analyse texts. You can take a text and see it through another lens. You could take two texts and say, Hey this one has on average 28 words per sentence, and this one 14. This one has 60% Latinate word origins, and this one 40%. This one is verb-heavy, this one is noun-heavy. (And that is just the start.)
Text is material
With these kinds of measurements, you could make better decisions, identify aims, justify decisions, demonstrate outcomes, and argue more objectively, more evidentiarily (if you’ll accept that as a word) for the value the writer brings to the table.
Text is material. And when we treat it as such we can maybe have better conversations around the writing we do, the decisions we make, and the texts we produce – working collaboratively with designers and other writers. Most importantly, we have a bit more fun.
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