When it comes to mobile, most of the leading mobile strategists and designers that I know put an emphasis on utility. This sentiment, in large part, is probably driven by the plethora of completely useless “throw away” apps that were prevalent shortly after the iPhone’s launch (did the world need another “beer pouring” app?). During that exuberant period, creative directors everywhere were proposing the next “gimmicky” app that would make a brand famous. Only to find out that without a significant promotional budget, most apps never got downloaded. And if by chance they did find their way into a user’s hands, they got used once — maybe.
So, most smart digital and mobile marketers ensured that the emphasis was placed on providing “useful” app experiences (anyone else having flashbacks to 1999?). UX began touting navigation best practices and iOS design guidelines. Brands started to create platforms that connected their consumers in deeper ways than ever before…Nike+ being one great example.
The trouble is, much of the new design work being done in the app space today looks the same as everything else that’s been done. For some elements like global navigation that makes perfectly good sense. I liken it to the evolution of e-commerce shopping carts. Once someone landed on a model that consumers liked, then why not replicate instead of reinventing the wheel and spending tens of thousands on usability testing.
Lately, while reviewing design concepts for a project we were working on, it struck me that once the various art directors applied brand standards, that many of the designs started to look the same. It prompted me to ask the question — Is there room for creativity in mobile?
The question was somewhat loaded — of course creative ideas are prevalent in mobile. And ideas and content can, and should, transcend design. Nevertheless, I was intrigued enough after a couple of conversations that I decided to ask it to some of Brunner’s top digital creative and strategic minds to get their take.
“The ability to harness a person’s location (relevance), their penchant for creating stuff themselves (pictures, videos, thoughts) and their ability to influence people close to them (social networks) means mobile has more potential for creativity than any other channel. Movements start when consumers can internalize and then personalize their connection with a brand. Ideas drive the internalization and mobile enables personalization at scale. But without creative leadership and idea-centered approaches–mobile will go the way of the horse (just as email did, creatively).”
- SQ, Director, Mobile Strategy
“There is room for creativity in most anything, so technically yes there’s room for it in mobile. However, I think the definition of “creativity” is a new and evolving one and may not be the same for all parties involved. The blending of the traditional and digital creatives during the ideation stage has spawned a different and interesting dynamic. What’s wonderful about mobile at this time is the fact that we are very much in the age of invention and original ideation. Pushing creative uses of technology and putting people in a room together with very different skills and background to see what comes out. There is as much opportunity around creativity in how something is built and its use as there is in how it looks or is branded.”
- KJ, Director, Digital Strategy
“Designers are being forced to do more with less, which inspires innovative and creative solutions. We’re solving new problems, which is far more exciting than limiting. Mobile only feels restrictive if we insist on using the same approach we’ve been using elsewhere. Look at what game developers are doing. Elaborate console games may be bigger and louder, but they’re rarely more creative or engaging than simple, one-touch experiences on mobile.”
- TM, Associate Creative Director
“As long as creativity doesn’t come at the expense of functionality and brevity, yes. Absolutely.”
- RS, Executive Creative Director
“Asking if there’s room for creativity in mobile is like asking if there’s room to be creative with saran wrap.
There’s always room for creativity, you just have to use your imagination. (Yes, I know I sound like a kindergarten teacher).
(for a creative use of saran wrap that also qualifies as street art, see:
-LG, Creative Director
So, the answer? Yes. But a cautious yes. If we collectively allow ourselves to fall into the “best practices” and standards trap, then we run the risk of homogenizing the user experience. Likewise, we can’t throw away all that we’ve already learned in the few short years that mobile has been around. The best user experiences, likely, will fall somewhere in the middle.