Home > Uncategorized > What the Heck is a Creative Technologist?

What the Heck is a Creative Technologist?

June 22, 2010

What the Heck is a Creative Technologist?
Mark Avnet, Creative Technologist, VCU Brandcenter
mark.avnet@convergingarts.com, @mavnet

Back in the 90s, the first time “convergence” was brought up as an important idea, I was asked as a “new media expert” to write an article on its importance – and found just about as many definitions for the term as places I looked. When I was part of a panel of psychologists defining “media psychology,” again, we found that just about everyone using the term defined it differently. Same with “engagement.” These still remain relatively loosely described constructs, words or phrases that, to quote Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty, “mean exactly what [we] choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

We’re at a similar point with the term “creative technology.” What exactly IS a creative technologist? What makes her different from a programmer or a flash animator? What makes him different from a copywriter, brand manager, or strategist who can use Dreamweaver? What’s the role of a creative technologist at an agency or in our industry?

I think about this a lot, and not just because I head up the Creative Technology track at VCU Brandcenter’s graduate program and continually refine and redefine our curriculum, but also because I consider myself a creative technologist. And, believe me, I’m different from my students and graduates, and we’re all different from other people who also consider themselves to be creative technologists. The confusion is exacerbated by the fact that the position called “creative technologist” is defined differently at places that use the name, and the role is filled at other agencies by other titles.

My Take
Here’s my take on it. CTs understand the business of advertising, marketing, and branding, take a creative, strategic and people-centric view of how to connect people and brands, and understand the kinds of mediating technologies that can best be used to make those engaging experiences where the connection happens.

They sketch with technology, just like a visual creative can sketch with a pencil. They’re steeped in strategy, so the things they come up with make sense – it’s not about technology just for the sake of technology. The experiences they design address real needs of people and brands.

Creative technologists share a creative and inquisitive view of the world. They’re on top of technology trends, aren’t afraid of coding (just as a modern visual designer isn’t afraid of Photoshop or Illustrator), and take both strategic and tactical approaches to creativity. They also understand that we’re in a business, and we’re solving business goals by addressing people’s needs as a priority.

Learn, Do, Teach
In addition, there’s a shared creative technology mind-set that I describe as “learn, do, teach.” Stay up-to-date on the latest in technology, in research, in business, in design, in advertising, in human behavior. Then do something with it – build something, try out a new API, prototype an idea, make something talk to something else, come up with a new business model. Then show others how this stuff works – evangelize, be a resource, help people move beyond what they already know (and learn from them while you’re doing that). Rinse, repeat.

These “T-shaped” thinkers come from many different disciplines, and they’re likely to consider all media and experiences as their venue – every medium is enabled by a technology (even print and speech), and the fewer artificial barriers we put up, the better. Choose the right medium or media, and remember that something doesn’t need electricity to be interactive.

We’ve had students enter the VCU Brandcenter Creative Technology track with strong design or copywriting skills, backgrounds in communications, business, consulting… some have come right out of undergrad programs, the music business, lighting design, even one who was an established art director at a big-name agency who wanted to deepen his toolkit. As creative technologists, they add their own individual superpowers to the computational media, UXd, IA, mobility, user participation, futurology, data cultivation, branding, concepting, business, and group expertise they develop in the program.

But Where do I Put Them?
At Brandcenter’s recent industry recruiting event, many of the conversations I had were along the lines of “we know we need creative technologists – but where do they fit in MY agency?”

In agencies that have moved to a flexible team model, CTs just belong to the team, adding their varied expertise to the group.

In agencies with a more siloed approach, first, please rethink that – technology can’t live down the hall anymore; it’s part of everything that everyone in the agency does. Second – CTs fit nicely in the strategic and creative functions, and as floating resources mostly affiliated with one function and that move where needed.

Gareth Kay (GSP) and Aki Spicer (Fallon), for example, are creative technologists in their secret identity of strategists. Richard Schatzberger (BBH) is a creative technologist without a mask. Paul Seward (The Martin Agency) is a creative technologist working from a deeper technology side. Dave Knox (P&G) approaches things from a brand standpoint. They, and all the other creative technologists with job titles including AD, CD, IA, UXd, CT, AE, CW, and all the other abbreviations share a deep general understanding of tech and how it can be used in the context of brand communication and experience design.

The job title itself is less important than being open to a hands-on and holistic view of technology as part of communication, as part of business, as part of the human experience, and therefore as part of culture.

Getting back to Lewis Carroll, “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” 
”The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – – that’s all.”

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Maureen McFee
    June 22, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    Great post Mark! Very thoughtful explanation of what it means to be a CT.

  2. Alexander Ridore
    June 22, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    Very well put Mark. I especially liked the part where you say “remember that something doesn’t need electricity to be interactive”. Technology can be anything even print.

  3. June 23, 2010 at 12:28 am

    Thanks Mark. Good stuff. It’s a constantly evolving / developing role but this is an important stake in the ground. There’s a lot of nonsense spoken in many agencies at the moment about ‘creative technology’. This helps clarify and inform.

  4. June 23, 2010 at 1:45 am

    Really smart and clear post there Mark. Really wraps up a lot of experience in a neat way and I’ll surely pass it around.

    In an advertising agency context it’s partly about sharing how technology can be used, abused and fused with creative and new comms thinking – This is what a lot of the smart planners and creatives do already and really have to do to stay relevant.

    So from my experience it’s about being so curious or inspired in an idea that you just want to make it happen as fast as possible and html/objC/flash/openframeworks/cinder/arduino/PHP/Rails/whateverisshinyandnew is your tool to express this.

    • mavnet
      June 24, 2010 at 11:52 am

      I think we need to be careful about focusing too much on the whateverisshinyandnew as the expression of the idea. It might be the right thing, but it might not. We should be swimming around in the primordial soup of technology and culture, so we can assemble the right things at the right time, and even more so to know what’s possible. But I think the most important thing is to focus on what we’re trying to help people/brands do. Once we figure out what we’re trying to do, we can choose the right framework in which to make it.

      You’re so right about curiosity and inspiration – and about what smart agency folk are and need to do. It’s so frustrating to see and hear people so locked into “that’s how we do it/that’s what I know how to do” when there may be a zillion better ways to approach things. Abe Maslow said “if you only have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” We really just want something stuck to something else – a nail, tape, glue, velcro, gravity, etc may be the right answer.. If we’re not always learning, doing, and teaching new ways of thinking, we keep doing the same stuff over and over again.

      • Jon Andrews
        June 28, 2010 at 9:09 am

        Great post Mark.

        I just want to touch on a point that I think Sermad kinda made when he said that smart planners and creatives do this already.

        For me the keyword here is “do”.

        In my opinion, too many people call themselves a creative technologist when actually they’re creatives or planners with technical knowledge.

        Without the “doing” you’re not fusing creativity with technology – more than likely you’re leaving that for somebody else.

        Merely talking about an idea or concepting it isn’t enough, you need to have the skills to play with the technology and learn from it, discovering new boundries and behaviours that only experimentation will reveal to you.

        So like you say, it might be the right thing, it might not – but without having the ability to fuse it all together, you won’t ever find out. Somebody with the “do” skills will.

        So I’m with Sermad in that I think the tools and the ability to express our ideas and those of others is the crucial point here that defines a Creative Technologist and sets them apart from your tech savy creative or planner.

        You gotta be able to get your hands dirty – you gotta have the skills man 🙂

  5. June 23, 2010 at 3:14 am

    Great post Mark. I’m really interested to chat with you about how you design the curriculum for the CT track at VCU.

    • mavnet
      June 24, 2010 at 11:58 am

      Shoot me an email at msavnet@vcu.edu – happy to talk with you about this.

      • michelle Vick
        December 13, 2010 at 11:49 pm

        Great posts on Technology. Just wondering How one would explain a Technologist as a graphic for Middle school.

  6. June 23, 2010 at 6:35 am

    This was such a great article and I am a healthcare blogger and boy are we short on Creative Technologists, but I related to the article very well. I have about the only blog like it in healthcare out there too. I wrote a post about your article with a link as the source of course and hope that was ok. I get so tired of individuals jumping on every new bit of technology without some common sense as to how it will play out in the real world, and thus we end up with a lot of stuff that doesn’t work together at all. Again, great article and I think I found out I am somewhat of an accidental creative technologist. If you visit the site, vote on the idea I have for using cell phones as scanners to find FDA recalls, a 6 month old blogging campaign that may someday take shape.


  7. June 28, 2010 at 9:46 am

    Right on Mark, thanks for a great article.
    Marketing people who can speak technology really are invaluable parts of the team.


  8. June 28, 2010 at 9:53 am

    I was thinking last week about whether any Creative Directors in Advertising had a history as a Creative Tech. Sure there are a few about? Bound to be much more in the near future.

    BTW Does anyone know where/when the title was invented?
    I was working at a small web shop in London in 2003 called Random Media. They worked in teams of two, a designer + a creative technologist.

    • mavnet
      June 28, 2010 at 10:14 am

      I’m not sure when the term was first used, but I was recently cleaning out old folders and was surprised to find that I’d used the term back in 1998. I’d love to take credit, but I’m doubt that I made it up. I’m starting to see the term being used more and more over the last two years (although I still get the question that prompted the post).

      • Chris Schobert
        July 21, 2010 at 1:29 pm

        I was working at a shop in the 90’s, FCB in Chicago, and we created a creative technology group there, as well as in NY. I also helped build the term from the industry standpoint through an old group DDAP back in the day. Did some events – remember when Seybold was a cool convention to go to? We were primarily focused on cutting edge (whatever that means for 1997) video, multimedia and print technologies. We worked with lots of beta software for desktops and hardware, helped Adobe shape Indesign, postscript, PDF, DAM, etc etc. I look back fondly on those days…

  9. June 28, 2010 at 9:56 am

    I agree whole-heartedly with Jon Andrews (who I often have the pleasure of discussing deep-techie issues such as base64 encoding). In the near future we will expect creatives and planners to have technology knowledge and we will need Creative Technologists to be makers. As someone from a tech background I can tell you it is the only way to stay truly current in technology.

    @schatz does a very good talk on creative technologists, which was recorded at BDW on Ustream but now appears to be gone

    I have a post on the Made By Many blog around this subject on the need to be programmers http://madebymany.co.uk/will-technology-creation-enter-its-own-age-of-abundance-003825

    One last thing is I think we need to ditch the word “Creative” from Creative Technologist. I think the first word is implied from the the second, and I think that somehow Creative was put in there to make it acceptable for Creative agencies to hire technologists and that shouldn’t be necessary either. The need to call them Creative Technologists is a misunderstanding of what it means to be a Technologist.

    • June 28, 2010 at 11:18 am

      Stuart, I buy 100% your emphasis on making not just posturing at conferences and writing decks, although I also like Mark’s clarification of the role below (*both* upstream and downstream elements to it).

      I don’t – yet – buy the suggestion to scrap the ‘creative’ part of the name, however. Just as taking ‘creative’ off ‘creative director’ would raise more questions than it would solve, so with creative technologists. Every single person in a creative agency should have as their focus the development and execution of creative ideas. I think in the early days especially it will be important to remind people who come into creative agencies as technologists that their role revolves around creativity, not only technology. Put it this way – all creative technologists should be technologists, but not all technologists are currently equipped (or want to be) creative technologists. Sounds like a semantic debate; it’s not. It’s a critical question of positioning within the overall agency machine. More than anything, technologists need to be part of the broad creative group (personally I’d do away with the term ‘creative department’) versus being a ‘department’ on their own. Too often people with valuable new skills and refreshing new attitudes get brought into creative agencies only to find the agency has no idea where or how to use them, or even who they should work with. At BBH, the term ‘creative technologist’ helps solve that problem, at least partially.

      Thanks for provoking a great debate Mark. Really interesting. Learning a lot.

  10. mavnet
    June 28, 2010 at 11:02 am

    @schatz is great – and we’ve been fortunate that he’s done a lot of work with us at VCU Brandcenter. Same with the others I mentioned.

    My favorite term for this is actually from the Wall Street Journal – their neologism was “marketing technopologist” – marketers who are also anthropologists and technologists. But it’s even harder to say and spell than CT, although it explains the way I see the role pretty well.

    re: the title – you’re right, it gives permission for a shop to hire technologists, but it also puts them in a different place in the agency/company, and to think of tech as integral to the work, not an an afterthought (“here, we’ve done all the strategic and creative stuff, now go make it for us, thanks, oh, by the way, we need a facebook page too, thanks again.”).

    I don’t see this role as a “purely” technologist role, and I’ve found very few people who call themselves technologists who have the more holistic view (and the chops) in the other areas. To me, the mix of foci and expertise is the big thing, along with the “teach” component. We’ve spent a long time in our industry splitting technology off from the other functions, and I think it’s important to bring that back. At some point, however, it’s got to go to the experts, and that sounds like more what you’re describing.

    I think we’re differing on the roles of CTs – i don’t see us as the builders; that seems to put technology back down the hall in room 37C. I do see us as “doers” and “makers” but once you get focused on actually developing whatever it is, you’re focused on that thing exclusively, possibly for months at a time. I think the role for CTs is more upstream, straddling and extending the strategic and (traditional) creative roles, and creating proofs of concept and prototypes, rather than development of the enterprise-ready real deal.

    Your truly excellent blog post (and the thoughtful comments) as well as your comment here talks about the need for people to be programmers, and I agree – to a point. Everyone needs to learn from and learn enough to bring those skills back into whatever area they live in, but not everyone needs to have programming be their vertical part of the “T” (or the “deep” of their deep generalist). A painter who understands the physics and the science of perception can use that knowledge to create informed art without having to know calculus or neurochemical structures.

    I also agree with what Jon wrote – that it’s about getting your hands dirty. But it’s got to be support of your area of interest/focus/expertise. I took a few years of accounting classes and a semester of business law courses, not so I could become an accountant or a lawyer but so I could understand enough, get my hands dirty enough, to make informed business decisions and be able to straddle the worlds of what I was focused on (entre/intrapreneurship in a number of fields) and the reality of business.

    Again, I like the idea of T-shaped thinkers or deep generalists who understand a hell of a lot, but also have that deeper superpower – and the superpower doesn’t need to be programming for everyone (although I agree with you that everyone should be able to, and actually should, program). For some people their “deep” will be strategy, for others it’ll be visual design or copywriting, for some it’ll be programming, for some it’ll be business development, etc.

    I just don’t think you can do whatever your “deep” is well without also learning, doing (and hopefully teaching) the tech part. It’s just part of the way our world works now. I just don’t think that every creative technologist’s “deep” has to be programming, however, just as not every creative director needs to be a photoshop wiz.

    • June 28, 2010 at 1:21 pm

      I think we are all in agreement that CT’s are not the people cranking out production quality code and it is very right that not every creative director needs to be a photoshop wiz (W+K Shanghai promoted Nick Barham their planning director to CD) – but to be known as a ‘technologist’ and not be able to build anything is sending out the wrong signals.

      My point about using technology including whateverisshinyandnew to build things was not about using tech for the sake of it – But using whatever you are comfortable and fast with to demonstrate the creative. Technologies move so fast that in a year there could be a newer/faster/cheaper/easier thing to learn that’ll make my life easier. Technologists are always learning – even when they are comfortable with their tools.

      A lot of what your taking about (re blending interactive marketing across channnels and technologies) are skills that most CT’s who have been in an agency should have up their sleeves – But deeper understanding of interaction design, information architecture, user experience design etc is required by experts who live and breathe that type of thinking.

      You just have to be careful to construct your team to tackle the creative challenge with the right mix of thinkers and makers. To steal a quote from Big Spaceship – “where putting the art director & copywriter together was the structure of the tv age, we put strategy, tech, design and production together.”

  11. June 28, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Great post Mark,

    I am with Jon Andrews in that a CT needs to be able to “do.” Additionally, I look for someone who is a “master of the possible.”

    Thanks for the good post!

    • mavnet
      June 28, 2010 at 2:21 pm

      I like that: “master of the possible.”

      Also important to think about how to do the impossible – lots of times, those things are also possible, but they need to be approached from a different direction. I like the idea of schema changing – changing the way you define a challenge gives you permission to do all sorts of things that you aren’t “allowed” to do with the old model.

  12. June 28, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    I like the fact Mark is forcing me to re-evaluate what I thought this morning… although my head and heart still tell me that I’m with Jon and Stuart on this one. I think the priority with this role – though not exclusively, sure – is an ability to fuse smart creative thinking with real technological expertise and experience. I want a CT to show me what they’ve MADE. Strategising and talking code are not the same as writing it.

    The rest of us (I would include the incredibly smart and nice Gareth Kay, although am happy to be proven wrong) need to be “technologically-aware” to depths we never dreamed possible and yes, even code some too (Douglas Rushkoff would certainly advise it). That’s surely the definition of being T-shaped, no? But in the wonderfully messy world of marketing eco-systems we’re building, we all need a few boundaries. We need people for whom the vertical on the T stands for a very deep understanding of what technology specifically has, can and will deliver. I don’t think all of us need to be experimental, technically-adept experts in this space.

    That said.. I am wrestling with the reality of what is ‘now’, versus what is possible. Thanks again to Mark for making us think about it.

    @stueccles: you may be right in the long run that having ‘creative’ in the title is tautologous or anachronistic, but that doesn’t make it unnecessary – there’s a short to mid-term need to wipe away any lingering old fashioned perceptions and clearly signal the possibilities: CTs are creators too, they just happen to create using technology. Actually your criticism applies to roles outside of the one we’re discussing (maybe when everyone’s finally a creative, then we can bin the term). For the time being, the currency of agencies is creativity. This is a victory, honest.

    • mavnet
      June 28, 2010 at 11:06 pm

      Thanks for your post, Mel. I don’t think I’m disagreeing with Jon or Stuart about the “do” thing – in fact, that’s a big part of what I wrote about, and certainly fundamental to the approach we’re taking at Brandcenter with the Creative Technology track. The difference, if there is one, is of degree – I think it’s important to be able to “do,” to make things, well enough to understand what’s possible and to demonstrate. But that’s not the same depth as is required to be a developer… and to Stuart’s point below, it’s possible to program well enough to play with APIs without being hardcore about it. To be relevant, you have to play. As you said, we don’t all need to be experts at this – just expert enough…

  13. June 28, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    Isn’t this turning into a really interesting conversation 🙂

    @malbonningon @melex @mavnet I know you are right about the title things really. I’m just being a fundamentalist, disruptive and ignoring some of the realities (as usual). But I will say that calling them Creative Technologists doesn’t guarantee they will see acceptance in a creative department or get involved at the right stages, it needs some serious cultural shifts at the same time. I can see the necessary evil for now.

    With regards to the writing of code I agree with @sermad here. It’s not about writing production quality code but you need a CT to have a deep understanding of how code is written to a high quality standard, this normally means having a history of writing production quality code and leading development teams. They need to continue using their code skills, in experiments and prototyping, but mainly it is about technical currency. The technology world changes so fast if you don’t continue as makers you lose relevance very very quickly (I know, i’m there). There is no way you can tell someone else what the Facebook APIs can and cannot do until you try it (mainly because the documentation is so bad). The only thing that can mitigate this loss of skill is being around a lot of other deep technologists in a technology culture, something hard for traditional agencies. Does that deep skill need to be in programming. Probably not, most CT’s I know are not the best programmers I know but it does need to be in understanding technology and that requires hands-on attitude and ability. When technology people lose this they become quite meaningless abstraction creators. We call them Architecture Astronauts. To quote http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000018.html

    “When you go too far up, abstraction-wise, you run out of oxygen. Sometimes smart thinkers just don’t know when to stop, and they create these absurd, all-encompassing, high-level pictures of the universe that are all good and fine, but don’t actually mean anything at all.”

    I very much agree with Ben that not all technologists can be creative technologists. These are the programmers, the engineers and the architects. Unfortunately the baggage of Big IT and Systems Consulting has created a professional industry with few creative craftsmen. The really good creative technologists end up at startups and places like Google. There are not enough good creative technologists, because we haven’t found a good way to produce them yet. Where is our creative technologist factories?

    One last thing and I’ll shut up. I do think (but could be wrong) agencies are recruiting technology skills from the bottom which I think is necessary but is not enough of a commitment. I think it needs some recruiting at the top. Who will these people learn from? Who is their champion in the organisation? Are there any agencies recruiting real CTO’s or Head of Technology to a board level? Who is the most senior technologist in the creative/ad industry these days?

  14. June 28, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    Nice little thread we have going on here.. 🙂

    I was personally humbled to be featured in last year’s Creativity magazine as a key creative technologist in the industry along with @schatz and others, but I’m starting to believe that the Creative Technologist title is damaging overall. It has served as a bridge term to help inform an evolving advertising industry of the new essential role technology plays in the new millenium. As we move forward and look for new taxonomies to sort ourselves and our employees into operational groups, our terms must evolve along with them.

    The largest disservice I see coming from the title is what has been mentioned above as clouding the water between “makers” and “thinkers”. So I’ll throw a few more bits into the conversations around that. In my mind there are “applied technologists” and “philosophical technologists”. Applied technologists can span junior to senior roles, and can be code delivery or high-level. The key here is that applied technologists shape their views, ideas, and opinions from making things, and having the experience around making things. Philosophical technologists are those people who have great knowledge of the space, understand technology well, but shape their views, ideas, and opinions from interacting with what other people (including their own teams) have made. Currently, both of these types of people are titled Creative Technologist in all sorts of industries, and have a wildly various level of efficacy in those roles.

    The secondary issue I have is that all technologists are “creative” inherently, as they are using tools to be expressive and create something new where there was previously nothing. However, they don’t all need (or want) to be in an creative department. The Creative Technologist title confuses many as it immediately pushes the person in question into the creative department, even though they very rarely have the appropriate background or experiences to make them feel at home in such a department.

    All of this led me to change the title of my recent post http://aaronrutledge.com/post/611529412/14-tips-for-being-creative-with-technology
    Originally I had titled it “14 tips for being a better creative technologist”, but reconsidered within a few hours of thinking about it.

    • mavnet
      June 28, 2010 at 9:36 pm

      Aaron, I RT’d that post when you posted it and forwarded it to a zillion people. Made my students read it, too. Great thinking in there. And you certainly deserve Creativity’s kudos.

      Not sure why we need yet more ways of parsing the spectrum, though. Deleting “creative” from creative technologists and replacing it with “applied” and “philosophical” doesn’t seem to be an improvement, especially since there are people, like me, who move along that spectrum fairly often, depending on the particular technology about which we’re talking. I’m pretty good with AS3, but terrible with C++. I’m a reasonably good solderer, but you don’t want me designing a printed circuit board. Does that mean I’m less of a technologist? Didn’t seem to get in the way when I was CTO of an agency or ran an innovation lab – basically, we came up with well-informed, smart ideas, prototyped them or developed interactive “storyboards” and sold, patented, made, or tabled the things we were working on.

      There are only so many things about which we can be experts.

      As to whether all technologists are creative, I think it depends on how you define creative… Yes, some may take a creative approach to programming something, to making something work that didn’t exist before, but that becomes a creative approach to execution of something that has been concepted upstream. But I think you could as easily say that every technologist works from a philosophical grounding, and I think that’s probably stretching it in a similar way.

      Hmmm… There’s something about the idea of domain specific creativity that’s bubbling up, but it’s not formed yet… I’d love your ideas on that…


      The opportunity that I see is to have the upstream creative AND strategic functions be well-informed from a mediating technology standpoint, and I think that role, for now, can be filled by “creative technologists” defined as I tried in the first post – these are people who code well enough, as I like to say, to make things work, or work like they’ll work when they’re really working (ie: simulation). They’re steeped in strategy, technology, and creativity (as is usually defined at agencies)… so they think, they make stuff, they invent, they innovate, they extend the traditional boundaries. But they’re rarely if ever making the finished product, just as a creative director rarely does the art or copy – they inform, guide, educate, lead, integrate.

      Ultimately, and maybe proximally, the “creative technologist” title probably does needs to change – I agree that it tends to suggest that these people should live in the ‘creative’ arm. That’s one reason I wrote my original post – to suggest that there are other places, and other titles, that capture this function. But the role itself, I believe, is vital to our industry (until such time as everyone internalizes these skills and this orientation, and I do hope that happens sooner rather than later) – so I’m game to do anything to get our industry moving away from “creativity = art and words, and technology = a department” towards a richer appreciation for what we can bring to the table.

      • June 28, 2010 at 11:43 pm

        Just to be clear, I’m not proposing that we ever USE “applied technologist” or “philosophical technologist”; only that those are the divisions I think of mentally when interviewing candidates or staffing up a project.

        To your question, I agree completely in domain specific creativity, and look to build my teams based on mixing those creativity flavors. I try to build a team that has someone who is creative with technology, as well as creative with words, and hopefully someone who is creative with visualizations. That makes a nice well rounded team. Throw in someone who gets creative with interaction design, and we’re really cooking.

        The problem with “upstream” creativity is that if often never gets the benefits of insights gleaned during the actual execution of the work. The little “oh this would be so much more powerful if we just did _this_” type things that pop up when the hood is open.

        For the past few years, I’ve been very careful to try and flatten the stream out as much as possible. So as often as possible, the people with the blowtorch and wrench, are making the “upstream” idea better via practical field knowledge.

  15. scott ackerman
    June 29, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    Mark – this is the community I’ve been dying to meet since I got to Richmond. Great discussions going on here.

    • mavnet
      June 29, 2010 at 9:41 pm

      Some really, really smart people for sure… follow them all!

  16. July 3, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    I looked up technology the other day in a conversation with a friend about what it was. Found this great definition:

    Technology is the sum of the ways in which social groups provide themselves with the material objects of their civilization.

    Is ‘technology’ currently defined by computer science?
    Understandable if so, however it’s clearly a much bigger. Books, language etc can all be defined as such.

    Given we’re entering an era where computer science permeates the world like electricity, a power source for information, (internet-of-things) does that mean the definition of technology will start to become broader once more? And with that the definition and role of what a creative technologist is?

    Clearly it’s not binary. However a Creative Technologist can be something bigger than a ‘doer’ around computer science. It is clearly that too, but can it not also be defined by conceptual thinking that encompasses the values of computer science amongst other things (culture/applied arts etc) to invent, well, new material object for civilisation?

    • mavnet
      July 3, 2010 at 5:18 pm

      Agree. One thing I tell my students (and anyone else who will listen) is that in the context of communication/branding/marketing/etc my use of the word “technology” is usually about mediating and enabling technologies, which include paper, spoken word, haiku, “traditional” media, wom, things you can click, touch, etc… That was my point about not needing electricity to be interactive.

      In directed communication, the stuff we do in advertising-related fields, we tend to parse things by the distribution medium, rather than by goals.

      I’d rather look at what we’re trying to do (ie; help someone live a better life because of some interaction with my brand) and then figure out the right place to do that, than look at TV, for example, and think “what can we do there?”

      The tech, whatever it is, is there to make that participatory connection possible, as transparently as possible.

  17. July 12, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    Good points being made in the article and the responses. Your quote “we know we need creative technologists – but where do they fit in MY agency?” is applicable to those ‘generalist’ positions who can slide into a role as required. Business Analyst’s spring to mind, in that their role can encompass a range of areas including project management if it suits the hiring manager.

    For me the creative technologist is somebody who can bridge the gap between a big idea through the application of informed solutions

  18. August 10, 2010 at 1:54 am

    Mark – terrific article and really great thread on the topic of the creative technologist. I wrote a post a couple of months ago for Boards Magazine describing how we’ve integrated technology into the creative and strategic process at CP+B.

    Hello World: Welcoming in the agency technologist.

    An area where the creative technologist plays an important leadership role is around brand utility and platform. With the success of brand applications such as Nike Plus and Fiat Ecodrive, it’s become clear that brand utility is now an important component of the mainstream marketing mix. And we’ll see the opportunities in this area grow as our connected lives shift to the mobile device, enabling applications that factor in location and advanced levels of personalization.

    Creative technologists, with an in-depth understanding of core software and application development principles, now play a critical strategic and creative leadership role in developing brand utilities that live beyond traditional campaign cycles.

    Would love to hear how others are thinking about the role of brand utility within their creative process.

  19. September 16, 2010 at 10:17 am

    Very interestingly. I was recently interested in this topic. Very interesting and informative. I wish more such articles on this portal. Thanks for the article.

  20. michelle vick
    December 13, 2010 at 11:59 pm

    Does anyone know how to create a wall chart on the description of a chosen technologist.

  21. December 20, 2010 at 8:12 am

    I’m overcome by the strategy, the engineering, the fitting-it-in throughout the relaxation of every thing else I have to do as Chief Cook and Bottle Washer in my business

  22. February 15, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    Who knew a hacker mindset and a wide set of hobbies would eventually turn into a valued position.

  23. September 28, 2011 at 3:22 am

    Over a year has passed since this article was originally written and “The Search For Animal Chin” continues…

    As the author originally pointed out there are many flavors of CT’s. It can be somewhat of a chameleon like role which makes it harder to try and define. Beyond the argument of should we code and if so to what degree I think there lies a much deeper set of characteristics that a good CT must posses.

    Intrinsically we are a catalyst for how ideas connect. We are kind of like a metro system for ideas. We can help move ideas from one team member to another, one dept to another, one disparate channel or medium to another. We can see the connection points and how to get everything moving and organized. We use technology as sort of the grand central station for these ideas. It’s also our anchor (in both a good and bad sense).

    As the field grows and technology itself continues to morph and shift you realize it’s not just about languages or stacks. It becomes more about understanding the thought and reasoning that inspired the code. For me I’m always looking for the human in the technology and I actually think that’s one of the main things that separates me from a pure technologist.


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