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Creative Technology – More than Semantics

April 3, 2013

I wrote this as a response to an article on Digiday with which I took some issue. Read the article at


My response:

I think this article does a disservice to the idea of creative technology and to the direction our industry must be heading to be relevant.

There are three general orientations for how the term “Creative Technologist” is applied. The one highlighted in your article, that it’s a fad title to make people feel better, and the two that are, in my experience, more valid in the field – a technologist/programmer/developer whose function extends into a creative role and therefore expands what it means to be a technologist, and a creative person who is more than usually technologically savvy and uses that to expand what it means to be creative. Different agencies have different ways of thinking about what a Creative Technologist is and does but those appear to be the primary modes.

I wrote about this when I was founding head of the Creative Technology track at VCU Brandcenter – https://markavnet.wordpress.com/2010/06/22/what-the-heck-is-a-creative-technologist/ and more recently as head of 360iU, 360i’s Education and Thought Leadership group – https://markavnet.wordpress.com/2012/10/22/is-this-the-end-of-the-creative-technologist/.

And yes, without falling back on the “everyone is creative” line, some technologists/programmers/developers have been exceptionally creative and some creative types have had very strong technology orientations since the beginning of time.

But I think you miss a much larger point. We’ve all heard the phrase “The Medium is the Message.” Many of us have used it without giving it a lot of thought. It’s usually interpreted to mean that the medium through which the message travels influences the message – e.g. some things work better on TV than they do on a mobile device.

McLuhan meant something larger, though – it’s not just that the attributes of the medium impose something on the content, but that the mere existence of the medium changes the world. Using the TV example – yes there are programs, but that television exists at all means that families are impacted, culture is impacted, that businesses exist to support the programming and distribution, that cable had to be invented, that terrestrial transmission had to be perfected, that satellites needed to be invented and launched, that things developed for military purposes could still contribute to the commercial success of the industry, that companies like TiVo could emerge, that advertising and media agencies had a reason to exist, that all the businesses that support advertising and media exist, etc.

I think the implication of the use of the term “Creative Technologist” has no less meaning. At a minimum, it means that those agencies who have creative technologists, or who have people functioning in those roles under different titles, have a different orientation about technology and creativity than those who don’t. These people are brought into the process early, not as part of the production model. They contribute to ideation, strategy, connections planning, media, innovative thinking in general – and they do this from the start, instead of when the “thing” is being made, or worse (and sadly more commonly), never.

That’s a sea change in our industry – to acknowledge AND THEN DO SOMETHING ABOUT the fact that people are connected, that technology is ubiquitous, that there is no longer any appreciable difference between “digital” and “the real world.” All communication is mediated, all experience is mediated, and often the mediation is facilitated through technology.

But silos are hard to break down – we want T-shaped thinkers (another way of describing creative technologists and other broad thinkers who have breadth in addition to depth), but most agency job descriptions could have been written in the Mad Men days.

One way to change thinking is to change language. Ultimately, I don’t care if the term Creative Technologist survives, But if we minimize the impact of this kind of thinking by ridiculing the concept, it becomes harder for the job descriptions to change, which means that the thinking doesn’t change, which limits what otherwise great companies will be able to do.

If we believe in innovation, we should be doing whatever we can to support what seems like a natural goal – better thinking and better work – rather than throwing up semantic roadblocks.

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  1. July 10, 2016 at 3:29 pm
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