New Creatives

I recently gave a talk at the closing event of an EU-funded program to support the creative industries around Coventry and it gave me an opportunity to think about my ‘practice’.

This is a word people in the creative industries like. It sounds like ‘craft’ but with more intent, more direction. I don’t think of what I do as a practice, I don’t have a studio space anymore, and I don’t work with other people in that studio space.

However, I do know plenty of people who have studios and even more people (who I’m calling New Creatives as an hommage to James’ New Aesthetic) who add to those studios in ways I find compelling & admire.

I wanted to share what New Creatives are for me if only to shine a light on new ways of working in the creative industries, ways which the government does not acknowledge when it defines these industries but ways which lead to innovation across a number of disciplines.

A definition

If I had to define a New Creative, I would say it is:


A flexible professional who uses their knowledge of programming to lead the early stage of client projects in the arts and/or product design.

What I’m implying in this definition:

  • That person usually works as a freelancer (with their own registered company) or as part of a micro-SME (less than 5 employees).
  • They have a deep knowledge of programming because they studied computer science or they are self-taught programmers.
  • They work for clients.
  • They may not be fussed about working with people who will publicly recognise their contribution.
  • They can act as both a creative lead and a technical lead.
  • They are often involved in the early stages of a client project, rarely staying for more than 2 years and often moving on after a few months.
  • They have developed skills in product design and manufacturing through education platforms like the Arduino, the Raspberry Pi and others.
  • New Creatives understand and adapt to product design and software development processes and timelines.

What’s new?

In New Media Arts and now the internet of things, clients are turning to these New Creatives to integrate a creative and technological conversation which would traditionally have taken a whole team often working in silos. The external state of the New Creative allows him/her to work in isolation to business processes that might be blocking innovation as well. This doesn’t mean the work done by the New Creative always fundamentally disrupts a business completely, but simply that their broad skillset allows them to have an impact more quickly. In that sense, the traditional tension between a designer and an engineer is removed because the New Creative is both.

You could see this as a threat to the design industry, but it’s not quite the case. A New Creative simply allows their clients to move away from traditional design values & processes (strong sense of authorship, long-lasting impact, expensive market research and mass production) by replacing it with a variant of software design processes (iterative prototyping, proof of concept and design fiction as a tool for communication) and assessing the results in different ways.

Their engagement though is ephemeral and they quickly move on from organisations, so their value needs to ultimately be internalised by the client in the form of changing HR practices or restructuring whole business processes. Easier said than done. But the New Creative doesn’t care, because he/she has already found work elsewhere.

They are highly autonomous and well paid which allows them plenty of time to keep learning about other design processes whether that’s electronics design, CAD, sewing, photography, film whatever will get them to contextualise and examine the impact of software in new ways.

Where do they come from?

Most of the New Creatives I’ve had the pleasure of encountering did Computer Science at university but with an interest or minor in humanities. Some came to CS later on in life.

This means that our art and design schools are terrible at creating the type of real multi-disciplinarity which our societies need to come up with innovative ideas based on complexity.

Why should you care?

Not unlike a unicorn, these New Creatives are a great way to see the future marriage of technology and creative industries. Too often funded differently, with separate conferences and separate trade-shows, New Creatives point to a more integrated education, workplace and future ideas. Catch em while you can!



By designswarm

Blogging since 2005.

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