Bram Pitoyo, Interlude

On The Creative – Tech Divide

NOTE: This post was originally made to reply to my friend Aaron Hockley’s Advertisers, Marketers, and the Portland “Tech” Scene, but contains a thought that I’ve been wanting to write for some time. Aaron’s post provided a good ‘push’ for me to get it out. My thanks to him for writing it.

I have a confession to make.

As a brand strategist by day and (secretly) a geek by night, who is very lucky to have the chance to hang around both communities, I often envy the latter.

I love both communities to death, and wish that they could comingle and share ideas (in events like Lunch 2.0), but I see an inherent problem. Now if you excuse me as I stereotype both folks to illustrate my point. No harm is meant.

Geeks may be inner-focused, but are also community-minded and are not averse to sharing. Creatives may be social and outgoing, but are really protective of their “secret sauce.”

Proof: go to a BarCamp meetup, then to an AIGA networking event. I can attest that almost everything, down to the atmosphere of the room, was different.

This is very apparent in my effort in co-planning Cre8camp after attending and being inspired by the last BarCamp Portland. Right from the start, there was thoughts that “making oneself vulnerable” by sharing knowledge—a factor that’s elemental to BarCamp’s success—must be approached differently for a creative audience.

Because code is objective, but design is subjective—so to speak.

Thought experiment: critique a page of HTML, then a piece of ad.

Here’s what you did wrong. You use deprecated tags and non standard compliant practices. Done.

Art Director: “Isn’t the type too dark?”
Account Executive: “But the client insist on using dark type.”
“Too light?”
“Again, it depends on the eyes who see it.”
“Too big? Small? Strong? Weak?”
“What about the headline?”
“The imagery?”
“The choice of color?”

Code can’t lie, or be justified beyond what’s already written. Design and ad solutions, on the other hand, must be defended and justified. Code is firm. Creative is debatable. So geeks don’t mind sharing, because, hell, more knowledge is better, right? while creatives may be inhibited to share their “secret sauces.”

Again, it’s because code is objective, and design is subjective.

My ad side says: I envy the geeks, because you are inherently open and collaborative. My geek side says: I admire the creatives, but you are inherently in a position to judge anyone by a matter of taste.

I’m overly generalizing—pardon—but you get the idea. My point is: these approaches aren’t inherently right or wrong. They’re just different. And different is good. Because different viewpoints always makes for better end product and cutting edge solutions.

But “different” also don’t mix, and that’s what frustrates me.

Because I believe that folks from both industries can do great things by learning from each other’s strengths, weaknesses and experiences. Right now—and, again, to generalize—we are too different. Too separate. Too averse to communicate. And events like Lunch 2.0 (or maybe another event that will draw both crowds) could be pioneers that dare to bridge the gap.

Mashups and Alchemists”, there’s your call to action.


17 thoughts on “On The Creative – Tech Divide

  1. Ooh. As someone who works with code all day, I have to say there’s a fair amount of subjectivity in software development too. From the details like code style, and what language or platform you develop on, to how you interpret sometimes vague requirements. Especially in test-driven development, there are certainties like ‘users are able to save a photo to their profile’, but that doesn’t mean it’s all empirical. I just think many people working on the ‘hard tech’ side like to pitch it that way.

  2. I think you might be polarizing the issue here. Careful with your statements, I think a lot of techies and creatives would take offense.

    Not sure if this was Aaron’s point but I feel like W+K would have greater success if they said “hey, we want all you techies to come join us for lunch, you guys rock!”

    Instead, it sounds like a super exclusive cool-creative-type lunch that a few techies just might be *lucky enough* to attend.

  3. Troy H says:

    One thing my wife’s stint in fashion design earlier in life taught me is that the creative community and the tech community have one major thing in common, and that is that copying off of others’ work in order to create your own plays a major role in the creation of 99% of all that gets generated. The difference I’ve seen is that if you ask, most code developers will be quick to tell you what was the original source(s) of their content without a hint of insecurity. But like I think you’re saying, Bram, artists are more likely to keep that information guarded. Having not worked in the art/creative community myself, I’m curious to learn more why that might be the case.

  4. I agree; there are some differences. As you note, each group has its strengths and weaknesses, and we can learn from each other when we come together.

    My blog post was pondering about the big influx of the advertising/marketing crowd into traditionally tech events. Why? One of the commenters on my post suggested it’s revenue driven, and that the marketing folks see the tech boom as a way to make money… perhaps it is. But I don’t go to Lunch 2.0, or Ignite, so that someone can pick my brain about how to make money off of tech. I go for the (seemingly harder to find) tech.

    You suggest that Lunch 2.0 could bridge that gap… but that implies everyone wants to cross that bridge. Speaking for myself, I don’t have any desire to go hang out with a bunch of marketing folks at an ad agency… that’s not what excites me; that’s not who I am. Maybe that’s fun for some folks… but based on the reactions I’ve seen tonight, it sounds as if I’m not the only one who feels the way I do.

  5. Audrey and Jeff,

    Love your argument that code, too, is an art. The polarization was purely done to drive my point across, as there really is no “pure creative” or “pure coder/developer.” But you guys have valid opinions that adds nuance and brings viewpoints to the story. Thanks much!

    I found out that the creative community is missing out on the vibrancy that has been going on the PDX tech scene lately, and wish to bridge that gap. So I postulated that our professions are inherently different, which caused our work and meetup style to also be different.

    I may be biased, though, as most of the crowd that I have been hanging out with comes from the open source side of the field.

    I agree. The feeling of exclusiveness may be a deterrence to Lunch 2.0. What’s funny is that, in planning Cre8Camp, I found that being free-for-all is not necessarily a good thing.

    We humans are a complex creature 😉

  6. Good point Bram, I understand this quite well being similar to yourself.

    As a creative, my natural tendencies aren’t to be open, however i’m a little different in that I have a strong desire to share the knowledge I’ve acquired.

    There’s definitely motivation to keep things to yourself in the creative world, as much of a creative’s success comes from their (subjective) reputation.

    I also agree with the people who mentioned that coding in itself is an art of sorts. There is a great way to structure code and not so great ways. The code of a professional is obvious to people familiar with the language.

    Part of the issue in my mind is that we don’t have a lot of in-between-ers like myself who are big into design, but love technology and the web as well. Many of the well known designers in Portland are print, interactive (read: flash), or advertising agencies. The people who work in these types of fields probably are not into technology very much by default.

    Thanks for the post. It’s an interesting read for sure! Oh, and yay for anonymous comments!

  7. Troy,

    “…most code developers will be quick to tell you what was the original source(s) of their content without a hint of insecurity. But […] artists are more likely to keep that information guarded.”

    Spot on. I have no problem learning a lot of things from a developer without any hindrance on their part, because they can tell me what it is and how it works. An artist sometime hesitate at answering “how exactly it works” and revealing the underbelly of her work. This is necessary in some cases (NDA and all,) but not in an open sharing environment.


    I think that creatives who attended these events (I know some of them) have the intentions of learning, keeping up and seeing “what it’s all about” with Portland and its tech community. Also to get out from the environment they work in everyday and connect with folks outside the industry.

    I would not be surprised that some will come with the intention of ”making money off of tech.“ I’m curious as to how you feel that way. I didn’t quite get the same vibe from talking to them.

  8. Pingback: Portland Lunch 2.0 SP4: Code name “Wieden + Kennedy” » Silicon Florist

  9. Great discussion. My money comment was based on a commenter (Gerry Van Zandt) on my blog who stated “Many of the new folks sense more of a money-making opportunity than making any lasting contribution.”

    This is a tricky discussion since it involves a bit of generalization. Obviously there are exceptions to the generalizations.

    I do want to clarify my point… when I’m talking about what I consider non-tech folks, I’m not talking about web/graphic designers. I’m talking about folks working for marketing and public relations firms. At Dawn Foster’s roundtable last week on “Online Community Management” I expected to discuss technical topics and the managing of communities from that perspective… instead half of the room self-identified as PR folks who wanted to steer the discussion into “how do I manage my company’s image”… which is a valid discussion… but not what I was expecting. Perhaps my expectations were incorrect.

  10. bram et al.,

    this is a fascinating argument. in some ways, the replies are even more telling than the original commentaries. as a designer who knows little about the details of tech but is dragging my creative butt into the future, i am hungry to learn. i recently attended the webvisions conference, and though much of it was (respectfully) gobbildy-gook to me, i was excited by what i don’t know, rather than threatened by it. moreover, as someone who has worked alone for almost 8 years, i heartily welcome the opportunity to have a more collaborative experience in my work, and often feel the the most interesting and well informed work comes from this type of creative process.

    so let’s just say that in planning Cre8teCamp, we are dipping our toes in the water and seeing how the water feels.

  11. gaeyia says:

    Hi Jmartens,

    I appreciate your comment, and I hope to clear the air…

    The reason this format was chosen was not to EXCLUDE, but rather to INCLUDE. The tech crowd is a tight-knit group of people and so is the ad crowd. I have been an active member of both commuities for a few months now and I think that we could all benefit from a better understanding of each other. It has been difficult for me to find the places/events in which W+K should participate. We have a large family and I often refrain from telling them about local tech events because we have potential to over-run the event. Lunch 2.0v4 was designed to expose our family to the great group of people that surrounds us. This is our chance to meet you. Our chance to have a conversation outside of the bubble.

    Likewise, this is your chance to meet us. Your chance to ask us what we do and what it is that we want to know/learn/understand. It is your chance to identify innovative partnerships and possibilities that could develop.

    That said, I do see your point, however, and I will work on finding a way to adjust the format so it feels more inclusive and open to all.

    Thank you again for voicing your concern.
    And PS, you totally DO rock.

  12. This is funny to me. Lunch 2.0 in the Valley has gone the same route, just like Twitter and Facebook before it, etc. This is always an issue with some segment of the overall crowd.

    Like Twitter, Lunch 2.0 is a place to converse with lots of people of different backgrounds. The people started out mostly geeky, but it’s become more varied. Also like Twitter, you’re free to drop in and out without missing all that much. Oh yeah, and there are prolonged downtimes too.

    Anyway, things evolve the way they evolve. Gaia wanted to have a fun event that encouraged her colleagues to commingle.

  13. Josh,
    Thank you for addressing something that I also felt very strongly about. I have a goal of finding out and addressing the reason why we creatives have a natural tendency to keep things to ourselves. Is it the agency/studio environment? The nature of the business? The unpredictability of work (we may be brilliant one day and suck the next)? It’s probably a combination of both, but I feel like I’m still missing something.

    And yes, we definitely need more ‘in-betweeners.’ It’s great to see that more folks are moving (or are already moving) in this direction!

    Your comment was the reason why I started going to these events in the first place: part desire to learn, part fascination about—to borrow a conference name—all things digital. I call it “fascination,” because I can’t exactly explain the reasoning behind it. Some things, like CMS and typography, just allured me.

    I’m for finding people who want to continually change, adapt and learn—who also dabble in both fields of study.

    I’m looking forward to have the opportunity to have more talks like this. I think that the subject that you brought up is one that’s worth exploring further. I’m particularly interested in what other people (from both industries) feel. Thanks for the lunch! It was a fun Tweetup as well.

    Gaia and Jake,
    As one that originally planned to drop by W+K to pick up the invite, I’m very excited for what the next Lunch 2.0 will bring.

    understand that this, too, will be a learning experience for me, because I don’t work in a typical agency.

    Thanks, and let’s keep the discussion going.

  14. Wow, as one who’s always done tech as a creative outlet, who knew the divide existed. I just hope I can continue to glean good ideas from anyone who has them.

  15. It does, but I recently thought that it doesn’t help make anything better. However, thinking in terms of similarities (not differences) may actually do something.

    Thanks for the thought!

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