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elburz.io

Reading some article triggered me to finally write what I’ve been saying for years:

I’m not a creative technologist

I’ve always been adamant that I’m not a creative technologist. My business cards said CEO at one point, then Founder cause it was a bit more casual, then Technical Director as things expanded, but never never never did they say creative technologist, and here’s why.

The easiest way to demonstrate my gripe with creative technologists is the look at the title with some simple grammar. This is a simple breakdown of the title creative technologist:

definition of creative technologist

So by standard definition, a creative technologist should be a technologist, the noun, that is additionally creative, the adjective. Correct? Correct. So let’s translate that a little bit into plain english:

what is a creative technologist

Ok, so you’re probably starting to hear some alarm bells when you see this and think about the creative technologists you may know. But let’s not stop there. Let’s go deeper.

#analyze

You can google what a “technologist” is by itself, but almost all definitions include the word specialist. Specialist. This should ring some alarms because you probably know many creative technologists who aren’t really specialists, they end up having base level of knowledge of a lot of topics and are really more of a generalists. Now these are pretty different words: specialist vs generalist. And this is fundamentally where my gripe is, because I guarantee almost all the creative technologists you know are actually more like this breakdown:

usual creative technologists

They’re often designers who did an online code bootcamp, or visual artists who read about how API’s work, or a musician who knows about some commercially-available sensors, or something to that nature. And that’s fine. Those people are important in the process, they can help transition creative ideas into prototypes and help shape narratives, but they should make a new job title, like creative prototyper, or techno-creative for all I care.

What’s the issue?

“So, Elburz, why do you really care?”

Well, the issue in reality comes down to where creative technologists end up actually using their skills. Instead of prototyping, testing ideas, or helping other creatives transition ideas to the specialists, they end up replacing the specialists in all parts of the front-end pipeline, and this is so dangerous when we talk about large interactive and real-time media installations. This means that when a client comes in, gives someone a couple million to make something big, complicated, expensive, and amazing, the creative technologist is now in charge of creating the technical specification and foundation for the whole project. And this NEVER works. This ends up always being a situation where the specification/foundation is bunk, and the real developers and specialists then have to scramble around like assholes trying to fix and make roundabout solutions for what the creative technologist promised that isn’t actually feasible.

It’s great if you’re a designer and took an online code bootcamp, but if you haven’t written resilient software, know what version control is, or know the difference between unicode and utf-8, then  you should not lay the technical foundation of a project. If you’re a visual artist who knows about API’s, that’s awesome, but if you don’t know the in’s and out’s of rate limiting, HTTP status codes, or what Oauth is, then you should not lay the technical foundation of a project. If you’re a musician who knows about commercially-available sensors, fantastic, more power to you, but unless you know the technical difference between structured light setups and stereo camera setups, then I’m sorry to say, you should not lay the technical foundation of a project.

Is there a moral to this story? Yes. Creative technologists either need to step up to the plate and fulfill their technologist duties or we need to try and figure out a new job title for the growing number of technically-savvy designers and artists.

The article that made me write this was this one:

http://blog.wk.com/2011/10/21/why-we-are-not-hiring-creative-technologists/

I possess a deep knowledge in many professional fields from creative arts, technology development, to business strategy, having created solutions for Google, Kanye West, Armani, and more. I'm currently Technical Director of zero11zero, and lead the nVoid division. Yo!

View Comments

  • Alex Czetwertynski

    Elburz, I have to disagree with you on a few things, but I think you are being partially unfair…
    I do understand where these thoughts can come from, i.e a frustration of working on projects with people who have a poor understanding of what they are asking for, or who design systems that are weak and poorly thought through. But I think you are conflating several things are throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

    FIrst of all, there are creative technologists out there who don’t need specialists, or if they do, they are probably very hardcore specialists in fields that go way outside of the realm of “creative technology”. People like Kyle McDonald, Golan Levin and others are probably not the kind of people you are referring to, but they are often referred to as “creative technologists”.

    Going back to your definition exercise, we have to agree on one thing : creative technology is a very poor term, and it barely succeeds at defining a field that is today so vague and full of variants that using it is almost a slur.
    But, I don’t agree with your semantic breakdown.,..My sense is that what the two words put together attempt to say is something more like “people who use technology in creative ways”, i.e they don’t build bridges or financial systems, they build aesthetically stimulating experiences (if they are successfull).

    On your point about creative technologists being unleashed on projects and making developers miserable, I think you are blaming the wrong people…Blame the producers, the project managers, the ones who even gave free reign to this person to wreak havoc….They shouldn’t have been there in the first place, if they are unqualified as you say.

    Finally, I think that you have to think about the role of creative technologists as a whole in our industry. You define yourself as a technical director. On the other hand you have clients with ideas and a rough idea of how to execute them. In between you need people who understand the creative, and understand enough about the technology to execute the idea faithfully to the creative. These people are the go-betweens for projects that rely both on a creative proposal and a technical implementation. If these people didn’t exist, you would be writing your blog post about your terrible clients who give you projects with creative briefs that are constantly changing, with no clue about the technology etc….


  • Innovative Engineer

    Eh. I don’t quite agree with this article either. It seems the term “Creative Technologist” is taken quite literally when the term itself seems to want to define someone with general knowledge of technology who happens to be creative in some ways. Let’s face it. Titles are a dime a dozen, with new ones getting created everyday. If someone chooses to label themselves a “Creative Technologist”, but doesn’t have the general skillset to back up all the things they claim to be creative in, it’s no different than someone calling themselves a “Programmer” and not being able to program. The “Creative Technologist” term is too vague. It almost seems like this article is a angry letter about a single incident that happened at this person’s place of business that infuriated him so much it prompted a blog post lol.


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