In today’s post I want to address one those elephants in the room. It’s about the biggest reason why data people have trouble producing creative work.
We are all creative, but some of us have way more practice.
You want to know what I’ve learned in my decade long transition from data analyst to information designer?
We all have the capacity to improve our creative work. It requires a bit of training, regular practice, inspiration, and support. Just like everything else you want to learn.
And if you are like most of the people who follow this blog. People who come out of institutions of higher education with graduate degrees in social sciences. You almost certainly have not had the creative training or years of practice necessary to expect professional results.
Increasing Creative Expectations
In the days before the internet you could write longer reports. You could deliver somewhat dull presentations. You could share executive summaries in black and white that didn’t include any pictures.
And nobody would complain. And it wouldn’t feel like the wrong thing to do.
Now don’t get me wrong, like now it wasn’t the best way to share your findings. But nobody expected you to do anything different. You could have quite a successful career just doing your data work and leaving the creative stuff to other people.
Times have changed.
Increasingly researchers and evaluators of all ages are being asked to produce professional quality creative work. This includes well-designed visual reports, infographics, visual presentations, and sometimes even things like video and web design.
And while I think this is ultimately a good thing, there is one big problem.
Our Fields Offer Next to Zero Creative Training
When you were in college or grad school, did you take any design courses?
- Did you take a course in user experience design, human centered design, or the principles of graphic design?
- How about any courses on digital communications or content strategy?
- Did you learn how to report like a journalist or how to effectively share your work through email and social media?
For most of us in the research and evaluation world, the answer to all those questions is “no.”
To all the managers out there in the world, no more excuses.
If you want your research and evaluation employees to produce professional quality creative work you need to give them the proper creative training and support.
Our education systems and academic programs will take a lot longer to change and adapt. And even when they do, it will be years and years before you see the change reflected in your talent.
And if you want somewhere to send them to get that support and training, that’s why I do what I do.
Sara Sullivan says
Chris, you are 100% correct. I’ve been doing evaluation work since the 1990s, and never had a design class. This hole showed more and more frequently in my work, just as you say. Now I am three classes into a Graphic Design certificate program offered at my local community college. I see improvements in both the time to produce and the end product now. But it’s also just the foundation, there is so much more to learn. Thanks for making explicit this important area!
Chris Lysy says
Thanks for sharing your story Sara 🙂
Aimee Russillo says
thanks Chris – another great thoughtful post. reminds me of how I fortunately heard John Cleese talk about Creativity and Management in the early 1990s (yes, I’m that old :)). Creativity requires an open mode, space, time, time, humor and confidence. it doesn’t just happen and we must practice it regularly.
Chris Lysy says
I love John Cleese’s talk about creativity and management. I go back and rewatch every now and again.
Dena Lomofsky says
We tend to hire communications people and graphic designers onto our teams, but those who understand the social sector are hard to come by. I have learned a lot from working along side them and definitely feel that the mofe I know about communications the better our collaboration is. This is why doing courses like yours is so important But I wil never be a graphic designer. I have learned how to brief in graphic designers which is also a skill. Ironically, it is often the first thing the client cuts if they want to reduce the budget, yet it is so important.
Chris Lysy says
Thanks Dena 🙂
It’s definitely something that so many people want but so few want to pay for.
I definitely find it’s easier to teach an evaluator how to design than teaching a designer to understand our data and audiences.