Ted Geisel found the alphabet limiting. It started with “a” but ended too soon with “z”.
Under his pseudonym Dr. Seuss, he stretched the alphabet as far as he could go. He created the Single-File Zummzian Zuks, the Grickily Gractus, and the Ham-ikka-Schnim-ikka-Schnam-ikka Schnoop, to name only a few.
After conquering the challenge of limiting his vocabulary – writing Green Eggs and Ham with only 50 words, 49 of which were single syllable – Dr. Seuss broke that “z” barrier. In 1955, testing his own imagination, the master of whimsy published On Beyond Zebra where he created his own alphabet.
Meet the letter “yuzz” for “yuzz-a-ma-tuzz” and “snee” for “sneedle”. It isn’t as elegant as “q”, but it’s more fun to pronounce.
Dr. Seuss redefined the imagination. Or better stated, he undefined it. Nothing was beyond his creativity, like the Zable on the table or the Bofa on the sofa. He urged readers to, “Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the things you can think up if only you try!”
That’s what creatives do. They create worlds and visions, words and locutions, colors and content and otherworld cosmos to pull, delight, captivate and connect with the audience.
But where do you find creatives? And once you do, how do you keep the creativity flowing?
We went to the source of cutting-edge meets classic creativity with Johnie Hampton, the president of Hampton Creative, a full-service advertising agency and a think tank of invention and inspiration, to find answers. As the lead of Hampton Creative, a center of originality now for ten years, and as the creative director, (pardon, that’s Creative with a capital “C”) for Dr. Charles Stanley’s In Touch Ministries, we knew Johnie would have a creative answer for our creative questions.
Here’s what we wanted to know: how do you find creatives, what do you look for in hiring, and how do you keep them creative once hired.
LQ: So, creatives. This place is thick with them. You’ve got an incredible team so you obviously know how to pick ‘em. What do you look for when hiring?
JH: They must be a team player. That is key because when you are working with a group of creatives they must be able to take direction well. To be teachable, trainable, and have a good work ethic. A moldable person is a gem to find.
LQ: A gem. We like that.
JH: Yeah. I’ve been around people who are islands. ‘Don’t touch my work. I know what to do.’ Those people need to be a freelancer and work for themselves. With a team like this…we win together, we lose together.
LQ: Go team.
JH: The ideas must work for the client. Just because it’s a great idea doesn’t mean it’s a great idea for that client.
LQ: When viewing a possible hire, what catches your eye?
JH: Especially if you are hiring a student, a portfolio is everything. It shows where they’ve been, what they’ve done, and their real life work. You don’t have to produce 175-page catalog. I’m looking behind the concept. I’m looking to see if they are thinkers. Did the type agree with the layout? Did the photo and type work together?
LQ: Is college education imperative for a creative? Or are there other qualifiers?
JH: A college degree is not imperative, however, a thorough understanding of design, implementation, branding, consistency of message, effectiveness, etc, is. And it just so happens that an education in these areas is often acquired through extensive training… or years of hard knocks. There are a ton of good designers working out of their parent’s basements, but the question remains to be seen, where will these vendors be in 1 year, 2 years, 1 month?
LQ: Are there any warning signs to look for in a creative talent? Anything that tells you, ‘This won’t work.’
JH: Before we hire or after?
LQ: Good question. Let’s do before.
JH: Lack of experience. I’m not going to hire someone who has no experience. Or hasn’t done his or her own study. I’m looking for someone who is up for challenges – someone who is constantly looking for challenges and says ‘You give me this and I’ll give you that.’ A creative seeker.
LQ: A creative seeker. Sounds like a superhero.
LQ: So, on a different track. Let’s talk about current trends. Are there any new emerging styles?
JH: We’re definitely in an 80s element. Design tends to follow fashion. But clients are usually brand central. You must be true to who they are, what’s already been established. But as far as trends go, there is a lot of handmade stuff these days – one-offs. This is what is so great about Pinterest. People are making their own style, making their own thing. It’s why so many people love Pinterest because you can see what other individuals are doing. Very individualistic.
LQ: Who doesn’t like being an individual? Though that’s up to the individual. Anyhoo, once you find these elusive creatives of the world, how do you keep them inspired?
JH: We travel. We also read blogs, design blogs, and other publications. We find out what the latest, coolest, neatest things are out there. As creatives, we never stop looking. We’re always exploring. It’s necessary for a creative so they are not a has-been. You want to always be looking forward. Not just a year but two years. Look at the style, the coloring, what will that design look like in 24 months from now? We keep ourselves inspired by what we see. We’re also constantly inspired by retail. It’s everywhere. In window displays. Or even what you’re wearing. You know, broadcast affects designs, too. The TV is a marketing outlet. You see styles and trends and you gauge yourself as a designer. Once you see it nationally, it affects everyone. Someone steps out on a national scale and you see where things are going and jump in the river. There have been times we use a typeface or style, not seeing it anywhere, and see it come out on something national. We don’t know where we got the idea. We were inspired by something but don’t know what. It just happens…
LQ: If you can inspire creativity, you can also dampen creativity? What are some ways you can stifle creativity?
JH: Four words: You. Can’t. Do. That.
LQ: Wait. You can’t say that.
JH: When in a meeting or brainstorming, there are no bad ideas. There are better ideas, but no bad ones. That kills creativity. Our culture has taught us that you have to be right every time. When my kids mess up, I say, ‘So what?’ One son messes up but doesn’t care. My other son will go through 50 sheets of paper to get it right. And I tell him, “No. It’s okay. You don’t have to be perfect.”
LQ: What can you do to keep projects successful? To get them on the path of success?
JH: Strategy. People don’t think strategy. They think, ‘I need a brochure.’ But what are you going to do with that brochure? Mail it? Hand it out? What will be the shelf life? You must have a strategy, a plan, with what you are going to do with your creative piece. That leads everything with us. Everything has to have a purpose. And a start date and an end date. It will end and we’ll do something new. Don’t go at something blindly. Strategy should include goals. After you implement the project, measure to see how the project did. Did it accomplish what you needed it to do? Whether it’s a brochure, web site, enewsletters, make sure your goals set for the project are met. Otherwise, how do you know it was successful – that it was worthy of your time?
LQ: What elements do creatives need to get started?
JH: A good brand and style guide.
LQ: What if the client doesn’t know what they want?
JH: As creatives, we have to ask. Ask. Ask. If you don’t get a concrete answer, rephrase the question.
LQ: How does a client know if they need to hire a creative person on staff or outsource creative to an agency?
JH: When you hire an agency, you are really hiring a team of experienced professionals, who will not waste time or funds on poor decisions. Creative IS their world. They live it, breathe it and are consumed with it. This is why we go to doctors instead of self-diagnose. When help is needed, we seek out professionals! Of course, if you can afford to pay a professional under your own roof, GO FOR IT. However, you have the BEST benefit from hiring a team of professionals who are unencumbered with the hassle of several in-house deadlines and priorities…
LQ: This is good stuff.
JH: A lot of people…what they do….they go through life doing what the world says will make them happy. But, God gives you the ability to do things that make you come alive. That’s what the world needs – what makes you come alive. When creatives do their best work is when they are working on something they are passionate and excited about. I try to put projects with the right artists. That’s what makes it a success. You didn’t just put colors and paper into a project, you put your heart.
LQ: Wow. Nice ending line. Thank you, Johnie, for sharing a sliver of your creative mojo. We’re feeling terribly creative at the moment.