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A fear of risk is homogenising design


Published by:

22 May 2019

Author: Matthew Jones

Image: Canary Wharf Residential campaign by Accept & Proceed, London


Pace of change and pressure from technology are causing designers to retreat in fear. Let’s take a leap, says Matthew Jones, creative director at Accept & Proceed.

The world is new every year. Art, fashion, advertising, design, commerce and politics are constantly upended by new technology. But this speed of change is ironically causing inertia: people can’t stand the pace so they’re retreating out of fear, which is bad news for the creative industries, where bravery and risk-taking are essential for survival.

In the world of commercial creativity, global technology corporations are quickly taking control. We are working within so many minutely different and varying formats that responsive design is the only way we can work – and if we aren’t careful, technology will dilute our instinct for bravery.

Just look at Apple. There are some 18 models of iPhone in varying sizes, plus iPads and desktop computers, all with the same aesthetic. Facebook ads, meanwhile, prescribe a percentage of how much text versus image is allowed, so design is being corralled and forced through cookie-cutter shapes.

'Risk-taking is at the heart of the creative industries, and we can’t afford to let technology – and all the compelling possibilities it holds – be the enemy'

This uniform approach is fuelling fear. It is stifling the creative industries in their mission to push boundaries, try new things and make fresh work that cuts through. When people have been forced to think in a certain way by corporations, they fear the consequences of doing anything too outrageous.

But risk-taking should be at the heart of what we do. Uncommon’s campaign for Brewdog takes a lo-fi approach to risk by creating tv and print work that does nothing more than show the product and declare itself proudly as an advert. At a time when marketers are often trying to blind consumers with science or emotion, such a direct approach takes a daring step in the opposite direction.

Canary Wharf Residential campaign by Accept and Proceed, London
'Sameness is safe, sameness won’t cause outrage and sameness works in all formats. But here lies the problem: sameness can be learned'

At the same time, we can’t afford to let technology – and all the compelling possibilities it holds – be the enemy. Consider fashion brand Rag & Bone, which recently took a risk by jettisoning its runway show to instead launch an eight-minute campaign film captured using 3D cameras and edited by artificial intelligence (AI).

Despite these outliers, we must be constantly vigilant of the temptation to retreat to what feels comfortable. Everybody has jumped on everybody else’s trains at breakneck speed, because sameness is safe, sameness won’t cause outrage and sameness works in all formats. But here lies the problem: sameness can be learned.

The only antidote to all of this is to strive to find the brand’s truth, to look to its purpose or reason for being, and then build from there. Layer narratives and human stories – and even random, spontaneous ideas – that resonate with the viewer. Essentially, a balance must be struck.

We sought this in our recent Canary Wharf Residential campaign, which used a generative algorithm fed with words unearthed from over 30 years of Canary Wharf press articles. Our system took the nouns and verbs from the archive of articles to create new, three-word slogans. As Canary Wharf becomes an increasingly diverse environment, our campaign used the unexpected nature of randomised phrases to create thousands of possible slogans, all with a positive poetic feel that celebrates the power of Canary Wharf’s evolving community.

Instead of seeing technology as something to fear, we must use it as a tool – a partner that will help visionaries to shape creativity so that it take a leap and resonates at a deeper level.

Matthew Jones is creative director and partner at east London-based design studio Accept & Proceed.


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