Creativity Is Not a Commodity

Est. Reading Time: 6 minutes

I love working in web design. The pace of innovation and change is staggering, and the way we share information and innovate is unrivaled at any point in human history. The web breeds both collaboration and competition with people from all over the world. I believe the internet is the only true free market in the world, where information is instantaneous, and even lowly start-ups can become wildly popular overnight.

As great as it is, there is also a trend I’ve noticed recently that hurts professionals and creatives in the industry, and that is how web design is becoming a commodity in some ways. Services like automated website builders like SquareSpace and 1and1, for example, are great solutions for people just starting out and need to get some sort of Web presence. Crowdsourcing for design, again, a great solution for those just getting started, but there’s a danger of bringing that rock-bottom-price mentality to a higher level. That danger is you lose service value.

Imagine this scenario: you’re fresh out of college and not that experienced. You need to get to that first step. You’re ultra excited about an interview for an entry-level position, but you need to get some business clothes. Having limited cash flow, you’re only choice is Wal-mart. Big box, off-the-shelf, do-it-yourself kind of approach. You go rifling through several racks of clothes, and you hope that the result will be a functioning ensemble. You assemble the pieces you need for the interview. The interview goes well, and you get the job.

Fast forward a few years. You’ve got some experience now, and you’re realizing that you need to grow professionally. You get an interview with a much more prestigious company where the expectation is that you look your best. You want to be competitive at this new level, and your current wardrobe is old and fated; it isn’t going to work like it used to. You need new clothes for the interview. Rather than go to Wal-mart, you decide you’re going to go to Saks Fifth Avenue because you’ve heard good things.

The moment you step in the door, you’re amazed at the complete difference between Saks and Walmart. Saks smells better, looks cleaner, and it just feels more welcoming. You’re almost instantly greeted by an employee. This person approaches you with a warm smile and asks how she can help you. Rather than point you to the clothes rack, she asks you a few questions: “What are you looking for today? What sorts of events will you be going to? Do you have a preference on style?…” you get the idea. She is trying to gather the requirements for your new clothes, so she can give you expert advice.

Once she gets the information she needs, she walks you over to view some clothes. You’re overwhelmed with the selection and possibilities. You get excited at the possibilities and start to form a picture in your mind of exactly what you want. You’ve been in clothing stores before and have a general sense of what to look for, but remember that you’re moving up in the world and need to look the part. This is where that company employee becomes invaluable. She’s a trained professional with a lot of experience shopping for different body types, complexions, and tastes. She knows you have to look good when you step out of her store; otherwise, the store’s reputation will erode. She has quite a challenge in front of her: she has to accommodate your tastes while complementing things you may never even thought about, such as skin tone, arm length, shape of your face, etc. You didn’t come to Saks to get a suit. You came to look good. The suit is actually secondary to the goal. At the end of the day, it’s your money. You can refuse any advice and get the clothes you think you want, or you can admit that there’s value in being challenged and that the end result will be better for it.

This is actually a fair parallel for contracting a Web Design company or any client/vendor service relationship really. You may have started out with an off-the-shelf solution, and that worked for your early years. But now you’re company is ready to be a player in a big way, and you need a good looking website to showcase that. This isn’t a job for the amateur designers and dabblers. You need professionals that will listen to your needs, understand them, and present a solution that gives you what you need. That process doesn’t just happen A-B-C though. You may know what you want, but you can’t articulate it. You may try to present a solution without discussing the problem. For example, if you have to go to a black tie affair and ask for a black suit, you may never find out that you should get a Tux until you show up and realize what you have doesn’t really work. You haven’t given your creative consultant a chance to analyze the problem.

I guess my point is that there’s value in service, and really good service will challenge your notions of what you want for the purpose of giving you what you need. You hired the experts because you aren’t the expert. This seems pretty obvious in our little story. Obviously you pay more at Saks than at Wal-mart, because at the end of the day, your tangible result is a collection of cotton thread weaved together in a pattern, but it was the experts ability and willingness to find your problem and offer a solution that got you a better looking outfit.