As part of this year's Creative Team of the Future project, we asked AIGA members in the United States to predict new job titles that may emerge in the coming years. It's no surprise that most of the roles they shared directly relate to technology. But what exactly do all these tech-savvy professionals do? In this post, we're going to home in on one hard-to-fill role: the creative technologist.
Joseph Corr, senior creative director at innovation studio Deeplocal, knows a lot about this position. In fact, he's spoken about it at a FutureM panel. We sat down with Corr to learn more about what the role entails and why it's so hard to find and keep creative technologists, a specialty he expects to be in high demand for the foreseeable future.
What is a creative technologist?
To me, a creative technologist is interchangeable with developer, but what we mean by creative technologist is a developer who understands the creative process and the world of advertising. It's the person who's responsible for actually making and coding. This person is able to build web projects, mobile apps and other digital experiences.
Why is this combination of skills so important?
The nature of advertising can be very frustrating for developers. A lot of developers are trained to build a system that's very rigid or very expected. By that, I mean that it's very similar to building a house. As an architect or builder, when you're building a house, everything has to be totally planned out in the beginning so that when you build that house, everything lines up perfectly.
In advertising, we're doing work that's more similar to the art world in that we try out new concepts and ideas. Maybe we don't think about it all the way through. We start to develop it. We change it halfway through. That's just the nature of the creative process. You adapt, you modify, you keep trying, you keep modifying. That can drive some developers crazy.
Creative technologists are really good at prototyping early, making something very simple, allowing someone to test it and modifying the changes. They're very comfortable in an environment of change.
Where do creative technologists find jobs within the creative industry?
Mostly at agency and production companies at this point; but some brands are investing in innovation or research groups, and creative technologists with different experience levels are a critical role there.
What are you looking for when you hire a creative technologist?
We need people who are nimble. We need people who are very experimental. We need people who are tinkerers versus masters. We need people who are comfortable learning a new computer language.
When I'm interviewing someone, I know it's not going to work if someone says things like, "I can't stand it when something changes," or "I don't want to learn anything new. I just want to become the best at this specific thing." Those are all great, fantastic traits for developers; they just don't work out in an agency environment.
Why is this role so hard to fill?
To hire developers, we're competing against start-ups, as well as major companies like Google and Facebook. We lose some of our best people outside the industry, and we constantly have to replenish.
How can managers help retain creative technologists?
These developers are in such high demand that you can't let them get bored. If they're just making the same thing over and over and over, you're going to lose them over time. It can be really hard to find ways to sell in new technologies to clients, so we'll have internal projects or projects with nonprofits, to experiment with new technology.
You can take the results to the client and help them understand it and potentially sell it. But at least you're getting the benefit of engaging your technologist with something that they can get excited about. An example would be hacking the Kinect or experimenting with 3D printing.
Do you think your team would benefit from having a creative technologist? Or do you already have one on board? We'd love to hear about how this person adds value to your organization.