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Technology vs. creativity

I've been around a while. I started as a multimedia developer in 1993. Yes, that's before Flash, before Internet Explorer, before Google, before a lot of things we take for granted. I was one of those people that didn't fit in the normal boxes. I'm a creative, yet I love to code. I didn't (and still don't) understand why you shouldn't have a go at everything. I have a vision in my mind and I just set about building everything to get there. Whether it's entire multiplayer physics-based games, 3D engines or Twitter mashups, I'll have a go.

I remember when the internet was all HTML. Animated gifs were as funky as things got. Then Macromedia launched Shockwave, the precursor to Flash. If you could figure it out, you could make animations and simple games and put them online for all to play. All of a sudden, the web started to get interesting. But as Shockwave evolved and got more complex, it became bloated and buggy. You had to be really clever to do the cool stuff.

Then Flash 4 came along. It had a simple, woefully inadequate programming language and real coders sneered at it. Creatives loved it and jumped ship. If you were devious and, well, creative, you could make it jump through all sorts of hoops it wasn't supposed to. Designers had a secret tool all of a sudden. If a news story broke, a dozen satirical Flash games appeared the next morning. There were singing horses, dancing presidents, techno hamsters and match the pairs with fart sounds. Life was good. The possibilities were endless. The tools were expressive and simple.

Then, over time, Flash got more grown up. The coding language got more sophisticated and lots of features were added. Eventually, the coding language was kind of like any other so was easy for real developers to start bringing their experience from other platforms like C++ or Javascript. They started coding in their own editors, put code in weird places and required “asset libraries” where once there was “a bunch of images”. With one update in Flash, the new coding language was just too much for most creatives and they waved the white flag. But it wasn't all bad. With the new, super-smart developers around, they could buddy-up and get the job done. However, the difference was immediately noticeable. Almost overnight, buttons no longer burst into flames and had unicorns jumping over them.

Where once agencies hired multimedia designers, they now hired a designer AND a developer. They often sat apart and started to revert to the stereotypes of coder and creative, Android phone and iPhone. I knew the dangers and the beautiful things that happen when you blur boundaries, so always mixed up the teams and hired real multi-disciplined creative and coders. It was hard work but the results spoke for themselves. Creativity was king.

But for the most part, the bedroom creatives that made those singing horse games a few years back were quickly marginalised unless they had a mate that would code for them, for free. Those whacky, instantaneous, brain farts of ideas needed a long run up and planning to get anything done. So they didn't.

Developers suddenly had the power to dictate how the internet worked. Flash was always an outsider really. Apple banned it from their iPhones and developers seized the moment. Within months, Flash had been undermined to such an extent that it was seriously under threat. Its natural successor, the squeaky clean HTML5 was ready in the wings.

I'm a weird coder-creative type so I love HTML5, WebGL and all the other technologies that are leading the new revolution. It's a really exciting time, again. But I also know HTML5 is even more difficult for creatives to pick up and get funky with.

So what do those excitable, passionate creative do now? I don't see any simple tools on the horizon. Good, old video seems to be the bolt hole of choice. Where once there were hundreds of mini-games, now there are thousands of cat animations. Even the rise of the infographic or the concept-driven Tumblr bogs seems to indicate creatives are finding simpler platforms on which to express themselves. These are however, small change.

The real winners are the new breed of creative coders. They are like the old multimedia designers but much, much smarter. Look up MrDoob if you want to see one in inaction. They are as intimating as they are inspiring.

The crunch point is this; decide if you are a creative or a designer. Designers need to be comfortable with their new place in the new world order. True creatives will always find a way to rise above anything. And if you're not up for the challenge, good luck with the cat videos.

Dino Burbidge is the creative director at Noise Inc.

Dino has been working in the digital industry for 20 years. He has spent that time creating innovative campaigns for the likes of Disney, Microsoft, BBC and Universal, winning Baftas, Cannes Lions and many more creative and technical awards. A true...

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