What Are Creative Technologists

Why Do So Many Companies Need Creative Technologists?

By David Burn

Digital can disrupt industries and put people out of work. At the same time, digital is a powerful creative force making new tools and new jobs possible.

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“We’re placing people in jobs today that simply did not exist ten years ago,” said Brooks Gilley, Managing Director of 52 Limited.

User Experience Designer, Content Strategist, and Community Manager: all new positions that are in demand. According to Gilley, the demand for Creative Technologists is particularly high. Yet, it’s one of those positions that people wonder about. “What does a Creative Technologist do? And, do I have the necessary skills to work as a Creative Technologist?”

Emanuel Brown, Director of Design Strategy at Citizen in Portland, said we must have “a common design language in order to build better software,” and that Creative Technologists are central to this process. He also believes we need more definition about the substance of Creative Technology, if the field is to grow and prosper.

Stanford University, for one, defines and teaches “design thinking” as a methodology for innovation that combines creative and analytical approaches and requires collaboration across disciplines. It’s a short step from there to the work of a Creative Technologist.

According to Brown, Creative Technology is “inherently fuzzy” and partly this stems from the “generalist versus specialist” tension that can exist in the position. Creative Technologists are “hybrids who bounce across the poles,” said Brown. While all Creative Technologists are hybrids, Brown groups them into distinct camps: Strategists, Practitioners and the Hybrid’s Hybrid. Strategists act as a bridge between worlds, while Practitioners “geek out on code.”

Igor Clark, former Creative Technology Director at Wieden + Kennedy, wasn’t quite as generous in his assessment. “Only hire people to work at the crossover of creative and technology if they have strong, practical, current coding skills,” he wrote two years ago. “You need such a strong streak of code running through the atmosphere that coders want to come to you, and everyone else gets code spilling over them.”

According to an article in Digiday, most creative technologists sit on the creative side of the fence, but the majority of their time is spent overseeing things like production and development.

There is some resistance to the term “Creative Technologist.” Shawn Hartley, Vice President of Interactive Development at Corporate 3 Design in Omaha, said he prefers to call himself a “Marketing Technologist.”

Hartley is more sales-oriented than brand-oriented. The term “Marketing Technologist” helps bring some clarification to the distinction. The ability to convert a lead is the primary difference in the two approaches, he said, and many of the whiz-bang tools Creative Technologists work on are thinly-veiled attempts to earn attention.

Others pooh-pooh the term “Creative Technologist” because they feel technology needs no such modifier. Everyone ought to know that technologists are, in fact, creative. Thus, the term is clunky and redundant.

What is clearly necessary, however, is the work that Creative Technologists provide. Brown described a recent project that Citizen tackled for Intel, and how the Creative Technologist on the team interfaced seamlessly with User Experience Designers, and was ultimately able to port their work and deploy on Adobe Air.

It’s a tall order to put ideas into action in digital media environments and a cast of specialists is often needed to make great things happen. These specialists walk between worlds and make the crucial connections that ultimately bring complex client projects to life.