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Big Orange Slide

Saturday, September 20th, 2014

Grip interviews: W. Glenn Griffin and Deborah Morrison

September 8, 2010 by Ian Simpson

Cover Art for The Creative Process Illustrated

W. Glenn Griffin and Deborah Morrison are the authors of the new book, The Creative Process Illustrated: How Advertising’s Big Ideas Are Born.


Where did the idea for “The Creative Process Illustrated” come from?

I [Glenn] wrote my doctoral dissertation about how advertising students develop their creative process in a couple of the leading programs. The results were intriguing and Deborah and I then started thinking about how to look at/learn about the creative process among professional creatives. We decided that asking people to visualize their own creative process for us would be both a fun and innovative way to learn about it. When we started receiving the first drawings, we knew we had something really cool – “data” that was very rich in insights but also very compelling for anyone to look at.

Whose creative process maps can we expect to see in the book?

There’s a broad spectrum represented – seasoned veterans, an advertising legend or two and some rising stars. We’re so honored to have David Kennedy (Co-Founder, Wieden+Kennedy), Kevin Roddy (Chief Creative Officer – BBH New York), Janet Kestin and Nancy Vonk (Co-Chief Creative Officers, Ogilvy Toronto), Luke Sullivan (Group Creative Director, GSD&M – Austin, TX and author of the classic Hey Whipple, Squeeze This) and Nancy Rice (Founding Partner, Fallon McElligott Rice – Minneapolis, MN) in the book, just to name a few.

How receptive were creatives to the challenge of illustrating their creative process?

We discuss this in the book, actually. It was funny because – at first – most everyone told us how exciting the project was and how fun it would be. But then we started hearing reports that this challenge was harder than most had expected. It was talking longer to do than most thought it would. We had to do a lot of reminding, prodding and (we’ll admit it) begging to get almost 80 drawings sent back to us (from a wish list of several hundred names). But it was so worth it. The collection is amazing and it was very tough to narrow it down to the 35 drawings you see in the book. But we know it wasn’t an easy assignment and we appreciate the people who took the time to wrestle with it.

Did you see a difference between the creative process of art directors versus writers?

You know, we thought we might see an “art director’s process” and a “copywriter’s process” emerge from this study, but that didn’t happen. That’s probably because of another lesson we learned: the idea is king. We see the journey towards that great idea being so much more important than the crafting of a headline or the design of a page to most of the folks who make advertising. The specific executional skills that distinguish the writer from the art director as job titles are really secondary to the discovery of big ideas, at least in the responses that we see in this book. Fascinating.

Do you have a favourite creative process map?

For us, that’s like picking favourite children! How do you do it? There’s a beautiful arc in the book between Andy Azula’s (The Martin Agency – Richmond, VA) lively and funny take on the process versus Kevin Roddy’s (BBH New York) beautifully simple (yet complex) statement about working through a problem. But really, we’re big fans of all of them.

Does a better understanding of the creative process lead to better work?

There’s lots of evidence here that it does, we think. We discuss the concept of metacognition in the book, the theory that we can leverage our own understanding of how we think and mentally supervise the achievement of cognitive goals. That theory’s been around for about 30 years now, but we think that creative directors, art directors and writers in advertising really exemplify this phenomenon. If you think about it, they have to know their own minds very well. They have to know how the machine works and how to make it produce. So, they probably pay a lot more attention to their own thinking patterns and preferences more than many of us do. It’s quite impressive to see.

How did the results of the book relate to your research on creativity?

Most of what you see in the book reinforces what we already knew in our “gut” about the way things work, but it offers that confirmation with such beautiful detail and humanity – in so many unexpected ways. We want to help push the scholarship on advertising creativity into new and even more interesting places, so to the extent that this book helps make that happen, we’ll be grateful. Advertising creativity is still relatively unexplored territory as far as research is concerned.

Are there lessons from the book for people outside of advertising?

Sure, we think so. In fact, we made a real effort to make this content accessible and interesting to students, professionals and anyone who just finds advertising fascinating for whatever reason. We hope that people outside the industry will gain a new appreciation for how intellectual this work can be and how amazing some of the people who do it really are. And we hope that the book will challenge everyone to appreciate their own creative ability and use it to fullest advantage in their careers, in everyday life – it makes everything better, doesn’t it?

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