Posted by: Liz Massey | October 5, 2009

Surf’s Up: Top Creativity Links for October 5, 2009


Photo courtesy SXC.

The Myth of Crowdsourcing

Dan Woods, chief technology officer and editor of Evolved Technologist, argues that crowds don’t innovate, inspired brilliant individuals do, in this essay from

He begins his story by mentioning the recent Netflix crowdsourcing challenge, then questioning the concept that groups of people solve problems or innovate better than individuals.

“In the popular press, and in the minds of millions of people, the word crowdsourcing has created an illusion that there is a crowd that solves problems better than individuals. For the past 10 years, the buzz around open source has created a similar false impression. The notion of crowds creating solutions appeals to our desire to believe that working together we can do anything, but in terms of innovation it is just ridiculous…

“There is no crowd in crowdsourcing. There are only virtuosos, usually uniquely talented, highly trained people who have worked for decades in a field. … The crowd has nothing to do with it. The crowd solves nothing, creates nothing.”

Woods discusses his assertion related to open-source software, computer programming and other techie fields. He is frank about what his real concern is, which isn’t incipient agoraphobia:

“Why do I care that people think a crowd is capable of individual virtuosity? What bugs me is that misplaced faith in the crowd is a blow to the image of the heroic inventor. We need to nurture and fund inventors and give them time to explore, play and fail. A false idea of the crowd reduces the motivation for this investment, with the supposition that companies can tap the minds of inventors on the cheap.”

Woods’ op-ed is strong tonic in a world that’s definitely fallen in love with the crowdsourcing concept. I do share his concern with “using” the crowd to solve internal problems at the expense of properly rewarding individuals who innovate or create. I’m not as convinced the danger is as intense in the arts, as collaboration and audience participation in installations and projects are commonplace (not to mention that how the audience defines itself keeps changing) and often add to the artwork in question. Still, his piece is worth reading just to know the flip side of this very trendy business concept.

Teaching Craft in a Designed World

Nick de la Mare, writing for Design Mind’s Total Design blog, discusses the tensions between craft vs. universal design theory in design education and in the real world of designing for clients or employers.

De la Mare notes that he has taught design at both the undergraduate and graduate level, and he struggles with the best way to prepare young designers to face a rapidly changing field.

“The role of craft within design has become increasingly relevant. As design becomes more of a generalist field, with designers expected to be conversant in a far wider variety of areas than in the past, it’s important that we have a process to lean on, a foundation to build upon, and an understanding of how it, and we, became this way…”

It’s important not to overemphasize one pole of the craft/design tension at the expense of the other, he argues. For example, while many academic environments still emphasize craftsmanship, he says, this emphasis has actually made life more difficult for those in applied design fields such as graphic design or industrial design, which must deal with mass production demands and the machine economy as facts of life.

De la Mare concludes that integration of the craft/design split is the best approach.

“I would argue that, as designers moving inexorably further from specialist to generalist roles, we need to be better at both identifying and teaching the underlying habits and structure that lie between practice and thinking, and using those habits until they become second nature…Those on the making side must focus more on the theory and reasoning behind the things they create, and vice versa; those on the theoretical side must hone their ability to create. Ultimately the best-looking thing is meaningless if there’s nothing behind the façade, and the best story is useless if nobody can understand it.”

The essay is interesting even for non-designers. Industrial Revolution thinking and manufacturing touches all creative people, no matter how esoteric the discipline (poets, think of Hallmark’s influence on popular perception of verse), and de la Mare’s essay will make you examine where you fall along the craft/design spectrum.

Internet Art: Craigslist Missed Connections Become Gorgeous Visuals

This is an intriguing short report from about the work of Sophie Blackall, a New York City-based artist who has turned the musings would-be romantics on Craigslist into an artistic hobby and budding business.

Missed Connections is the section of Craigslist where posters seek to recapture lost opportunities for romance. Blackall, who works by day as a children’s book illustrator, has created a sideline mining this subject matter, rich as it is with regret, longing, passion and irony, to create ink-and-watercolor paintings that offer her interpretations of the messages. She sells her works on Etsy and blogs about them on the appropriately named Missed Connections blog. She’s also negotiating with a publisher to bring forth a book of the illustrations.

Blackall is another example of an artist, much like the contributors to the POKE! exhibit in Houston I mentioned recently, who is taking social media for what it is—one more way to engage in the human drama of communication—and making meaning, and delightful art, out of it. Bravo!

Bonus links!!!

Push Through a Creative Block with a Diversion

From the Lifehacker blog. Eliminate your block with a sneak attack by doing something unrelated to your art.

10 Ways to Help Left Brainers Tap Into the Best of Their Creativity

The Heart of Innovation blog gives excellent tips for warming up analytical types in order to unleash their idea-generating power.

Arturo Herrera on Failure

From the Art 21 blog. In his Berlin studio, Arturo Herrera discusses the importance of accepting failure in order to be able to learn and grow as an artist in this very brief video.

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