The Future of Data-Driven Creativity

Jan Pilhar
Jul 17, 2017 · 3 min read

In an era where data is heralded to be the new oil, it would be rather surprising if the application of data science would stop short of creative problems. And indeed, there has been a lot of buzz around data-driven creativity in recent years. Touted by some as the gateway to a new level of human creativity — and seen as the death of creativity as we know it by others — data is sure to change how we think about, deliver and evaluate creative problem solving.

Trade shows such as the Cannes advertising festival, for some still the pinnacle of commercial creativity, have introduced categories to deal with data-fueled communication ideas. This kind of data-driven creativity has a rather fashionable aura among creatives. In most cases it is ‘big idea’-based creativity that leverages data in surprising and often delighting ways. It still puts the brilliance of the creative mind at the centre — something that naturally appeals to people in creative industries. No wonder that agencies are often advised to invest heavily in their data prowess.

On the other hand there is the data-driven creativity that most creative types loathe. This type — also called ‘programmatic’ creativity — is all about increasing the relevance of creative work through relentless personalisation based on user data. The resulting creative output in many cases is indeed more relevant to a specific audience segment — ­because it not only relies on an idea but also factors in demographic data, purchase history, customer journey stage and a myriad of other signals. There is no question that such efforts — while able to significantly maximise marketing ROI — only in rare and truly spectacular cases are awarded creative accolades. It is too utilitarian to truly strike a chord with the self-image of creatives in agencies and design studios.

So where does the future of data-driven creativity lie?

Both strands of current data-driven creativity, data-powered big ideas and programmatically derived variations of creative output for n+1 segments will no doubt continue to flourish. And they are not mutually exclusive. The first development is fuelled by the desire of creatives and their clients to do something cool (and hopefully useful) with that new currency called ’data’. The business case for programmatic creativity is too compelling to imagine an end to that development any time soon.

I would argue that the real future of data-driven creativity lies in novel ways to facilitate the creative process and foster creative collaboration.

Data will be used to better define the problem to which creativity is applied. Whether trying to design a meaningful digital service or working off an advertising brief, data will help to frame the as-is and to-be situations much clearer. Using data to identify user preferences and usage patterns in more detail will provide a solid head start into the creative problem solving process.

Data will free the creative mind from repetitive tasks and routine jobs. The rise of generative design will save a lot of time finding potential variations of a theme or idea and help creatives to focus on what they do best: come up with new stuff. Autodesk for example is working on software that allows designers to automatically derive an infinite number of variations of a particular design based on defined principles. And this approach will no doubt also invade other creative domains such as the design of UX/UI, services, websites and communication.

Data will allow to evaluate creative output in more meaningful terms. Instead of gut feeling or award juries, different data points can be used to determine relevance, usefulness and acceptance of a particular creative solution in the wild — aka the marketplace.

With more and more creatives embracing these possibilities, a new kind of man-machine partnership will evolve that can propel human creativity forward. It will combine the analytical abilities of data systems and algorithms with human intuition and empathy.

This combination will be the future of data-driven creativity. And it will bring about creative solutions that surprise, delight and inspire us even more.

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