Creative freedom isn't what you think it is (video)

Creative freedom isn't what you think it is (video)

In this talk, James Archer explains how creative freedom isn't what most people think it is.

YouTube captions transcript (auto-generated):

the theme for this month is freedom and

I want to tell you a little story this

is edward steichen who's one of the most

influential photographers in history and

he has a you know a great portfolio of

his own but according to him the

culminating moment of his career the

biggest thing that he ever did was an

exhibition at the museum of modern art

in 1955 in New York and it was called

the family of man and so he curated

photos from 273 photographers from

around the world and you know kind of

gathered them all together in an exhibit

that was intended to kind of showcase

the universality of the human experience

and to show the ways that we're all sort

of tied together it was a hugely

influential exhibition is still one of

the most influential photography

exhibitions of all time and you know

being in 1955 I was never actually able

to attend that but I did happen to find

the the book for it at the library one

time I just stumbled across it you know

many many many years ago and it was

actually really influential to me it

kind of you know it showcase and gave a

broader perspective of what the human

experience is and showed the ways in

which you know there really is a massive

diversity of culture and and you know

different different kind of societies

but there's also a lot that we we all

have in common so that was something

that was sort of hugely influential for

me and it helped to reinforce the idea

of society to me and it really helped me

to understand the interconnectedness

that we all have so this is this is

thomas hobbes this 16th century british

philosopher and if you're curious he's

the same hobbs that Hobbes from Calvin

and Hobbes was named after and he wrote

a book called Leviathan which was it was

essentially a about politics and how

politics works and so this was in the

16th century so it worked a little bit

differently back then but he sort of

popularized the idea of what he called

the social contract and the social

contract is this idea that when we enter

into a society we're sort of making a

mutual agreement that I'm going to

compromise on some things in return for

the benefits of being able to associate

with other people and get the benefits

that come with that and it's in a way

we're sort of giving up some freedoms

but we're doing it voluntarily and we're

doing it for a lot of benefit that we

then receive

because without that without you know

without us connecting together as

societies and you know having that that

interconnectedness and collaboration you

know the natural state of man is no arts

no letters no society and which is worse

of all continual fear and danger of

violent death and the life of man

solitary poor nasty brutish and short so

that's what happens when we don't have

society to kind of help us get all those

benefits that we get from from

connecting together and sharing those

things now that thought process was kind

of continued and in 1762 this is Jean

Jacques Rousseau and he wrote a book

called on the social contract that kind

of further explored that particular idea

and in it you know one of the things he

talked about was you know there were

struggling to sort of define freedom you

know are we free in our natural state

apart from anyone else when we have no

connections no affiliations no

dependencies and nothing is that freedom

or are we free when we enter into a

society we make some of those

compromises and we get then the benefits

that come with that which a lot of times

are additional freedoms that come of

freedom to be healthier freedom to be

safe freedom to you know accomplish

bigger things that we can accomplish a

loan and so they kind of went back and

forth way you know he sort of fell on

the side of you know when we enter into

a society we actually gained freedoms

even though we're giving up some things

and and and that we're also very much

free to enter into and leave those

societies and that's kind of a

controversial concept in an era when

people were used to things like the

Divine Right of Kings and that Kings

were divinely appointed and they had

absolute rule just because they were who

they are and he kind of positioned it

you know much much more our view of its

by the consent of the governed and that

you know we voluntarily enter into a

society and if we don't like it we can

leave that society and go somewhere else

and this was hugely influential in the

the French Revolution and this kind of

thinking also in the American Revolution

had had a big influence and a lot of

society comes down to the idea of

compromise and you know when we tend to

think of having to work with other

people we think of it as a struggle you

know what if they don't want the same

thing that I want and what you know what

if we have to do that but when we

learned that the mechanisms of

collaboration and the mechanisms of

society we're actually able to

accomplish a lot more and we

have to chafe against it we can actually

sort of go with the grain and make it

work really well for everyone involved

your old familiar i'm sure with you know

the golden rule or the ethic of

reciprocity you know do unto others as

you'd have them do unto you that's sort

of the the biblical version of it that

we're culturally familiar with but

almost every culture in the world has

some variation of that that basic ethic

and that's that's sort of the the

foundational element of what makes a

society work you know it's that idea of

I'm gonna I'm gonna treat you okay and

you treat me okay right and we'll do we

have a deal here and you know if you

think about it if you're you know let's

say you're the hermit off on your own

you know trying to survive and there's

someone else who happens to build his

Hut next to yours that's probably the

first thing you're going to agree on I

won't kill you if you don't kill me and

that's like the foundation of society

everything is based on that even though

even that very first thing is a taking

away of freedom yeah i mean it could be

seen that way but really then grants you

other freedoms like the freedom to

survive and the freedom to you know do

other things because of course without

that our lives are you know solitary

poor nasty brutish and short and so we

have to have those things to have the

freedom to to continue and you know a

lot of philosophers throughout history

kind of came to those same conclusions

these are you know some of the guys that

topped and wrote and thought about this

idea of the social contract and they all

kind of came to that same conclusion

which is that through society we gain

sort of a fuller sense of freedom and we

sort of are able to reach the human

potential and so you know by making

those compromises we gain freedom and

you know it's important to kind of think

through that stuff because america right

if there's if there's one word that you

know about America it's probably freedom

because that's the thing we just keep

saying over and over and over and over

and over again and it is it is drilled

into us from birth that we should be

free we should do whatever we want we

shouldn't have to listen to anyone it's

sort of we sort of gotten this like

weird corrupted version of it we don't

spend a whole lot of time thinking about

what that word actually means what does

freedom actually mean and so you know it

means something very different to us

than it does when you know the the

Declaration of Independence was first

written they were they were declaring

the freedom to associate and create a

society and to you know collaborate in

the ways that they wanted to without

being oppressed or without being

artificially forced to not do those

things that they were trying to

accomplish and have that sense of

society but now you know if you if you

look up freedom on any stock photo site

including sponsor shutterstock you're

going to see this basically this photo

over and over and over and over again so

so so let's try this let's have some

freedom so put your hands up and look at

the ceiling right the field it feels

good right like you feel if you

liberated but the thing is you know the

thing you notice about these people is

there all alone anytime you search for a

photo of freedom you're not going to

find a group of people being free

together it's always a solitary person

far away from everyone else alone and

sort of in that natural state of no

obligations no dependencies you don't

have to answer to anyone you don't have

to do anything and the reason for that

is that society is hard like it's hard

to deal with other people and you know

you you you know any you take any two

people in this room and try to do

something together and you're going to

start doing this you're almost right

away like oh why do you want to do that

I want to do this well I thought we were

going to you know and so we have we have

that tension that tension makes society

hard and when things are hard we have

the natural reaction to want to just get

away from it so that's what makes this

feel so appealing even though this is

actually sort of distant from that that

broader sense of freedom of freedom

within a society in freedom to

accomplish big things and do the things

that we want this is garrett Hofstetter

he's a judge sociologists and

anthropologists and in the 70s he worked

for IBM and IBM huge company at the time

offices all around the world and part of

his job was to figure out how to make

these offices work better together

despite their massive cultural

differences so he started evaluating the

different cultures based on a scale that

he put together one of the scales he

looked at was individuality versus

collectivism so individuality is sort of

a an ego-driven it's about me it's about

what i want to do versus collectivism

which is you know it's for the greater

good and all sacrificed myself to kind

of help everyone and what he found was

that the United States is the most

individualistic country in the world and

you guys probably kind of knew that but

quantitatively we are the most

egotistical country in the entire world

and it's important to know that so that

we you know we know where we come from

and we know what our society is all

about so this is the kind of stuff that

as Americans especially young Americans

we value and admire and we like the

people who just fight the system and do

whatever they want they don't care they

don't give a crap what anyone thinks and

we've come to idolize that and you know

we sort of created this you know a

subculture of admiration for people who

just completely break with that system

you know they're not worried about the

social norms and you know we admire

their bravery and we say things like I

wish I could be more like them and just

do whatever I want well you know the

interesting thing is there's another

word for this sociopathy psychopathy and

if you look like the actual attributes

if you look up the definitions of

sociopathy and psychopathy it's

essentially the same thing it's people

who don't care at all about that social

contract that we have voluntarily

entered into and so they sort of abuse

the system in a way you know they come

into the site they take the benefits of

society but they don't do that giving

back they don't do the participation and

that that collaboration that makes it

all work for us and the fact that you

know I might have to sacrifice my

freedom to help you guys receive

something you know as an example I mean

I don't like public speaking I'm really

afraid of public speaking this took a

long time to prepare I'd rather be at

home playing video games but it's

actually it's more important for me to

be you know to have the opportunity to

come and communicate with you guys so I

give up the freedom of just not caring

and doing whatever I want and making

sacrifices for the society to it you

know to to help you in to kind of move

things forward and then that comes back

and benefits me and I get greater

freedoms because of the contributions

and all that stuff found it works

together so this little bar is one of

the the main philosophies that I have in

my life that helps me kind of sort

things out and make decisions so it at

one end of the bar you have an extreme

and that could be anything any any

extreme and so what happens you know if

you're dealing with an extreme either

you're you're there and you're

passionate about it for some reason

you're all the way over at one end of

the spectrum and sometimes you know that

doesn't work or there's something you

dislike about it or you want to

l against it usually what you do is you

go over to the other extreme and the

thing about extremes is they actually

don't work very well at all I mean when

you're in one of those extreme states

things are just sort of non functional

and you're missing huge numbers of

opportunities you're missing lots of

ways that you can can sacrifice and

compromise and collaborate and do some

of those things in between so it's

actually really not very healthy to be

at those extreme ends the right answer

and the things that eventually makes us

happiest and accomplishes the most in

our lives is usually somewhere in the

middle and but the problem is you know

moderation is not the sexiest thing in

the world it's not the most fun it

doesn't get our heart pounding so you

see this with politics for example I

mean you know really most people are

somewhere kind of in the center of the

spectrum but it's way more fun over at

this extreme and way more fun over that

extreme and to butt heads because that's

just kind of our natural inclination is

to be sort of tribalistic about it like

oh you're this well now I'm going to be

this and you sort of fight it out so no

even though the right answer is almost

always somewhere in the middle we

actually have very little incentive to

get there because it's way more fun and

exciting and exhilarating to be over on

the extremes and interestingly the

Buddha actually talked about this a

little bit so you know during during his

kind of you know spiritual progression

you know one of the things he tried to

do was sort of overcome his physical

constraints by what he called

self-mortification and basically just

starving himself and spending all his

time meditating and just giving up all

you know physical necessities to sort of

transcend his physical being and then

eventually he was like well that doesn't

work and so he's stopped and it was

actually a big crisis for his followers

because his followers were like you're

giving up like we got it like we were

doing this thing remember and he's like

whatever this doesn't work and he kind

of walked away from it but he also knew

the right answer wasn't to go to the

other extreme which is just a you know a

hedonistic sensual istic kind of

lifestyle that's a that's a great

picture right that was from a chironomus

Bosch painting so he knew that wasn't

the right answer and so you know he

developed what he called the middle way

or the middle path which is you know the

right answer is probably some sort of

harmonious thing kind of down the middle

it's not this extreme or this extreme

it's somewhere in between and and that

principle applies you know kind of

throughout our lives I mean healthwise

this isn't right

but you know this isn't right either

like that neither of those are

particularly good for you the right

answer sort of be like a normal human

being somewhere in the middle that's

that's our best state where we are you

know the healthiest and can enjoy it the

most but similarly you know we as

Americans and when it comes to

individuality and egotism and doing

exactly what we want and not caring

about other people we are at the extreme

and it's important for us to know that

to know like what our baseline is you

know we're not in the middle and then we

kind of vary from the middle we are

already at the far end of egotism and

doing exactly what we want and we have

to know that to have that broader

perspective of maybe it's okay to come

back a little bit from that you know but

at the other end you've got you know

maybe a country like China there's a

highly collectivistic culture where you

pretty much always sacrifice the

individual for the greater whole that's

the other extreme that's not very good

either and the problem is you know when

we talk about going back and forth

between these extremes if you're at one

extreme and you start to come back to

the other one it feels like you're just

going to the other extreme and so your

brain rejects a but really you're not

you're just go into the middle where

things are actually kind of healthy and

stable and harmonious now I don't know

what's in the middle of their there's no

flag for that but yeah that's that's

something that we have to figure out

like I mean if we give up some of that

individual ality that we have and and

not not go to the other extreme but give

a little bit and kind of be in a society

and take advantage that what does that

look like and the truth is we really

don't know because in the United States

there is so much pop culture from birth

driving us toward that that complete

individualistic state of just doing

exactly what we want not caring what

anyone else thinks think think about

half the movies you watch growing up you

know it's there's never there's never

never been a movie made about why it's

good to listen to your parents you know

it's always like I'm you know I'm gonna

you know my pit my dad wants me to do

this but I'm just gonna follow my dreams

and he'll see I'll prove it to him and

then in the end that always works out in

real life sometimes you should listen to

your dad you know it's like sometimes

he'd do something you didn't know and

but we're not taught that at all we are

only taught do whatever you want follow

your dreams don't listen to anyone else

and go do it sometimes that's good

advice sometimes it's not and we need to

have the balance of being in the middle

so we can choose and we can choose which

one might be right in the in the

situation you

instead of a hundred percent of the time

defaulting to I'm just gonna do whatever

I want and so you know this this idea I

totally get I mean there are times where

that's all I want I just I need to just

get away and get to that but we have to

remember that's like a snack you know

that's a that's a vacation that

shouldn't be the lifestyle of choice

because that's ultimately what leads to

isolation being removed from the

benefits of society and missing out on

the opportunities that have come with

collaboration and association with other

people and so in my mind you know

freedom really probably looks more like

this that family of man exhibit where we

really are in an interconnected society

we really are dependent on each other

with all the pain and hassle and

annoyance that comes with that but

that's where our freedom comes from and

you know the question is what does that

have to do with you so why are why are

we even talking about this so I want to

talk a little bit about design and so

I'm you know I'm going to talk about

designing a very general sense design is

creative problem solving and so whether

you self-identify as a designer or not

you might be a copywriter you might be a

videographer you might be something else

entirely maybe you're a project manager

you're still coming in and helping

people solve some sort of a problem and

so in my mind you're a designer so I'm

referring to you when I talk about this

stuff so design if you've heard me talk

before I talk a lot about how design is

fundamentally related to empathy and I

would go so far as to say the word

empathize er could be a substitute for

designer in almost all contexts and if

if what we're doing doesn't fit that it

may not actually be designed you know if

we're just putting pretty graphics

together and delivering them and we're

not really thinking about who has to use

it how they feel about it what it does

to their lives what it encourages them

to do or not do where I don't think

we're really designing I think we're

just throwing stuff together and

shoveling it out there but I want to

give an example of how empathy ties into

design so this is a this is an amazing

remote control so this is the highest

highest ranked remote control in terms

of ratings on amazon com I went looked

it up and I was because i was expecting

the highest rated remote control will be

empathetically designed and it is so if

you think about how you use a remote

control you don't you don't hold it up

in front of your face and do this to it


you need to know where the button is

you're just pointing and your thumb

should know what to do and half the time

you're doing it in the dark so you need

to feel your way around it and kind of

okay there's the volume button you know

on a poorly designed remote have to time

you hit the wrong button you're turning

the volume up when you wanted it down

and everything's go change a channel in

the middle of a movie but this one very

well designed the buttons are shaped

differently positioned differently

there's kind of a symmetry to it you can

find your way around your thumb knows

what to do there's lots of different

types of interfaces this is an example

of how empathy leads to good design and

and there's almost a one-to-one parallel

I mean if the design is empathetic and

you thought through what the user is

dealing with and address those issues it

will be good design and if you look at

anything that is good design you can see

clearly the ways in which was designed

empathetically it not aesthetically but

empathetically so I don't own that

remote but i do own one of these so we

have this we got a DVD player for the

our cabin up in northern Arizona and

this is probably probably the cheapest

DVD player money can buy the the cyber

home DVD player and it came with this

remote which you know I was I was going

to try I couldn't I couldn't remember

the brand name so i was just gonna find

like a generic bad remote and i spent 45

minutes looking and could not find one

as bad as the actual one that we own

that we have to deal with so i thought i

finally figured it out and found the

exact photo of this one but if you look

at this one this one is not only

impossible to use without looking or

impossible to use in the dark you can't

even look at when you're holding it up

and trying to figure out how to change

the channel i mean it is because

everything is the same there is no

empathy at all in the design it was

designed exactly to some circuit board

that an engineer put together and they

just use a stock button panel right on

top of it and put the buttons right over

it and said okay well let's assign the

buttons to these functions is now we're

done there was no thought about what

it's like to actually try to use the

thing so bad design is almost always

directly connected to lack of empathy

the two are inseparably connected if you

find something that's not empathetically

design it will be badly designed and

vice versa now beyond just designing

things you know there's also empathy for

the client you know we have empathy for

the user but we need we really need to

have more empathy for the client and

create the experience for them because

you know this

is kind of how designers talk about our

clients you know I mean we're happy to

their face and we smile and me take

their request and we go in and change

them but then when designers get

together this is how they talk and to me

what that shows is a complete lack of

empathy for the client who's coming to

you who's who's got their fair share of

stuff to deal with and the logo that you

want in one font versus another is just

such a small part of their life and and

all the things that they're dealing with

and and the truth is they're not they're

not designers they're not paid to be

designers nobody trained them to be

designers they haven't spent all the

time obsessing about it that we have so

they just don't know and so we have to

give them a little bit of slack for for

being in a situation that they don't

understand they're trying to figure it

out as best they can it's one of many

things that they have they don't have a

whole lot of time to commit to it they

don't even know what questions to ask

you they don't know what kind of

feedback to give you we have to take

that into account and just be a little

bit cooler with our clients because you

know how would you feel if your doctor

acted like a designer when it came to

patients you know you'll get your

results when I'm ready you know it's

like that's not that's not how doctors

are supposed to act you know beat be

this doctor be the empathetic one the

one who explains to you that you you

don't have lupus no matter what you read

on WebMD for the seventh time that day

she's explaining that to someone and but

you know what she's cool about it she

gets it she knows people get confused

she knows they don't have the

information that she has so she's just

cool about it and explains it and and

i'm not talking about putting on a

smiling face for your client and then

you know badmouthing behind their back

if you really have empathy for them and

you get where that clients coming from

you're not feeling that anger you know

you're not you're not angry at them for

making wanting to make revisions because

you get where that impulse is coming

from so you have to spend a little bit

of time kind of putting yourself in

their shoes so let's talk about creative

freedom for a minute so we got it we got

to make the pose again freedom feels

good field of sunshine so design isn't

art you know art art is about

self-expression and say you know

sometimes designer art get get confused

and you're very often designers are also

artists but

design is not art they're very different

disciplines design is about making

things happen it's about accomplishing a

particular goal it's about persuading

someone to do something or about

creating a certain kind of experience

that makes them feel better about it and

but it's not art it's not about us it's

not about us expressing ourselves and if

you go back to the dr example you know

the thing that adopter knows that a lot

of designers don't is that the doctor

knows it's not about her it's about the

patient and the patient's disease but

it's not about the doctor so not about

the doctor wanting to express herself

it's not about what disease the doctor

wants to diagnose that day it's about is

just about the patient and the disease

and that's kind of how we need to

approach design everything we have a

client the client has a problem that's

what we're solving it's not about us

expressing ourselves or us wanting to

like well I really wanted to do the logo

like this wait doesn't it doesn't matter

what we want that much as a matter of

how we solve the problem in the most

effective way possible and sometimes the

client doesn't get in it's a little you

know we have to make some compromises

and that's the social contract right we

have the social contract with our client

of two people are gonna come together

and we're gonna try our best and it's

gonna chafe a little bit but we'll come

up with a pretty good result now they're

they're generally for reasons that kind

of lead to us feeling like we don't have

creative freedom so I kind of want to

walk through them the first one sounds

harder than it is but it's it's really

that you know if we don't understand the

craft that we do enough to consciously

explain it we're going to have a really

hard time explaining to people and

getting them to understand where we're

coming from you know because I'm the

designer is not a valid reason for a

certain design choice you know we have

to explain why we chose that fog and to

do that we have to know why we chose

that farm so there has to be a lot of

kind of intentionality and conscious

thought put into the design process so

the the solution to that is just you

know embrace your craft and seek to

understand it you know you shouldn't

design by the seat of your pants you

should actually have a pretty good

understanding if you think this is the

right font think through consciously why

is that the right font and how do I

explain that to someone because that's a

really helpful thing to have you know

you're another problems you're not

getting into their head and usually that

is just the result of empathy you know

if you can if you can get where they're

coming from you can you can turn your

explanation around in a way that

resonates with them and the day value

and it get get some benefit from another

one and this is one that I do a lot is

you fall in love with the concept

so you you put something together and

then as soon as you see it you're like

this is it this is the one true concept

and then you show it to them and they

want to revise it and you just feel

completely betrayed like how do they not

see this is the one true concept you

know really there's there's a whole lot

of ways to design a solution to almost

any problem there are dozens and dozens

and dozens of different ways to solve

any problem so for us to fall in love

with any particular one that we came up

with that's more of our sort of

resistance to change our wanting to you

know wanting the thing to be done and

finding out that it's not done and

feeling bad about that more than it is

the fact that that really was the ones

from answer the truth is you could

design something seven different ways

it'll probably still work really well

there are lots of different valid

choices so you know embrace the revision

process you know trust that the first

thing you do isn't going to be the best

one it's a it's a prototype and you

iterate the prototype and at some point

you'll get to an answer that's really

good that both you and the client are

happy with and you know the truth is

most things that go through a revision

process and we don't talk about this a

lot but most things that go through a

really hearty revision process actually

come out a lot better and when you look

back at that initial concept a lot of

times it wasn't as great as you thought

it was and sometimes it goes a different

direction than you wanted but sometimes

the original one was kind of weak and

it's good to put it through the paces

and make it make it make sure that it

gets good so revisions a beautiful thing

take advantage of it and then the last

one and this is a really frustrating one

but you know you have time and budget

constraints you know you want to do this

but the client has this budget and you

have to find something that works within

that and and to do there I'm really it's

about embracing the context that you're

in you know when you're designing a

solution the the timeline and the budget

are part of the constraints that you're

designing for that's the box that you

are designing in you know you have a

frame and you're designing something in

that frame and that's fine it's fine for

those to be part of the constraints so I

want to tell you another story this is

Ferdinand Porsche and in 1931 he founded

a company in Germany and auto company

called Porsche they didn't manufacture

cars in the beginning but they you know

essentially did consulting and

development work for automobile

manufacturers and you know around that

time in Germany Germany was going

through a rough spot I mean that you

know the the Great Depression in the

United States kind of affected everyone

Jeremy was having all kinds of problems

of their own

you know at the time they had about

thirty percent unemployment the economy

was terrible the average German family

couldn't afford a motorcycle let alone a

car and so in you know in 1933 in

Germany they happen to elect a new

chancellor you might know him and so he

had part of part of his wanting to

resolve this problem was he basically

demanded that someone come up with a car

concept that could take two adults and

three children at least about 60 miles

an hour and it had to cost no more than

a motorcycle so those are those are some

some constraints right there right

that's that's pretty tough constraints

so Ferdinand Porsche went at it you know

there were a lot of companies kind of

vying for this project and trying to

compete and come up with solutions but

he just went for it and he said I could

I can totally do this and eventually he

developed a prototype a functioning

prototype that would take a family of

five people at 60 miles an hour and cost

no more than a motorcycle and that's

that's that's a pretty amazing design

accomplishment and the more amazing part

is this is this is a picture of the last

version of that car it's basically

essentially the same car the entire time

rolling off an assembly line this is the

last one in 2003 in Mexico see the

mariachi band in the back I thought that

was great you know over that time so

this car in the same form was in

production for 65 years they made over

21 million of them it is the most

successful car in history so you know we

all have time and budget constraints but

keep in mind Ferdinand Porsche was in

the middle of essentially a depression

with thirty percent unemployment

designing a car for a family of five

that cost no more than a motorcycle and

his client was literally adolphe Hitler

so you you can probably work this out

really you know design isn't about this

this this isn't the context that we

design it it's not about us expressing

ourselves and having complete creative

freedom and we do what we want because

we're the designer and we're right and

they're just a stupid client that's

that's not really designed I mean

honestly this is design you know it

happens within a context it happens

within society it happens with

collaboration it happens with

associations with other people who may

not think exactly the way we want to but

somehow we make it work because we're a

society and we have that social contract

that we have entered into of you know

I'm going to help you and you're going

to help me and we're going to make this

work as best we can because we know that

benefits everyone best in the long run

and as designers you know we need to

know where we're coming from we need to

know we are Americans and we are we are

by default deeply egotistical and it's

sometimes we have to come back off that

a little bit to make these relationships

work and to function effectively in a

society and that's what I think about