Street Art, Innovation and Leadership
I admit I like graffiti. I see it as a form of innovation, creativity and art.
I’m not talking about gang-related markings. Or hate messages. I’m talking about art — street art.
People either see art. Or they see crime.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue, you can learn principles of innovation from graffiti and street art.
Innovation Essence #1 : Simplicity
Street artists have to operate under high-speed conditions, as you can imagine.
The artist may choose to distill the image to only the most critical lines. The dude on the back of the billboard is drawn with only 20 lines (not counting the artist’s tag), but you get a sense for what kind of guy he is.
I watched an interview with Ralph Gillies, Head of Design for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, where he talked about one of his college design classes. The students were challenged to depict an automobile design with only three lines.
What is the essence of your design?
How can it be simplified? Streamlined?
The original iPhone is a perfect example of a design made simple and clean.
Even the value proposition was a single line:
Your life in your pocket
Innovation Principle #1 — Keep your ideas simple, clean, concise. Let their beauty and strength shine.
When I’m in innovation mode, I create fearlessly. I throw in whatever I think makes sense. Then I step back. I determine the central idea or story that I’m trying to convey. And then I edit ruthlessly. I strip away all extraneous elements.
I do this in my marketing consulting work.
I do this when I’m writing a chapter in my book.
I do this when I’m preparing a presentation.
Innovation Essence #2 : Symbiosis
The strength of this piece is the integration with the architectural elements — the staircase. I did a double take when I first saw this, and then I realized that this was intentional.
Fine artists tend to think this way.
They design for composition, meaning they use principles of design to create an aesthetic placement. Some of these principles include center of interest, balance, harmony, directional movement.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s home design, Fallingwater, is a pristine example of design in harmony with the elements.
The design, the materials, the placement — everything contributes to the success of one of America’s most famous houses.
Wright believed that human life was part of nature, so he took an organic approach to his designs.
Innovation Principle #2: Consider all key “ingredients” available and then determine how to let them interact with and enhance each other.
In my marketing consulting work, some of the strongest designs I’ve seen — whether product innovations, customer experience design, marketing strategy, messaging, or advertising — leverage the neighboring elements.
Part of the reason I employ ethnographic research in my consulting work is that the results are stronger if we understand the environment in which our customers might use the product or service.
We consider the setting. For example, if the point of usage is a restaurant, we head over to a restaurant and watch. And smell. And listen. Yes, listening includes eavesdropping. (Don’t judge!)
We gather as much data as we can, and then we can start to visualize the harmony of the key components.
Innovation Essence #3 : Story
Unlike line drawings, the artist brings depth to this piece through the use of highlights and shadows.
So what is the equivalent of depth in a business setting? Story.
Leaders and innovators use story to motivate.
Stories evoke emotion.
Walt Disney brought stories to the screen and then created a world in which families could create their own stories.
Stories rally people.
Martin Luther King, Jr. painted a picture for his audience in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech that decades later still rallies people.
Stories elevate people.
Jesus Christ used story telling through parables to teach his followers principles and values that millennia later still inspire people.
Innovation Principle #3: Determine the “story” you are trying to convey. Make sure the components progress the story, not detract from the story.
What is the story of your product or design? If you cannot articulate the narrative, then I would argue that the design is not yet complete.
Identify the story to tell.
Then let the story express itself through the design, the composition.
Strip away anything that diminishes the story. If it’s not advancing the story, then I seriously question whether it has staying power.
I find that the hard part is determining the story to tell that will move people. Once you do that, then everything else falls into place.
Innovation Essence #4 : Shape
I admit it. I have difficulty deciphering graffiti writing, which is called Tagging if it is the identifier or logo of the artist.
Regardless, I like the colors and the shapes. I find some of them pleasing to the eye. The bubble font, the stylized lettering — all can be visually appealing.
Shapes and style have a big impact on an audience. Done right, these can create powerful emotions in people.
I remember the first time I saw a Corvette.
I didn’t know cars could look like that. It was far cry from our family’s boxy Toyota Corolla.
That long engine compartment conveys power, doesn’t it?
What is the “shape” of your innovation?
Don’t be afraid to rework a piece — no matter what it is — to fine tune the shape.
Innovation Principle #4: Sometimes the shape or “silhouette” of the idea is the way to engage the audience. Don’t be afraid to reshape it to make it stronger.
When we are creating recommendations for our clients, we sometimes find that we can help them more by paying just as much attention to the visual impact of the recommendations as to the content itself. The difference in their reaction is palpable.
Shape. And then reshape.
Graffiti artists do this. Most work in sketchbooks until they get their designs right, before taking them to a wall.
These Essences Apply to All Innovators
Whether you are writing, drawing, building a business, creating buildings, innovating products, solving problems, composing music, designing fashion…
Run your ideas through these principles.
When Simplicity, Symbiosis, Story and Shape come together, the results can be powerful.
You Can Cultivate Creativity
Sometimes your team needs a little creativity boost. My free eBook might just help:
I use these exercises to keep the juices flowing — in myself and in my clients. (I am a marketing consultant, after all.)
You can follow my blog on Medium.
You can follow my journey to get published on Facebook.