What is creativity?

May 9, 2009

I have recently spoken to a friend of mine about the working processes and at one point he said to me:

"We let creative guys do the design work"

"What do you mean by that?" – I asked.

"Well, you know, web designers and other.. creative people"

"You think the only creative people in your company are designers? Don't you think that developers can also be creative?"

"Well, yes for the first question and no for the second one"

"Uh, you're so wrong, man"

Creativity NOT equals art

According to Wikipedia, "Creativity is a mental and social process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts,
or new associations of the creative mind between existing ideas or
concepts. Creativity is fueled by the process of either conscious or
unconscious insight. An alternative conception of creativeness is that it is simply the act of making something new.

So, creativity is not reserved for web designers (and artists, or art, in general). Anyone can be creative. It can be seen outside the design or art. Take cooking for example. Can cook be creative? Could food be prepared or arranged on a plate in a creative way? Yes, I think!

Anyone can be creative

I would rather say that creativity is a state of mind, or simply – a mood. That means that anyone can feel creative sometimes and do something creative. Some of us could be more often in such a mood and some ocould be just a few times. Noone is creative all the time. 

So, back to my conversation with a friend – anyone can be creative: designers, managers, cooks, developers, you name it. Can code be written in a creative way? Just because there are rules, patterns and syntaxes that doesn't means that problem can't be resolved in a creative way. So yes, developers also can be creative!!! 

What about you?

Although I told you my opinion, I'm more than interested in yours. How would you describe creativity? Do you think anyone can be creative and have you ever felt creative?

I discuss these topics on twitter too. In case you feel nostalgic, my RSS feed is still working.


  • claudia snell (May 9, 2009)

    Of course developers are creative! Every time they look at a project and apply their skill and knowledge to CREATE solutions, they are being creative.

    I always feel bad when people say to me, "Oh, I’m not creative like you.". I always want to say – "Of course you are!" Any time a person sees a new way of doing something or a new way of thinking about something , they are being creative.

    I think people get ‘creative’ confused with ‘artistic’. And, btw, I’ve seen plenty of ‘artistic’ people who don’t show a lot of creativity in their work.

    Creativity is in the mindset and way of approaching situations. Of course – this is just my opinion for what it’s worth.

  • Kim Nishida (May 9, 2009)

    Great post! So many people underestimate their creativity because they compare themselves to "artists". My brother is an engineer and believes he does not have a creative bone is his body. But he loves to swing dance and can improvise, also loves to orchestrate surprises like a celebration for my mom’s 70th birthday last weekend…all very creative stuff.

    Time for us to question what others have told us we are or are not.

  • Joshua Smibert (May 10, 2009)

    Great Article! I couldn’t help but comment … the team here at Fuel have sat and discussed this exact topic on multiple occasions. We strongly believe that anybody can be creative, although there are definitely job titles that are more prone to it…. Our list includes designers, developers, marketers, writers, engineers, entrepreneurs and various other niches. Personally, I consider creativity to be the process of taking something from one state and adding to it to improve or change it to make something else previously unknown or un-thought of by the creator. I feel that programming is inherently creative, although for the most part it is using a standard set of tools, the job requires constant creativity requiring the programmer to find unique ways of answering a problem. By that definition it is just as creative as design. Design also uses a set of tools and techniques to ‘create’. I do agree however that some coding is not creative, anything that is just taking something as it is and repeating it, doesn’t meet what I perceive the definition of creativity to be. However, to say that the redundant portions of programming defines the title, would be the same as saying that design is not creative because of something redundant like image formatting. Given that most of the web apps we all consume came about through the creativity of developers, I would argue that they are some of the most creative people I know. Thanks for the great topic.

  • WC (May 10, 2009)

    I’m saying this as a software developer.

    While the word ‘creativity’ includes both art and software design, when people say the word they mean the ability to make something that appeals to the senses, not the mind. Color, form, taste, feel… Not intellect.

    My ability to design and code amazing programs does not translate into the ability to make any kind of art whatsoever. I have long wished it did.

    So no, developers are not ‘creative’ in the sense most people use that word for. In our world, the word ‘genius’ is reserved for that kind of creativity. You can try to fight this all you want, but you’re fighting the entire world’s use of the English language when you do so, and the battle isn’t winnable because they aren’t really wrong.

    If it helps any, remember that in the art world, they never just say ‘genius’… They have to say ‘creative genius’.

  • Michelle (May 10, 2009)

    I second Claudia’s comments.
    Creativity comes in all shapes and sizes, just like people. If we all thought the same, how boring would life be?
    Creativity is absolutely a state of mind. It’s a choice. It’s looking at every angle, not just the expected one. It’s not accepting the status quo, thinking bigger and outside the box.
    We all have it. We just need permission to let it do its thing.

  • Andrew (May 10, 2009)

    I have to agree with you here Janko. To me, simply being able to figure out a solution to a problem in an elegant way is being "creative." I will develop creative solutions to the software I am building, however that doesn’t mean I could sucessful layout a beautiful web design. They are not one in the same.

    Thanks for the read!

  • Gmaster (May 10, 2009)

    To be creative we don;t need to attend any art class. For me once you ideas is rarely and differentiate from others idea you already become more creative than other.

  • naved (May 10, 2009)

    man i totally agreed to what you say ;) and this issue was in my head for way too long thanks for puting light on this topic ;)

  • Janko (May 10, 2009)

    Thank you everyone for the great comments and thoughts! It’s good that we all understand that creativity can be found everywhere!

    WC: Regardless of what term we use, creativity is present in the world of software development as well. We can stick to patterns, of course, but we can also find a different solution to common problems. For example, frameworks such as jQuery are creative solutions (idea to use CSS selectors is innovative indeed).

  • Web Design Manchester (May 10, 2009)

    I believe Einstein once said, "The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources." ;)

    He may have been being a little humorous, as he also said, "Creativity is seeing what other see and THINKING what no one else has thought."

  • Anthony Alexander (May 10, 2009)

    Humans are essentially probes, creativity is the process by which we are able to process information in new ways. Therefore, creativity is not exclusive to any niche set of individuals, but like propensity, expresses itself dependent on the environment in which the probe resides. The environment in this case being a particular employment. Artistic, then can be quantified as a type or subset of creativity geared towards the creation of content that appeals to the ‘probes’

  • Anthony Alexander (May 10, 2009)

    @ Janko, Jquery doesnt do anything special other than being a frame work to save you time.

  • Janko (May 10, 2009)

    Web Design Manchester: Humorous or not, I love those Einstein’s cites :)

    Anthony: Exactly – a framework that someone invented and that combines different approaches which give you the opportunity to do things in a different way (or to make your life easier, as you said). Isn’t that creativity?

  • Dmitry (May 11, 2009)

    I agree with Anthony — its about being able to process information you already have in new ways. I think there are a couple of elements to being creative. First of all, experience — you need to have the different knowledge and experience of various things in order to then find new links between them. I think the more experiences someone has, the more opportunities they have to link those experiences to their work and so arrive at new and interesting solutions.

    The other element is the cliche "thinking outside the box" — you need to be unafraid to try new things and find inspiration or links in things which you may consider completely unrelated. So really, you need to break down any artificial limits you impose on yourself so you can arrive at a unique solution. Being in a creative ‘state’ is thus being able to tap into all your experiences rather than a focused set of things ‘related’ to your problem, and then being able to find new and interesting links between them.

  • Angie Bowen (May 11, 2009)

    Anyone who doesn’t think coding requires creativity has probably never coded before. I started my career as an artist and evolved into a designer and developer. Developing requires just as much creativity as any other art form (and I do fully consider code an art form).

    And now I want to go buy the domain creativecoding.com and start a blog lol

  • Jin (May 11, 2009)

    Bah I’m late on commenting. To me, "Creativity" is about problem solving. In Chinese, Creativity literally translates to "the ability to create." I think it’s easy for people to stereotype the artists as the only ones being creative, because what they produce is more visual. To echo what everyone else said here, creativity exists in all fields, and medium.

  • Janko (May 12, 2009)

    Dmitry: Thanks for pointing out two important things. Although "thinking out of the box" might sound as a cliche, it is the "engine" of creativity :)

    Angie: What a good idea!! Better do it fast, someone could do it already. Thanks for the comment :)

    Jin: Exactly, and problem solving is just a part of our lives, be it work environment or whatever.
    P.S. It’s never too late, thanks for commenting!

  • Angie Bowen (May 12, 2009)

    Janko: I looked up the domain and it’s not available. The idea is blooming though, we’ll see where it goes :)

  • Thiago Cavalcanti (May 13, 2009)

    Developers usually are quite creative people. They just don’t call themselves creative because they know how pretentious it sounds…

  • Janko (May 13, 2009)

    Angie: Uh, not available? We’ll what it will be about :)

    Thiago: I agree.

  • andrew (May 18, 2009)

    I’ve thought a ton about this topic because I’ve had nearly the same conversation a few times. Here’s the way I see it: creativity = ability to create. Oftentimes the word is associated with artistry, which is closely related, however, different.

    But anyone who is making things is exercising creativity: graphic design is just as creative as being a web developer, as is being a construction worker, as is being a chef, as is being a teacher (creating ideas in minds).

    In fact, I believe creativity is not something that some people are gifted with and others not, but rather creativity is a fundamental component of being human. Some people might be visually creative, others verbally creative, and others have an incredible ability to simply work hard. All of us though, in some form, are in the business of making things.

  • Michael (May 25, 2009)

    The most prophetic thing I’ve ever been told about design and creativity was from a 70 yr old uni lecturer.
    First day I walked in he said

    "Creativity is remembering what you saw – but forgetting where you saw it"

    I was studying ID at the time but this always rang true to me. I think it gave me confidence to lend from others idea’s and designs and not feel bad if I didn’t feel an idea was 100% original or uncreative, it pushed me alot and had me uncover things I never would’ve before.

    WORD 2 Dmitry … I think his comments somewhat back up the above quote and creative philosophy, and I totally agree with the below.
    "Being in a creative ‘state’ is thus being able to tap into all your experiences rather than a focused set of things ‘related’ to your problem,"

  • Janko (May 25, 2009)

    Andrew: Absolutely. Some of us might be more or less creative or in touch with his/hers creativity, but basically we can all find them at some level.

    Michael: "Creativity is remembering what you saw – but forgetting where you saw it" – that is just awesome!

  • MJ Stapleford Corporate Identity (August 21, 2009)

    I certainly believe that everybody can be creative. Many of the clients that I have worked with offer ideas and suggestions towards what they would like to see within a design. Some people have massive amounts of creativity but they require help with regards to creating and developing professional computer / digital based visuals. I think a lot of people say to themselves I am not creative and this limits their creativity or they think that to be creative is to be able to come up with ideas instantly but all designers have to work on concepts and ideas. Sometimes in takes a lot of concept development and research before the right creative solution is found. I think creativity is much like playing and as people get older some forget how to play but anyone can do it.

  • R.Satish kumar (September 19, 2009)

    Creative people are everywhere and in work environment its all about standing out from the crowd and usefulness for the concept or project…Thats what companies look for..Its just my point of view…

  • mahmood rehman (October 12, 2009)

    i think cretivity is process wich come out advace things cretvity exisist not every whre
    for cretivty age is not concern u may have a good idea or critivty tinny age .