“Is creativity some obscure, esoteric art form? Not on your life. It’s the most practical thing (someone) can employ.”
~ Bill Bernbach, copywriter
Back in the early 2000s a new concept called 'Audience 2.0' became a point of discussion within the media industry. Put simply, with the exciting arrival of home computers the general public was no longer limited to just consuming information, they were able to easily create it — people went rapidly from audiences to auteurs.
This was made available through a range of methods including easy home writing and inkjet printing, creating personal websites, communicating to strangers across the globe online, and even home design. It all seems painfully natural to us now and hard to imagine how you couldn’t do so before, but you have to remember that prior to personal computers we relied more on typewriters, sketching and specialist companies. Even then sharing content was if not via direct calls, then through third party printing, post, word of mouth, and existing circulated media such as newspapers, TV or radio. The sharing of content simply wasn’t widely accessible.
Fast forward nearly 20 years and it almost goes without saying that you have a phone be it Apple, Samsung or otherwise. And despite the colossal size of the 'Audience 2.0' theme, phones is where I want to focus mostly for this.
Social media is by and large a visual media where we catch content quickly on the go and share our experiences; experiences which many want to curate to best represent ourselves as an individual. A big part of this is photography. Taking the perfect selfie, the most mouth watering photo of your 'impromptu' food, or the fantastic location you’re at. It’s about capturing the essence of that memory to share how amazing that moment is and in turn to make yourself feel fulfilled. Almost everyone does it, whether they make it online or not. And that’s interesting. Not just because it is an instance of audiences becoming auteurs, but because at multiple points of every day there is an element of people applying considered design. These include:
• Advertising; to sell that experience to viewers and gain followers with the accompanying caption and selected hashtags.
• Photography; picking the best angle, lighting and filter for your scene.
• And most personal to me, Art Direction; for curating your feeds, selecting the scene to shoot and even what focus you put on.
Now, as you are most likely someone in the creative industry reading this, I appreciate the cynicism you probably have at this point.
“Just because you have a camera doesn’t make you a photographer”
“You’re not an advertiser for putting up a post online to get followers”
"How can any regular person be an art director without industry experience?”
Ok, but stick with me on this... because that cynicism is born from a preservation of integrity to our industry, and rightly so. “These people didn’t go and do design courses like I did” is a phrase I’m sure we’ve all heard at some point, but much like the Eton-on-Thames political world, why should the creative field be an elitist industry which looks down on people without a formal, specialist education? An innate or practiced skill should be equally as valued as being officially educated, even if it begins as a talent for creating consistent flame 100 social media posts.
Although that being said, the prevalence of design software either free, cheap or pirated, along with easy availability of hardware such as high resolution cameras and computers, all combined with a carefully made ease of use means there is a common preconception that ‘anyone can design’. This isn’t helped that traditionally the arts as an industry doesn’t have as much cultural respect compared to academic professions. Typically the jobs aren’t seen as proper careers and multiple parody ad campaigns have been created specifically to highlight this.
There are more to our jobs than the trivialised things above, but what I’m saying is that through social media, our phones enable these skills to be applied and refined in some amount every day with increasing improvement. This in turn creates a more aesthetically conscious public who help speed up general design evolution through their appreciation for it.
So I’ve given credit to the public along with Audience 2.0, but how do we, as members of the industry distinguish ourselves as necessary and highly skilled professionals? It’s quite simple really. Social media is amongst other things a trend orientated platform. Just take @insta_repeat for example. While frequently looking great as you scroll, these images are often formulaic both in subject and style with heavy handed filters and limited detailed customisation. Updates are increasingly predictable as we emulate one another to feel part of a common group. Inclusion like this is not a bad thing, but it sets a difference between Audience 2.0 vs the creative industry in light.
“Playing it safe can be the most dangerous thing in the world, because you’re presenting people with an idea they’ve seen before, and you won’t have impact.”
~ Bill Burnbach, again
We, as members of the creative industry, simply provide that quality instead of quantity. It’s an era of evolution in the industry which has placed even more emphasis on the core idea and detail to the execution, particularly compared to the current landscape. It’s perhaps a greater change than the Creative Revolution Bill Bernbach and Helmut Krone forged back in the 60s where they moved advertising away from shallow pinups and into a self aware, human level.
And so our current evolution requires higher effort from us as creatives in each of our given fields: effort towards a sincere application of storytelling and empathy to the end person. A further attention as to how we can best use our honed skills combined with the range of touch-points available to carry an idea through execution in a uniquely captivating way. And effort to not only accept but embrace that our industry is wide open to experimentation from everyone, because this not only emphasises the value of creativity in society, but it spurs on new ways of thinking.
Seeing as the world has moved on since Audience 2.0, with the latest generations being heralded digital natives, perhaps we should consider a revised version; how about Audience 3.0.