In this installation of Design Sense we're pleased to bring to the forefront Graphic Designer Agyei Archer whose work focuses mostly on web and branding.
How do you define creativity and what does it mean to you?
Whenever I think about creativity and its definition, I think back to Michael Wolff's interview with 'Is this a Good Time?', where he likened creativity to a muscle one exercises. That's what it means to me as well – an ability to make things, but a process that's ongoing and continuously self-editing. Something that gets honed over time, and with a dedicated, focused approach to improvement.
To me, it's that necessary skill that allows us to solve problems, from finding a way to start a cooking fire in a damp cave to lighting a more metaphorical fire with a mobile app that allows horny people to find each other. Neither would have taken place without some time, and some serious creativity.
How much of your creative ability do you think is innate? Or is your creativity a skill that you have developed?
I've always enjoyed challenges, and solving problems. Following this idea of creativity being a muscle of sorts, I think I've always embraced opportunities to solve problems, and design gave me an opportunity to do that; it's still developing, I'd hope.
When did you realize that you wanted to express your creativity? Was it encouraged by others (e.g., parents)?
Not sure if it was something I realised until pretty recently; I've always been one of those people that tried really hard to do whatever they wanted, in spite of the practical limitations. For me, it was always about solving problems, and the thrill that came with it; that's been around for as long as I can remember, though I have to admit that my memory isn't the kind where I'm good at remembering old friends from high school or breakfast from the day before.
What is your standard for evaluating your own creative work and the works of other people? Do you think that monetary rewards can be compatible with creativity in general? Are monetary rewards relevant to your own work?
For me, if something works, it works. It's easier with design, of course, than things like visual art or music. I try to appreciate those regardless of my instinctual reactions to it – I know when I do or don't like something, but I don't think that my own like or dislike can be a value judgment I make on someone else's personal expression.
I think, generally speaking, monetary rewards are often synonymous with creativity. Apple, the most successful company in the world, has rekindled an entire industry, using creativity (and its applications in design and business management) as a tool to enhance value for customers. Perhaps, creativity is not thought of as synonymous with financial success locally, but I think, by and large, the ones that are really good make it to where they deserve to be.
Monetary rewards are very relevant to my own work; design is my job, and I like really nice sneakers. Of course, there are some projects that are not about the money and have motivations like personal development or portfolio exposure, but I don't work for free.
Do you think your own perception and evaluation of your creative endeavors are influenced by the views of other people? What role do you think the culture that you live in plays in your creative efforts?
I"m not sure how to answer the first part. Do I imagine what people will think of my professional work? Yes, I have to. Do I imagine what people think of my creative endeavours outside of work? Of course, but I try to put that in the back room of my mind a little bit more. I try to be a little more loose-and-fast about my self-generated work, and my work that I do outside of my day job at Abovegroup, which means a certain ignoring of possible feedback.
The second part of that is tricky as well; The culture that I'm in isn't a strictly local one, anymore. The internet has opened up creative communities to the world. I think any designer not looking outside for reference and influence is as silly as a designer not looking internally for it. My early work was imaged to be very sleek, very Euro-centric. I think paying more attention to the space I live in has allowed me to take from those learnings and adapt to speak better to a local audience while also adding a particular flavour that foreigners see and can't quite grasp, but is still immediately engaging.
What do you do when you experience a creative block?
I'm not sure this happens to me in the way that it's often talked about; my problem is often a lot more get-off-my-ass-and-get-to-work block, but I mitigate that by thinking of all those bills I have looming on the horizon, and all the nice ingredients waiting for me at the grocery.
How do you make the leap from a "Spark" in your head to the action you produce?
I'm on my 32nd sketchbook. I think every idea I've ever put on a screen has started there.
Do you have any special rituals that you do in order to achieve your creative goals?
Sometimes, I procrastinate when I know I can do something, but don't really want to, so that it's exciting and a bit fun when it's actually completed.
Don't tell my boss.
Has your creativity changed stylistically as you have matured? If it has changed, please explain how?
For sure, I give way less of a fuck now about whether something looks right, and plenty more on whether it's cool or not. I think I've made a kind of shift in my creative motivations and want to make things that look really nice. Yes, follow the very, very basic rules, but after the basics are covered, I try to walk away.
I'm not the best at it yet – I still get really scared of crowded grids and bright colours – but I'm working at it.
What has been the greatest sacrifice that you have made for your craft?
I didn't really have much of a career before me after 6th form – I was failing classes, hung over and bored as hell. For a good while, after deciding that I wanted to be a really, really good designer, I had to avoid a lot of relationships that never really got back to where they used to be after I started seeing my way.
But it's all love.
Who or what has helped you to persevere and not quit?
My friends are fucking amazing.
Do you believe that it is important to be accepted by others as being creative or is just doing what you love to do enough to justify your work? Explain.
This is probably one of those things where I'm supposed to say do you no matter what and fire bun a hater, but I think for designers, 'others' are important.
If I were an artist, this would maybe be a bit different, but I'm not, so there.
Has rejection ever affected your creative process? Explain.
I used to be the worst at rejection; I remember actual tears after some creative reviews, but that was because I wasn't as familiar with a healthy creative process as I am now. When I was younger, I would work harder defiantly, to prove to whomever that, fuck you, I can design stuff.
Now, I just listen for the feedback that matters, go back in my hole, design and drop the mic. Plenty less feelings of self-worth attached.
Looking at what you have created in the past, would you change anything today? Why or why not?
I don't think so. Not anymore.
Have you ever doubted your talent? If so, how did you work through your doubt?
I doubted my talent this morning, after a relaxing night of doubting myself, which was preceded by some daytime self-doubt. Are there designers that don't have any self-doubt going on?
I'm also the kind of person who can't walk into a room of strangers without forgetting how to walk slightly, so that may be a personal thing.
I've learned to ignore my self-doubt, much like my moments of self-congratulation. It's all opinion, I tell myself.
What piece of work are you most proud of? Why?
MyLand took me the better part of two years to get done, as I was art director, managing editor, lead designer, production manager...too many roles for a project of that scale. Never again.
It was great though, because it sort of firmed up my real creative passion: making new, cool shit.
What is the best advice you've received that helped you move forward on your creative journey?
"You are not your work" – Melanie Archer
To a young Creative emerging in your field, what advice would you impart unto them?
(1) Find a mentor.
(2) Don't be an asshole.
(3) See 2.
(4) Work your ass off, on a real: how much ever you're doing now, find a way to double that shit. Looking at you, Agyei.
What would you most like to be remembered for?
Doing a really good job.
If you were a crayon, what would be the name of your colour?
Thanks to Agyei for taking time out to sharing with us. You can find more of his work and other bits via his website.