BLOG: Creative vs Corporate

As creatives, we’re pretty much always on tight rope between creativity and corporate interest. Whether you’re working in an agency or corporate company, that pull is always there.

Well, in my fifteen years as a designer I’ve spent equal time in both and can honestly say there’s no clear cut answer. For eight years I plied my creative vision at an agency on nearly every major brand and had some amazing experiences; not to mention insane Christmas parties. Although the work was creatively very fulfilling, there was still a certain part of my life that was unfulfilled. Yes, my personal life.

Now I don’t know about you, but creative environments like agencies make many people incredibly competitive. Learning new tricks to stay ahead and impress your mentor can be quite tiring, not to mention eat away a lot of your personal time. I often couldn’t release myself from the working environment and when I did, time was short or I was too tired to enjoy it.

But while the lifestyle was tough, creatively it was excellent. It taught me things a corporate environment never could have and pushed my skills to the very peak of what they could be. I thought the answer was to test the corporate world with a short term placement. Little did I know I’d end up staying!

At first I had a bit of an ethical quandary: is it ok to use your creative talents to promote a corporate company? That was a tough question until I realised that even though an agency environment may be more ‘creative’ – you’re still just selling your talents for clients. If anything, the more time I’ve spent in this corporate company, on just one client, the more attached I’ve become to it. I probably now feel more caring and protective over the corporate products than any of my previous agency clients.

But, as you might imagine, working as a creative in a corporate environment is very, very different. For one thing the working pace is slow. Too slow in fact. At first I struggled because it seemed too easy and I felt as if I wasn’t pushing projects enough. It became obvious that the corporate world had a “that will do” attitude rather than a “how far can we push this” attitude. Perhaps not the most creatively fulfilling, but a lot easier on the schedule!

So, on one hand, I had a better personal life because all-nighters were a thing of the past and on the other I missed being challenged.

Having only one in-house style to work with and needing to engage in social politics to get things moving also becomes frustrating. Worse still, corporate companies are generally led and art-directed by marketing people who’ve little experience in creative sectors. You have to constantly spend time mocking-up their ideas while talking them round to yours!

At times this makes me wonder if my work is even creative anymore? Is fulfilling a marketing person’s brief strictly creative? Is it at all artistic? Perhaps that’s a bigger question for the whole creative industries to consider.

As for now, I think the trick has been to make sure people in the corporate environment know that the reason you’re there is to inject creativity. There’s no point in them bringing in a creative only for them to have no creative say; where’s the value for anyone? I’ve learnt that it’s best to listen and ease people’s minds until they’re comfortable with me being in control of the creative. So far that approach seems to be paying off!


Arup is an independent firm of designers, planners, engineers, consultants and technical specialists offering a broad range of professional services in the architectural sector.

Illustrated by Terry Nichols

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