On the hunt for creativity at the MRS’s Creativity Lab

Mustard’s Director, Simon Dunn, shares his opinion on the MRS’s Creativity Lab on ‘The power of design to inspire, illuminate and persuade‘ which took place on 19th September 2013.

At midday I descended into The Crypt on the Green in Clerkenwell, feeling like a 21st century Indiana Jones on the hunt for creativity.

After some trepidation and reassurance that lunch was on the cards, things got started with a rip roaring introduction and the entreaty that the wall flowers among us would have to let go of the trellis!

I made my way to my assigned table, which our first job was to name (after some deliberation, we went for Keith).

First up was Rob Howsam, a thoroughly nice chap who steered us through the branding and personality of a superhero facecloth. (And yes, you read it correctly the first time – superhero facecloth).This is just one of the exercises that design consultancy Purpose do with clients to tease out their personality, and to get them thinking creatively.

Next was Tim Stonor, Managing Director of Space Syntax. The architect has gone against the flow of his peers by dedicating his career to the analysis and design of human behaviour patterns – and not just designing buildings. Fascinating stuff by a brave presenter, but I was confused how to apply this to research?

We then came to the team at the Guardian digital agency, with whom most of my fellow audience were already familiar. This was a valuable session that detailed working with information and design; it was especially useful for the researchers to go through the process of creating a visual story: starting with the data, building a story, making a chart, and finally producing a design. We applied this process in a useful exercise in our teams  where we took some tables of baby name data and created infographics from them and won prizes!

David Rose at We R Interactivethen detailed how the integration of marketing within games is becoming more subtle. Though his session was interesting I did, in all honesty, struggle to see how it related to the ‘Creative’ themeLastly Matthew Cockerill of Seymour Powell ran another workshop taking us through the creative thinking which is used to design a new product. We were asked to design a product that aided the tea making process, and I think it’s fair to say that we came up with some wild ideas. My favourite on our table was a kettle and lava lamp combined that would allow the tea maker to gaze, trance like, at the kettle until the water had boiled.When the final session over we headed over to the pub across the road, where we revelled in alcohol and regaled each other with stories of our whip cracking bravery in the creativity crypt.

Once my head had cleared my conclusion was that creativity sounds cool and as a designer I was really entertained by the session. But I don’t think creativity per se is what is missing in research, in my experience it is the ability to synthesise and tell a story, which can then be made beautiful (preferably by a professional designer/visualiser, but I would say that wouldn’t I!). While I see what the MRS is trying to do with this focus on all things creative, I don’t think it’s going to help researchers transform their materials. What do other attendees think?