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Creativity in the 4IR – how is technology impacting creativity?

AI artists and online logo generators could appear to signal the end for creatives. However, Steyn Pretorius, Faculty Head: Design + Business + Management at CTU Training Solutions, believes this is not the case. Pretorius believes that while emerging technology is bringing about significant change, there will be an increasingly important role for creative thinking in the 4IR.

Pretorius says the question of whether reliance on technology made people more or less creative is a complex one with no singular answer. “Creativity refers to an inherent human trait to generate solutions to needs identified. This is a trait that all humans possess. Even though the creative process is internal, it is heavily affected by external factors.”

He explains that the stages in the creative process may include: identification of need or framing of a problem; incubation – thinking about the problem; investigation – doing research, gathering information; and action – bringing ideas to life.

“The initial stage of the creative process, therefore, is an internal human process, but certain stages are assisted through technological intervention, such as information gathering,” he says. Pretorius believes this creative process remains crucial for problem-solving and original thought, even in a digital world where answers and inspiration are readily available in seconds.

He notes: “Leonardo da Vinci produced remarkable engineering concepts back in the 15th century based on observing the world around him. In a contemporary context, the internet and available information serve a similar purpose. The information gathering is therefore technologically mediated, so in that sense, technology is aiding the creative process. Technology further provides platforms for people to distribute their creative endeavours, such as TikTok, and assists us with presenting our ideas such as applying 3D modelling software to represent an architectural design.”

Pretorius says he sees a change in the way the digital native students of today think and approach creative endeavours compared with students some years ago.

“In the 80s, engagement with the world around us involved much more complicated processes. Before GPS technology was introduced, when travelling to an unfamiliar destination, you had to consult your map book, familiarising yourself with the route to travel. Once in your car, you had to be extremely attentive to the road, ensuring that you do not miss landmarks or street names. Often, you will stop along the way to ask locals for directions. The active engagement with the process of going from point A to B in a traditional sense added to your experience, learning and understanding – unintended results when anticipating the initial journey. The introduction of GPS technology simplified the process. By prompting you, it reduces your attentiveness and interaction with the surrounding areas,” Pretorius says.

“Our reliance on technology has reduced engagement with processes. We have become impatient and are expecting instant results. In any creative endeavour, process is everything. The longer one can stay in the process, the better your chances of success. You need to be able to think, assess ideas, rethink ideas, re-engage phases and test ideas. Spending time in the process may often cause ‘happy accidents’ – unintended results owing to rehashing ideas or contexts. Picasso once said: ‘Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.’ A person who grew up in a world where technology is driving everything and instant results are achieved, is now asked to spend time in a process – where the results more often occur after a prolonged development period. Young designers especially do find this taxing as they are wired for instant results,” he says.

“Persevering with the taxing demands of the creative process will ensure that designers are still able to generate original thoughts and solutions. In a technological-driven world, we need to embrace the wonderful options available to us, as long as we do not replace the concept with the medium – do not confuse technology with content. Plato is credited with observing that ‘someday, in the distant future, our grandchildren’ s grandchildren will develop a new equivalent of our classrooms. They will spend many hours in front of boxes with fires glowing within. May they have the wisdom to know the difference between light and knowledge.’”

Pretorius believes that in a contemporary society, designers must embrace all that technology has to offer, become more strategic in developing solutions and need to adapt their concepts to be effectively translated to myriad applications. He says: “I believe the biggest challenge is to remain original, yet relevant to the times that we live in. Designing for certain applications may limit their creative exploration for the sake of ‘upload’ speeds. In the future, we will also see more online applications that will generate design solutions for a few dollars. You will enter your requirements and the algorithm will create various options instantaneously. This challenges the creative domain previously controlled by the designer as well as his livelihood. Designers, therefore, will need to reinvent themselves and become involved in pursuits where they can establish and control their creative outputs.”

Pretorius notes that technology may change the creative process but that creativity remains an in-demand skill. “Designers have to become more strategic and adept with more tools and channels. As the boundaries between print or online campaigns disappear, they need to be able to adapt design ideas to be relevant to various media. And with a world of information at their fingertips, the biggest challenge is to remain original yet relevant to the time we live in. However, creativity is right up there among the scarce skills needed for all businesses; so there remains a need for creatives who can apply creative processes, be creative and come up with solutions,” he says.

“We can never predict where we will be in a decade’s time and how much more of our daily existence will be mediated through technological intervention or how many of our functions will be replaced by artificial intelligence. I just hope that we as people will be left with the option to keep on exercising one of the traits that make us human – creativity.”

This article was published in partnership with ITWeb.