What is it like to work in a creative industry?
It is fun, there is a lot of grunt work, the pay is OK.
In fact, being a creative means my day job is a curious blend of those three things: the elation of creating something, the hard work that inexorably comes with it, and the way compensation works in my industry, architecture.
Maybe 15 years ago, I picked up a book by Twyla Tharp, whose creative industry is dance and choreography. In it, she explained her creative process. It was very methodical. She always kept project research in folders, in a banker’s box. Her message was that her creativity came from her regular, methodical process. She was not a mad hatter spewing out creative brilliance that simply bubbled up into her mind. It was work, and the work produced a payoff. Outside her circle of peers, Ms. Tharp is not known for her folders and her banker’s boxes. Nobody pays her to be painstakingly methodical. They pay for the brilliance.
Two recent projects of mine illustrate the same thing. On a restaurant project and a single-family renovation and addition, we had clients who remarked how much our design really opened their minds to new ways of seeing their space. Somehow, we had given them insight they could not imagine gaining on their own. They remarked how impressed they were at our ability to reimagine their spaces.
It turns out the insights I had took about 30 minutes to formulate. It also turns out those thirty minutes came after many hours of measuring, photographing, and modeling on computer. I also spent a fair amount of time talking with the clients. What were their goals? What did they need to accomplish? Like Ms. Tharp, the insights were a product of a regular, methodical process I go through to understand an existing space, and what my clients want. Once those two things are in place, I can come up with an insight. Once the insight takes place, I can execute by creating the drawings and specifications that clients receive as my deliverable.
It may seem ironic that compensation in a creative industry is often tied to the number of hours spent on a project. My billing rate is the same whether I am measuring an existing window, coming up with a really good idea for a better window, or producing drawings to direct a contractor to remove the window and replace it with the new one. Like Ms. Tharp, I enjoy the creative spark experience: coming up with the insight. I think my clients value that part of my service the most.
It might seem with computers and automation I could automate away until the only thing I had to do was sit around and have flashes of insight. In fact, we look for ways to reduce the traditional labor in architecture that does not support the creative process. Nevertheless, there is a core set of tasks in any creative industry, including architecture, that is part of the creative process: the bankers box. The creative process has three steps: Listen and understand; create; execute.