September 30, 2022

Just playing about

Every time it happens – and it’s rarer these days – I just want to grind my teeth.

That moment when the client says, super-casual-like, ‘just have a play around with it.’

Because that’s really what we do, isn’t it? Creative work can be regarded as a kind of (semi) legitimised play, with crayons and everything. Nothing wrong with play, mind. Except I can’t imagine me turning around to a client and suggesting they have a play around with the numbers. Figures are far too serious. Best leave the sandpitting to the politicians. What could possibly go wrong with those grown-ups in charge?

The idea that something so central to the shape of a business, to communicating its values, demonstrating its worth, showing where and how you can relate to and engage with it, can be played with is disturbing.

Not that there’s no room for wit, subversion, divergence, playfulness here, but permission to engage with the really powerful stuff there – the stuff that drives amazing design outcomes – doesn’t come with playing about around the edges.

The ‘play’ thing is really the last resort of having nowhere really interesting to go, but needing to go somewhere as the groupthink – and pointless meetings to pour over the insignificant threads – can’t find any point except for itself.

Next time I get asked to go and play, I shall have me l’esprit de l’escalier* sharpened and ready:

“Oh, neat. What a relief! Had a hunch the project hadn’t any real point, can’t wait to let the team know to go portfolio-wild on it.”

*Literally, stairwell wit, a too-late retort thought of only after you’ve left the meeting.

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About Richard Hill

Creative director, writer, designer, illustrator based in the UK with global project experience and consulting skills across sectors.

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