Make It Simple? Hire an artist.

People keep talking about the new wisdom for building technology products, from web apps to phones to enterprise software:

“Keep it simple. It’s gotta make sense to people.”
“Focus on making amazing things instead of a profit.”
“Trust your instincts and your talent, and push them.”
“Refine and simplify over and over again.”
“It can’t just work. It has to captivate people.”

These aren’t the sorts of things we normally train engineers, mathematicians, and programmers to think. But increasingly they’re the kind of thoughts that make all the difference to a new piece of technology. And people are jumping up and down talking about these ideas as new wisdom for the business world.

But we’ve been training giant swathes of talented people to think like this for centuries. And they’ve been doing it with no expectation of financial reward. Artists think this way all the time.

Companies are used to thinking about using artists to do their advertising. That’s old news. If you train as a painter, but can handle an office job and like a salary you go into advertising. Beautiful ads sell more soda than ugly ads. It’s easy to see you should hire talented artists for that. But I don’t think the business people have quite cottoned onto the idea that they should start hiring us to help make their actual stuff, instead of just to sell it.

I write a lot about how community marketing and audience research are necessary skills for tomorrow’s artists, but I believe equally that artistic skills are necessary for tomorrow’s businesses.

If I were building a technology start-up right now (which in itself isn’t a terrible idea. Can you say tech bubble?) I’d try my best to hire at least one great artist. I’d look for someone with a collaborative background, maybe in film or theater, someone used to building complex things with other people, and to being told, “No, that’s impossible, I can’t change the laws of reality” by technical people. As a perk I’d look for someone with an intuitive, if not highly trained, grasp of technology.

Okay, but..

How exactly do you turn the experience of making art into the skill of refining and simplifying technology products? How do you make that a role in a company? How do you do that in a start-up, where there isn’t enough time do anything? I’m not exactly sure, but I am pretty sure there’s money on the table for whoever figures it out.

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