A while back, I went to a talk at The Science Museum.
On the panel were: Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, James Dyson, Robert Winston, and Jim al Kalili.
All brilliant men.
But what really intrigued me was James Dyson.
Because it was in The Science Museum, the talk naturally turned towards science.
“Was science still in a healthy state?”
“Where was science headed?”
“Was science being taught properly at schools?”
James Dyson listened quietly to all this.
Eventually someone would ask him his opinion.
And every time he had the same response.
“Can I make it absolutely clear. I’m not a scientist, I’m an engineer.”
He said it without a trace of modesty, just as a statement of fact.
He repeated it several times during the course of the discussion.
The other panellists seemed uncomfortable, as if they thought he was putting himself down.
But he didn’t think an engineer was greater or lesser than a scientist.
It reminded me of a conversation I had years ago with Mike Greenlees.
Mike had a degree in Pure Math.
He explained to me that Pure Math was nothing like ordinary math.
It wasn’t about numbers, it was about logic.
More like philosophy in fact.
He said, what most people thought of as maths was actually Applied Math.
Applied Math was much more practical.
Pure Math didn’t really have a purpose beyond discovery.
That distinction clarified for me the difference between Fine Art and Design.
At art school I’d started out doing Fine Art, but I found it unsatisfying because it didn’t really have a purpose.
I couldn’t see the point.
Then I discovered Design (and eventually Advertising) and everything clicked.
This kind of creativity had a clear purpose.
Now I could see Fine Art as ‘Pure’ Art, and all other forms of design (including advertising) as ‘Applied’ Art.
One is about discovery, the other is about application.
Which is exactly the point James Dyson kept making.
He wasn’t a scientist, he wasn’t about discovery.
He was an engineer, he was about doing something useful with those discoveries.
He was pragmatic.
It reminded me of the relationship between a copywriter/art-director and a Creative Director.
The copywriter/art-director is employed to be exploratory.
To come up with exciting, innovative solutions.
To be original, unusual, exciting, daring.
Just like scientists.
The Creative Director isn’t employed for that.
He’s employed to get a result.
To take all that exciting creativity, that daring experimentalism, and turn it into a practical solution to a problem.
Just like an engineer.
Any creative solution that doesn’t work isn’t any good to a creative director.
That’s not what they’re paid for.
They have to get the desired result against stiff competition.
They have to be practical.
Everything’s got to be there for a reason.
Whereas a scientist is employed to experiment.
Let’s be clear.
No one purposely does anything dull.
But sometimes you have to choose between ‘wrong-but-EXCITING’ or ‘dull-but-RIGHT’.
In which case the creative teams must choose exciting, the creative director must choose right.
Hopefully the creative director can help take the exciting route and turn it into something that’s also right.
That way, if everyone works like a team, they’ll get something EXCITING and RIGHT.
For the pure artist, Function Follows Form.
For the applied artist, Form Follows Function.