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Why I can’t stand “creative technologists”

Reading some article triggered me to finally write what I’ve been saying for years:

I’m not a creative technologist

I’ve always been adamant that I’m not a creative technologist. My business cards said CEO at one point, then Founder cause it was a bit more casual, then Technical Director as things expanded, but never never never did they say creative technologist, and here’s why.

The easiest way to demonstrate my gripe with creative technologists is the look at the title with some simple grammar. This is a simple breakdown of the title creative technologist:

definition of creative technologist

So by standard definition, a creative technologist should be a technologist, the noun, that is additionally creative, the adjective. Correct? Correct. So let’s translate that a little bit into plain english:

what is a creative technologist

Ok, so you’re probably starting to hear some alarm bells when you see this and think about the creative technologists you may know. But let’s not stop there. Let’s go deeper.


You can google what a “technologist” is by itself, but almost all definitions include the word specialist. Specialist. This should ring some alarms because you probably know many creative technologists who aren’t really specialists, they end up having base level of knowledge of a lot of topics and are really more of a generalists. Now these are pretty different words: specialist vs generalist. And this is fundamentally where my gripe is, because I guarantee almost all the creative technologists you know are actually more like this breakdown:

usual creative technologists

They’re often designers who did an online code bootcamp, or visual artists who read about how API’s work, or a musician who knows about some commercially-available sensors, or something to that nature. And that’s fine. Those people are important in the process, they can help transition creative ideas into prototypes and help shape narratives, but they should make a new job title, like creative prototyper, or techno-creative for all I care.

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What’s the issue?

“So, Elburz, why do you really care?”

Well, the issue in reality comes down to where creative technologists end up actually using their skills. Instead of prototyping, testing ideas, or helping other creatives transition ideas to the specialists, they end up replacing the specialists in all parts of the front-end pipeline, and this is so dangerous when we talk about large interactive and real-time media installations. This means that when a client comes in, gives someone a couple million to make something big, complicated, expensive, and amazing, the creative technologist is now in charge of creating the technical specification and foundation for the whole project. And this NEVER works. This ends up always being a situation where the specification/foundation is bunk, and the real developers and specialists then have to scramble around like assholes trying to fix and make roundabout solutions for what the creative technologist promised that isn’t actually feasible.

It’s great if you’re a designer and took an online code bootcamp, but if you haven’t written resilient software, know what version control is, or know the difference between unicode and utf-8, then  you should not lay the technical foundation of a project. If you’re a visual artist who knows about API’s, that’s awesome, but if you don’t know the in’s and out’s of rate limiting, HTTP status codes, or what Oauth is, then you should not lay the technical foundation of a project. If you’re a musician who knows about commercially-available sensors, fantastic, more power to you, but unless you know the technical difference between structured light setups and stereo camera setups, then I’m sorry to say, you should not lay the technical foundation of a project.

Is there a moral to this story? Yes. Creative technologists either need to step up to the plate and fulfill their technologist duties or we need to try and figure out a new job title for the growing number of technically-savvy designers and artists.