They were looking for something new: for new solutions, new products, new perspectives and new worlds. With keen minds, they looked at the world as it was known. They looked into matters, tried to explain phenomena, and find new approaches to known problems. They even opened up completely new worlds to humankind. In doing so, they accepted the consequences of sometimes being far ahead of their time and, thus, of their fellow human beings. They caused uncertainty and irritation among their contemporaries, which in some cases even led to them being declared insane and then expelled. What has remained and outlasted time, however, is not their reputation of being scatterbrains, but the myth of their ingenious creativity.
Maybe they would have had to cope with similar problems today. It is more probable, however, that they would be headhunted – universities, companies, cities, even whole nations would compete for them. Despite all their differences, da Vinci, Galilei, Watt, Bell and Einstein stand out in history due to a special talent that has probably never before been rated as highly as it is today: creativity.
Not least since Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class, it is generally acknowledged that the creative minds of a society and their innovations are crucial factors to the economic growth of a region. In principle, the creative class comprises all those who actively participate in the creation of something new in one way or another. However, the ‘super-creative core’ constitutes the centre. Its members are all those whose major task it is to create something and to produce something new. These are communities that are creative in the literal sense of the term.
The word ‘creativity’ goes back to the Latin word creare, which means creating something new; inventing, producing or manufacturing something. Today, there are indeed many ‘creative minds’, but only a few among them who have this special, particularly inventive, kind of creativity, which was also characteristic of da Vinci and co.
Of course, designers may have good reasons for confining themselves to giving a new product a nice form by order of a manufacturer (ie, finding a creative language), which equals the subject and makes the product an expedient and intelligible item. And which, at best, even meets ecological requirements. This is an important and respectable task.
Yet, there are always designers who want to go further. They walk through the world with eyes wide open. At every turn they discover products that can be improved. Or they come across a problem that is still waiting for an optimal solution. Then, they independently tackle the task to develop ideas and concepts for that particular problem.
Let’s take the forklift, for example. Traditionally, these vehicles have restricted manoeuvrability, operating between shelves and containers in extremely confined spaces in order to bring a box from A to B. In the red dot award: design concept, a concept was submitted in 2010 that could simplify the work of a forklift driver on a large scale. Independently of each other, chassis, driver’s cab and fork could be turned in a horizontal direction, therefore making laborious manoeuvring dispensable and working in narrow spaces much more efficient. One can’t help but wonder why no one had thought of this before. Yao Xinglei, the designer in charge, did not only identify the problem, but also sought out the solutions – and found them. Which is why the jury awarded him a red dot: best of the best.
Another example is the Transparentius Road View Transmitting System by Russian design studio Art. Lebedev Studio. Most people are familiar with the situation of driving along a road and being slowed down when meeting a truck in the same lane on the road ahead. It is often impossible to overtake, especially on winding roads where there’s a lack of visibility, creating an inability to see oncoming cars. The solution: a camera in the truck driver’s cab that transmits the street view on an LED display at the rear of the truck. It’s as simple as it is ingenious – again, why hadn’t it been realised long ago?
The United Bottles Project by Instant Architects, Switzerland, is another remarkable concept, which won an award in 2007. Withdrawing PET water bottles from the recycling cycle as necessary, they are then transported into an area of conflict where they are expediently used as structural elements for different purposes than they were originally intended. This is a concept that is not founded on trailblazing research results, but that is so convincing by its very simplicity and pragmatic approach. Despite that, or actually because of it, it is supremely innovative and creative.
It is therefore not necessarily the desperate attempt to create something completely new that produces excellent results. But, normally, there is a smart mind behind the excellent results. Someone who is still accustomed to thinking against the tide and who knows how to look at existing things from a different angle. A smart mind capable of imagining the new and who spies things the rest of us don’t see.