Creativity and the North

Updated: Nov 14

Talk at the University of Leeds

Roy Sharples provides perspective about creativity in design and communication by bringing interdisciplinary expertise covering typography, information design, digital media, photography, and other graphic and communication design areas to the School of Design faculty and students at the University of Leeds, which is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK

Senior teaching fellow in Graphic and Communication, Dr. John Rooney, and Senior teaching fellow Ben Bradley hosted the talk.

Captured within the talk, and summary below.

1. Creativity is the ability to make the invisible Visible

Creativity is the ability to make the invisible visible by taking what is not to create what is. It manifests what is inside you and around you by transcending the obvious, ordinary, and routine. It connects the past to the present by putting things together in new ways. Creativity is the belief in yourself and your ideas, always moving forward and never giving up.

2. Popular Culture Reflects Time

We all exist in time, progressing from the past into the future, moving in one direction. Design influences society by communicating through visual, word, and sonic, changing opinions, instilling values, and translating experiences to people across space and time. It is an expression of the soul that experiences ideas and provides us with purpose and meaning.

Design is a vehicle for time and social change that interconnects society, entertainment, politics, fashion, and technology, which translates into popular culture—practices, beliefs, and rituals prevalent in society at any given point in time.

Popular culture ignites societal change through a standard set of practices, beliefs, and objects that encompass a shared meaning and social system that affects every aspect of life: art, design, music, film, fashion, television, literature, comics, brands, advertising, marketing, language, photography, politics, sports, food, how people look, talk, and act, and how these cultural products are branded, packaged, marketed to, and consumed by us.

Popular culture expresses society's shared experiences and functions through entertainment, fashion, politics, and technology. As soon as we enter the planet, we are immersed in popular culture influencing us through the toys and games we play with, media programs we watch, brands, advertisements, and products we consume, the music we listen to, the art we make, books and comics we read, and the clothes we wear.

This reflects the moment in time, life in motion, and contributes to society's evolution by teaching us something new. It challenges us to critically consider the society we live in and empathize by recognizing ourselves in each other and bridging our differences through providing us with a similarity of spirit and sense of community.

My earliest impressions were confectionary packaging, record sleeves, film posters, commercial advertisements, brands and logos, public signage, car design, then as I got older, graphical user interface design on the Atari, Sinclair, and Commodore gaming and computers.

These things stick with you and come out in peculiar ways and across different touch points throughout life!

While time is constant, events can be cyclical within time, regurgitating the past within the present. For example, the children of the 1970s were born to baby boomers, leading to their influence in specific product lines; fashion, music, art, cartoons, video games, toys, and the like. These children grew up, entered the workforce, and became creators, infusing their creations with the qualities they loved. Similarly, adaptations in literature can reflect the culture and society of the period and help shape the future's learnings and culture.

3. Metropolis inspire people to dream, make, and do

Metropolises inspire creativity as a space for social integration, dreaming, making, and doing, where citizens can realize their full potential to live more enriched, fulfilled, and happy lives. Combined with the chemistry of individual human ingenuity, creative breakthroughs are a human process that happens when a diverse community of like-minded, purpose-led, and mission-driven creative people comes together.

4. Societies are a catalyst for creating influential art and socio-cultural movements

This can be seen from the Ancient Egyptian Memphis, Classical Athens, and Renaissance Florence to the French Revolution and Romanticism in Paris, to postwar New York and London. Historically, industrial cities like Detroit, Glasgow, and Manchester have an engrained maker and doer ethos, and port towns such as Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Dublin, and Liverpool have a constant exchange, diversity of people, and international trade. The modern-day digital revolution was born in Silicon Valley within the San Francisco Bay Area of California, with its burgeoning start-up and global technology innovation scene and its culture of openness and the free exchange of ideas.

5. A Creative society is where people feel autonomous and free to express themselves

Society shapes who we are, just as our personal and collective identities shape society and future generations. People in teams and communities have a sense of belonging, which shapes our self-image by influencing how we see ourselves, interact with others, and respond to situations by trying new ideas, experimenting with new ways of thinking, and problem-solving.

6. Architecture and design influence how people feel, think, and behave

Setting the right conditions, atmosphere, and environment encourages creativity, art, and beauty that people adapt and react to and reflect in their life and work.


Music venues like the Cavern Club in Liverpool became an epicenter for Merseybeat in the 1960s. The Troubadour in Los Angeles for folk music in the 1960s and 1970s. CBGB in New York City and the 100 Club in London for punk in the 1970s. The Wigan Casino for northern soul in the 1970s. In Manchester, the Haçienda nightclub for acid house, rave music, and the "Madchester" scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s. These venues became synonymous with the music they hosted. A sanctuary where music, fashion, and culture came together where like-minded people could self-identify and feel liberated.

7. Nurture people to create without fear

If you are wondering how this all fits in with business, it is a logical progression. as the purpose of organizational development is to provide leading-edge thinking, practice, and programs. You cannot curate a culture of creativity by subscribing to it or buying it from a shelf because it is a social system about values, skills, craftsmanship, and a way of doing that needs to be embraced and practiced throughout an organization to nurture people to create without fear.

9. Magic takes planning

The creative process is about making new connections between past and present ideas, and infusing economic, political, sociocultural, and technological perspectives in parallel to produce new business models, products, services, or experiences.

The steps in the process involve discovering and developing insights, applying divergent thinking to analyze a problem, generating and evaluating ideas that can become concepts, experimenting, prototyping, constructing, and making a plan of action, then bringing it to form to life!

How do we find creativity? Do we simply dream up ideas from within ourselves, what we manifest from what we observe and the world we live in? Do ideas fall from the sky and gravitate toward us?

Every creative will tell you there is no on or off button for creativity. However, their magic can take planning. Here are examples from the research I did across hundreds of creators in the creative industry to understand what makes the creative mind tick.

Content marketer and CEO of creative agency and production studio Feel Media Jonathan Keith says, "the creative process is not something that you turn on or off; it is always on. We are surrounded by inspiring and interesting stories in our everyday lives. As humans, we have a primal sense and antenna to self-navigate and orientate."

Photographer Jill Furmanovsky

"It is magical, mysterious, and difficult to define. It's largely instinctive where it feels like you are magnetically drawn toward specific things and repelled by others. There is communication between yourself, the camera, and the object. You have to clear your head to see with clarity."