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"Creativity Without Frontiers" at the University of Leeds

Updated: Apr 29, 2022

Talk about creativity, innovation, and leadership

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."

Graphic Designer Malcolm Garrett

"The bottom line is empathy," Malcolm continued. "I've come to understand that what I do is actually never really my work. If you are designing, you are by default trying to convey something for somebody else, to somebody else, by conveying the information that belongs to that environment, to the people that need to experience it. Communication just has to work without thought. For example, what do you see when you think about Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon? Light refracting from a triangular prism across a black background. That visual icon and the record The Dark Side of the Moon are inextricably linked and have thus become synonymous, and that's what a good designer does. They don't just draw a triangle with light rays that go through it—they create a sense of comprehension that transcends the imagery."

My approach blends the art and science of the creative process. It is constant and iterative, and the alchemy happens in the execution:

DREAM, MAKE and DO. The process is iterative and constant, and customizable per craft, situation, and opportunity.

DREAM Apply divergent thinking to dream without frontiers to find the breakthrough ideas by envisioning the desired outcome

MAKE Adopt a do-it-yourself sensibility using convergent thinking to review and select the best ideas and then rapidly prototype and construct the plan to bring it to life

DO Review the solution to identify improvements, make eliminations, fine-tune, remove obstacles, mitigate risks, and bring it to life with the audience and markets, whether the answer is a new business, brand campaign, a physical product, an industrial design, a graphic design, song, film, story or painting.

10. It is all about Attitude, Imagination, and Execution

The manifesto for creativity is:


If your efforts are met with ridicule, all you have to do is find your inner conviction that you are doing the right thing, navigating toward invisible horizons by anticipating future trends inspired by culture and aesthetics to drive sustained discovery, invention, and innovation. It's a sure sign that what you do is bold and innovative if you're dancing to your own drumbeat. Pay no mind to ridicule.


Dream, make and do. Be in the moment. Push forward for the greater good with true grit. Conformity never leads to progress. If you have something authentically different to offer, you'll excite and inspire others and ultimately thrive by lighting the way to the future.


Fearlessly lead by example and win the crowd by navigating territory where no one else has ventured. Avoid the mainstream and work to develop a deeper relationship between yourself and your audience. Be authentic, live in the moment with conviction and confidence, and always stay true to yourself.


Reject conventions, constantly analyze, and question and challenge the status quo in your everyday life. Provide an alternative and bring it to life. People who achieve greatness do not fit a formula or follow a structure. They break the mold by following their own path.


Pablo Picasso believed all children are artists, but they lose their creativity when they grow up. Grow into, not out of, creativity. Don't give up the dreams of your childhood and your approach to the world through a child's eyes. Learn, innovate, and never waste a second on anything that seems to restrict you.

Now is the time for you to define and bring to life your own authentic manifesto. The defining question is a stalemate: should you be acceptable to others or to yourself? Learn how to reject conventional perceptions and the restrictions imposed on you by unlocking your true creative potential. Set yourself free by finding your unique philosophy and authentic self with a deep search into your most personal space: the bedroom of your mind's landscape, where your most primitive art originated with its tail trapped in the door desperately trying to get out like a tortured spirit crushed in the red light of life. Then get ready to redefine your future.


Learn more about how to create without frontiers by unleashing the creative power within us.

Buy now: "Creativity Without Frontiers"

Buy the book at Amazon Barnes & Noble Google Kobo


Roy Sharples

Founder and CEO of Unknown Origins, a creative studio on a mission to save the world from unoriginality by unleashing the power of creativity. Author of "Creativity Without Frontiers: How to make the invisible visible by lighting the way into the future."

Photo @ Brain Smale.


Dr. John Rooney

John is a Senior Teaching Fellow in Graphic Design and Visual Communication at the University of Leeds.

Previously ran his own design consultancy that included a 12-year creative commission with Tate Gallery Liverpool. He worked with the curators to produce award-winning art books, exhibition newsletters, international gallery and artist advertising campaigns, web design work, and motion graphic projects.

Ben Bradley

Ben is a Senior Teaching Fellow and Programme Leader of the BA (Hons) Graphic and Communication Design. He is currently engaged in practice-led research on the notion of originality in graphic design.

Attitude. Imagination. Execution.

Unknown Origins. All rights reserved © copyright 2021

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