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Business Needs Drive Creativity: Presenting at UW Whitewater

Student Organization for Web Design
Student Organization for Web Design

Excitement About the Future

Following the great experience I had with my colleague Matt Koeppel at the first-ever UWW Hackathon (you can read my blog entry about it here), it was my hope that Ocreative Design Studio could continue to be involved with students at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater (henceforth referred to as UWW for brevity). While it seems another Hackathon is all but inevitable considering the success of the first, Matt and I did not have to wait until the next Hackathon to return to UWW.

A Door Opens

Shortly after attending the Hackathon, the Student Organization for Web Design (SOWD), approached me with the idea of having Ocreative Design Studio come to a meeting and give a presentation. I was immediately intrigued and excited at the potential opportunity, but I wanted more information about what this organization stood for, and what I could expect from this student organization.

Student Organization for Web Design (SOWD)

Created in the spring of 2010, SOWD is the braindchild of UWW student Eleanor Jacobson. She created SOWD to be a professional organization where members interested in web site design and development could come for fun, informative sessions, and interesting events. From this description, the organization sounded exactly like the type of student organization Ocreative Design Studio would like to present to. Moreover, it sounded exactly like the type of student organization I would have loved to have been part of when I was attending UW-Whitewater.


From the moment that we decided to do this presentation for SOWD, I challenged myself. I wanted to hold myself to the standard of making this presentation valuable and informative to the students. 

My colleague Matt Koeppel agreed. The presentation had to bring value to students. 

Unfortunately, the mere act of agreeing on that point didn't really get us too far in preparation. No, we still had some big hurdles. One of them was selecting topics to speak on.

Selecting Relevant Topics

I can remember being underwhelmed by many presentations made by companies to student organizations I was involved in when I was in college. I clearly recall that many presentations seemed to be mostly about self-promotion for a particular company. In fact, I sometimes got the impression that the only reason the presenters came at all was to meet potential recruits. 

While I can appreciate and understand that recruiting is part of the reason to do a presentation, as a former student, I couldn't, in good conscience, make that a primary goal of our presentation. I always felt that those types of presentations left me feeling a bit cynical considering there was such an obvious attempt to sell the company’s merits.

That isn’t really our style at Ocreative.

Answering Some Questions by ... Asking Questions

The answer to the question of topic came about rather by accident. I was talking with friend and UWW Hackathon organizer, Jonathan Stassen, about what topics would interest students. 

It suddenly occurred to me that to answer this question, I'd have to remember back to what would have brought me value back in college. With that in mind, I determined the goal of the presentation would be to answer the following two questions:

  1. What do I know now about the industry and business world that I wish I had known when I was in school?

  2. How does what I learned in college compare with what I will need to know in the real world?


Using those two questions as a framework to form our presentation's foundation, we moved forward. 

We wanted to give students a taste of what it’s like to work at a small creative agency like Ocreative by explaining our internal processes. So we did so.

We also wanted to give students a glimpse at how the academic environment compares to the business / professional environment. To achieve this, we gave scenarios to explain concepts and processes.

A key focus of our presentation became showing students the difference between the academic environment versus the professional / business environment.

That is, at least how the professional / business environment is viewed through our lenses at Ocreative. While we don't claim to be a microcosm of the macro business environment, we do know what works for us specifically.

One comparison we presented was on the subject of coding style.

An Example: Coding Style

In the academic environment, object-oriented style always seems to be emphasized. When I was in school, it was a pretty clear bet that every programming class I took would emphasize this. 

So the question posed was this: is this the reality in the professional environment? 

The answer we gave?  It isn't straight forward, and it depends on a lot of factors. 

A Litany of Factors

From project size, to project scope, to project goals, to business goals, there are a lot of things that play into whether a firm will use an object-oriented style of code or fall back to a classic, procedural style. In our view, at least.

At Ocreative, our decisions are typically based upon looking at things from an efficiency standpoint rather than what creates the most “beautiful” code. This in and of itself is a difference between the academic environment versus the professional environment. It's an entirely different mentality and we're asking an entirely different question to arrive at a decision versus the academic environment.

In the end, we're mostly concerned with how quickly we can turn a project, how re-usable the code is, and whether the code is something we can maintain moving forward. Sometimes that means using procedural code. Sometimes that means using object-oriented code. So, ultimately, this ends up being a case where we can use the classic consultant answer: “It depends." 

A Broader Perspective

Another goal of the presentation was to give students a glimpse of not only specific concepts, but also the bigger picture. The 1,000 foot view, if you will. So what is the key driver to successful decision making then?

In my view, it comes down to asking a simple, yet immensely powerful question: "What is the business need?" 

If you find this question to be of value to you, you can actually thank Sara Deschner, an instructor at UW-Whitewater. She’s the one who introduced me to this idea, and I must say it comes in handy quite often. It seems so obvious, but it's so often overlooked. If you’re a student studying at UW-Whitewater, interested in technology, and have the opportunity to take a class with Sara, do so. It’ll be well worth your time.

By relying on this question to determine what direction to take a project, the implication is that the business goals and needs should drive the decision of what coding style the project should be - moreso than even a programmer's preference (within reason: the programmer has to know the language otherwise that is irrelevant). 

Of course, this isn't to say that there are not other things to consider here as well, but the point is that when you're working in a business environment, the business needs should drive the project – not necessarily the programmer’s preference.

Paradigm Shift

Admittedly, that is not always an easy paradigm to follow as a programmer. Or as a designer. Or as a marketer. Or as a computer geek. But such is the reality of working in a business. Business comes first. At least if you want to stay in business.

If you’re having trouble digesting that, consider this fact that I remind myself of quite often:

I love working at Oreative Design Studio, and I want Ocreative to be around for a long time.

Now apply yourself to this situation. If you end up working somewhere, and you love where you work, applying a business-first mentality will help ensure that you’re making logical decisions based upon the business needs instead of personal agendas, emotions, or preferences. In turn, this will contribute to ensuring that the company you work for is solvent.

This isn’t to say that the business needs should quench your passion. In fact, it should be just the opposite. I’ve found at Ocreative that the more clear our business processes, goals, and needs are defined, the more free we are to be creative. 

A Paradox

That's the paradox of putting business first: we've found that business needs actually DRIVE creativity. You read that correctly. It doesn’t seem logical, but it seems that when the business is running smoothly and efficiently, your creativity and skills will take care of the rest.

If that doesn’t excite you, and it isn't enough of a reason to consider business needs before making a decision, I don't know what is.

Your Findings

I'm interested in hearing what your views are on this subject. These are some ideas I have, but maybe there is something I have not considered.

Do you feel that putting business needs ahead of the creative process, and allowing business needs to drive decision making, is a good idea?  Why or why not?

I await your responses!

TAGS     creative business needs,  programming,  hackathon,  student organization for web design,  sowd,  web design,  web programming,  creative agency best practices,  uw-whitewater,  sara deschner
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