As a creative professional, do you think empathy is important in engaging yourself and your audience effectively?
As a client, is that something you’d be looking for in a creative?
Here’s what I found out when I was challenged by my business partner to do a mini-project that forced me out of my comfort zone and into waters I never thought I’d dive into again.
Just before the historic victory of the English national team at the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022, Jeff West set me a challenge: create an illustration to celebrate the team on our social media channels.
Now, I have to admit: football and I have had an uneasy history. I was the artsy effeminate kid growing up surrounded by sporty males who LOVED football. For me, football was the most exclusionary sport. It thrived on aggression and machismo, which made it feel very unsafe for me as a pint-sized queer kid. All that shouting, violence and crowds didn’t agree with my introversion either, so as soon as was old enough to exercise my will against being dragged to football matches or being forced to watch them on TV, the sport and I went our separate ways.
But I do so love a challenge! And despite appearances, this particular challenge had all the hallmarks of femininity, empowerment and historicity which are essential aspects of my brand.
Research to the rescue
I let it rest in the back of my mind for a couple of days while I got on with other things. My subconscious will usually work on an idea in the background and present me with a solution after I’ve had some rest. This has now become part of my process.
Yet there was nothing. And I was getting antsy.
I started researching and sketching. I found out about Alessia Russo’s backheel goal which blew everyone’s mind with its casual brilliance. I followed that idea up for a bit but I couldn’t find an efficient way to represent it. Then I came across Russo’s celebratory run which led me into making sketches about movement and dynamism, concepts becoming ever more central in my work. But I couldn’t connect strongly enough with that either.
So I started focussing my attention on a symbol that could help me connect with the team, the event and the concept. It dawned on me the team are called Lionesses and their logo consists of three blue lions on a white heraldic shield surrounded by red Tudor roses.
It was exactly what I was looking for.
I started playing with the concept of the lioness as a spirit animal, as a force of impact. It blew the whole thing wide open and I finally had the emotional connection I needed to tell this story.
Empathy does it
Communication is an act of empathy. We have to understand our customer’s point of view in order to be able to do a good job for them. As creatives, we understand that in order to tell a story in a successful way (whether the medium is an illustration, a visual artwork, a piece of text, a video, a book cover or anything else) we have to engage our understanding of the narrative and on top of that the feelings of everyone involved – the customer, the audience and ourselves.
If I’m immersed and emotionally engaged with the work, the results will have more chances of engaging the customer and the audience as well. If I’m just going through the motions, then the work itself will probably come across as dry and mechanical. And so the key that unlocks engagement always comes down to finding that vehicle which allows empathy to become passion and flow out as creativity and conversation.
A worthwhile exercise
By no means were the Lionesses a client of ours, we can only dream at this point. But it was important for me as an artist to engage in this challenge because it required that I set my personal biases and childhood traumas aside, and find an angle that would allow me to exercise my empathy in order to create passionately. It’s the difference between being fully present as a professional and being a cog.
How about you? How do you keep yourself present and engaged with your work? What kind of things do you look for in a creative? Please comment below.