The life of a Creative Director – in the age of data and AI

Data and AI are becoming more vital to the role of the Creative Director. Datasine sits down with Alex Colley, Creative Director of ikon, to find out more about the impact tech is having.

“The more data you have, the more informed your decisions can be, the more you minimise the guesswork

Once upon a time, the idea of data informing creativity would be laughable. 

But, during the last decade as data-driven practices spread like wildfire, touching every industry from pharma to marketing, it became increasingly apparent that future-facing creative agencies need to get on board, too.  

This growing requirement for data-driven approaches in the creative industry became particularly apparent when, in 2016, ad agency McCann unveiled the world’s first AI Creative Director, a bot called AI-CD β.  

Clearly the relationship between data (and AI) and creativity is changing, as it becomes more and more apparent that – rather than being the polar opposites we once assumed – data and creativity can work intimately together, with provable results. 

But, what does this new world look like? And how can Creative Directors adapt to the ‘new normal’?

Alex Colley, Creative Director of ikon

I spoke with Alex Colley, Creative Director of ikon, to find out a bit more about his day-to-day and how tech, especially data and AI, are shaking up the game.  

Tell us a bit about yourself and your work at ikon

I am the Creative Director of ikon, a boutique branding agency based in London. We work with startups through to global brands like Westfield, Porsche, Oakley and F1. 

ikon work with startups through to global brands like Westfield, Porsche, Oakley and F1

We are also embracing a relatively new agency model with a small core team which extends to suit the client and the project. Remaining small, personal and agile means we can be more responsive as we know it’s a common complaint about bigger agencies. 

How has tech changed the way you conduct business in the last decade?

Technology has allowed us to work in a much more collaborative way and we can work with a client anywhere in the world. It’s the only time in history this way of working has been made possible, so it’s exciting what will be possible in the future creatively and even how people work together. Especially how AI integrates into all this.

Last December we shut for six weeks and I took my family traveling through Thailand and Vietnam which I would love to do more of. I even saw one small agency move their team to work from Portugal for a week or two, so the idea of working from new locations regularly would be amazing. 

People are embracing new technology and breaking the old rules to make work more interesting and fit around their lifestyle. I am a big advocate of giving people autonomy and letting them work when they are most productive.

What does your day-to-day look like?

My day-to-day is always so varied and that’s why I love my job so much. In 2019, I worked a lot on strategy and the future direction of the business. A big part of that is increasing our marketing efforts mainly producing more written content to attract more new clients


That means I have been doing a lot more writing which is helping me communicate my ideas but also understand what makes good copy when I work with copywriters. 

I think a lot of businesses put too much emphasis on the visual identity, not the verbal and that’s why a lot of marketing is ignored. 

As a Creative Director, what tools could you not live without?

The main tool has to be the Adobe Suite. What I love most is creating new identities and bringing them to life across print and digital and Adobe gives you all the tools to create. 

“Anything to expand your mind and not add another task to your day is beneficial in my eyes”

Next would definitely be an iMac as designing on a laptop is not for me. 

The last thing that has revolutionised my learning is a portable speaker and a subscription to audible and I would recommend it to anyone as you can listen doing the things you would in your normal routine. Anything to expand your mind and not add another task to your day is beneficial in my eyes.

Can you explain your creative process to us?

It’s more of an iterative process with a more personal approach to working with clients where they are heavily involved in talking through design decisions and why we are making them. When I used to work in agencies, you used to see two thirds of your work go in the bin as you would work up 3 complete routes and I always used to think: “What a waste”. 

We are evolving to offer more of a strategic approach to branding so there is less waste. Our strength lies in helping businesses distill what makes them exceptional and really working on what their differentiators are. This allows them to communicate clearly and more consistently in a visually appealing way.

How has the ‘data boom’ changed your day-to-day?

It’s starting to affect us a lot more. 

We use software to track our Google search rankings to understand key opportunities to rank higher or what keywords to go after next to give the quickest return. 

Using social scheduling tools with analytics is key to maximising engagement and understanding what is working and isn’t working. We can now reverse engineer a competitor’s website to see what content is successful and how they structure their site to give clues on how we can create new websites.

The more data you have, the more informed your decisions can be, the more you minimise the guesswork.

“Instead of creatives being ‘replaced’, we can use AI as a tool to create a huge range of possibilities in a short space of time”

How do you predict AI will impact industries such as yours? 

It’s early days but creatively, you only have to look at what someone like Rob Del Naja of Massive Attack is doing with AI to have an idea. He designed a painting system that allows a robot arm to draw its own interpretation of Massive Attack’s artwork. 


Massive Attack’s Rob Del Naja has recently been experimenting with AI in his artwork

Instead of creatives being ‘replaced’, we can use AI as a tool to create a huge range of possibilities in a short space of time. Also with a robot’s vast processing power, could they create ideas beyond our thinking or own capability? 

AI will definitely help test things at a faster rate than we could. I have already seen some interesting generative art and typography so we could see more of this. 

With more and more platforms and formats to adapt creative to, tools that could take a piece of creative and deliver options of how that would look across multiple formats could be useful. It can always be finalised with the human touch but could save so much time. I recently saw a program that exports your logo into every format you can imagine rather than doing it manually. It’s these kinds of tasks that will remove the menial tasks and make room for more creativity.


The one area for me that is interesting is the personalisation of written content. It looks like there are sites already suggesting new content based on your reading preferences and then that flows to personalised digests you get emailed. Personalisation can be powerful used in the right way – but we just have to be careful we don’t come across like stalkers! 

What are the limitations of using AI in its current form for creativity? 

I think our jobs are safe for now as the early tests with AI and say producing a logo have produced shockingly bad results! 

“AI will definitely help test things at a faster rate than we could”

It has to be used as a tool to help creativity and not strip creativity away. The bottom end of the market probably needs to be worried as you could probably produce a better result from AI than you can with a really inexperienced designer.

What do creatives need from AI so they can work better together collaboratively?

I am a big fan of automation, especially after reading Tim Ferriss and his 4-hour work week. He takes it to the extreme but the more we automate boring tasks, the more we free up our time to be more creative or spend time thinking about future strategies to grow a business. 

Obviously tools like yours (Datasine Connect, our AI platform which identifies high-performing features within creatives and predicts the conversion rate of content) will become more popular to help decipher all the data on what types of content people respond to.

Can you talk a bit about how essential human connection is in business – and in particular creativity?

It’s why we think our approach to the agency has been successful, it’s built around a personal approach. We don’t want to be a faceless agency. I want to make that human connection with all of our clients and be responsible for making their life easier by solving their problems, delivering creative work to a high standard and contributing to their success. 

“We don’t want to be a faceless agency”

Business really is based on real, human relationships with people that share the same values and if they like you enough you end up working with them. Even creatively, businesses that market themselves to create an emotional connection with their audience will always outperform their competition. Emotion encourages a response.

It’s why we take a strategic approach to branding. Understand your audience, show you understand their problems and communicate back to them clearly and consistently

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