67.4 November 2020

Identifying Dimensions of Artistic Creativity in Technical Communication

During a recent panel we presented at the 2019 Council for Programs in Technical and Scientific Communication conference (Rice-Bailey et al., 2019), we addressed the topic of infusing technical communication pedagogy with artistic creativity through interdisciplinary partnerships. After our presentation, we had further conversations with colleagues about additional ways technical communication practitioners and educators included artistic creativity in the workplace and classroom. The result of these conversations led to the special issue that you are now reading.


While there is no codified definition of artistic creativity in the field of technical communication or related disciplines, a pair of psychology researchers (Ivcevic & Mayer, 2009) who published in the Creativity Research Journal have identified the following five content areas of artistic creativity: visual arts, music, dance, theater, and writing. Our definition of artistic creativity builds on this list and includes the definition of the arts as provided by the U.S. Code, which is often used in policymaking, including funding for the National Endowment for the Arts:

The term “the arts” includes, but is not limited to, music (instrumental and vocal), dance, drama, folk art, creative writing, architecture and allied fields, painting, sculpture, photography, graphic and craft arts, industrial design, costume and fashion design, motion pictures, television, radio, film, video, tape and sound recording, the arts related to the presentation, performance, execution, and exhibition of such major art forms, all those traditional arts practiced by the diverse peoples of this country. [sic] and the study and application of the arts to the human environment.


The fine arts disciplines have been shown to partner well with industry to allow practitioners to enhance the technical and interpersonal skills necessary to their success. An example of such an interdisciplinary partnership is the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, which, in 2017, partnered with Chicago’s Second City comedy theater to teach improvisation to its MBA students. The partnership was forged to enhance these students’ communication, collaboration, and wellbeing through the theatrical genre of improvisational comedy (The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, 2017). Successful companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook have been cited as incorporating elements of the arts, performance, and/or play into their corporate environments. For instance, Google designed Broadway-themed conference rooms and workstations to look like giant Tinker Toys (Stewart, 2013). Coleman (2016) explained that organizations that “foster a workplace culture of creativity are likely to have happy, motivated employees who are more loyal and more productive.” Furthermore, a study (Robert & da Motta Veiga, 2017) published in the International Journal of Humor shows a positive correlation between conversational humor and job satisfaction, which supports the argument that managers should allow or encourage humor in the workplace.

Artistic creativity also fits well in the technical communication classroom. Pedagogy associated with artistic creativity offers instructors a new lens through which to approach technical communication curricula and improves student engagement. In the last five decades, technical communication scholars have been participating in conversations about infusing technical communication with artistic creativity. Topics that have been examined include art and film music (Richards, 2009), beauty/makeup (Chong, 2018; Ledbetter, 2018), cinema/film/screenwriting (e.g., Daffer, 1970; Gillette, 2005; Shelton, 1993), classical art forms (Laplante & Flaxman, 1995), humor and comics (Cohen, 1992; Cooper, 1996; Weal, 1986; Yu, 2015), improvisational theater (Rice-Bailey, 2020), music (e.g., Girill, 1989; Nelson, 1989; Wiley, 1993), poetry (Welch, 2010), and storyboarding (Balzotti, 2016; Kody, 1992; Larkin, 1996).

Because of such recent interdisciplinary collaborations, this special issue (re)examines how technical communication researchers and practitioners are using artistic creativity in the classroom and workplace. More specifically, we asked the question: What does artistic creativity look like in contemporary technical communication instruction and practice?


The articles in this special issue illustrate a range of methods for examining the intersections between beauty, creativity, and technical communication and developing or implementing artistic creativity in instruction and practice. On the surface, practices such as storyboarding and creating personas may not appear to be relevant to artistic creativity. However, when we examine these common classroom and workplace practices through the lens of art and creativity, we are presented with a unique way of (re)considering our technical communication practices and pedagogy.

Kostlenick’s article highlights cultural influences on both the visual arts and on technical communication. His comprehensive examination describes artifacts from the 16th to the 21st centuries and discusses how ancient and modern aesthetic theory contribute to the definition of beauty. Kostlenick explains that research and usability studies provide evidence for the functional value of aesthetics, and he examines the relationship among the Design Methods Movement, the design process, and the nature of creativity. As Kostlenick notes, “The pursuit of beauty continues today in practical communications through the deployment of culturally-based conventions and design principles associated with beauty.”

Like Kostlenick, Hardesty and Hollinger seek the pairing of technical and scientific fields with beauty, art, and creativity. They advocate for the field of technical communication to embrace “creativity” and “beauty” as key terms, and note that the result of this could “lead students and practitioners to reframe both themselves and the work they do as technical communicators to embrace the beauty in the processes and products of technical communication.” Their piece examines classroom and workplace practices from both technical communication literature and their own experience, such as essentializing and sketchnoting, infographics and data visualization, beautifying text, film, and storytelling. They provide insight into the benefits of using creative approaches to help students and practitioners think more intentionally about audience, purpose, and visual elements in technical communication.

In their article on the relationship between user personas and creativity, Lanius, Weber, Spiegle, Robinson, and Potts weigh in on the debate regarding the usefulness of personas. Looking specifically for a link between creativity and personas, these authors adapted a drawing test from the field of psychology with students from across several disciplines. In this experiment, the authors asked participants to draw aliens, and the authors then rated these drawings (using an established set of criteria) for level of creativity. Of the over 150 student participants, only some were instructed to draw for a particular persona. Results of this experiment call into question some of the beliefs about the benefits of using personas in the classroom and the workplace.

Finally, in Kungl, Hargrove, and Hargrove’s case study, the authors illustrate how a publishing company used traditional technical communication techniques along with creative writing, graphic design, photography, and illustrating to refine its core values statement. These authors assert “writing a set of core values should do more than check off a box under ‘good business practice.’” They go on to detail the production of high-quality artifacts in a case that was successful because the organization used “technical writing to provide information and the fine arts to drive emotional impact.”

The articles presented in this special issue serve as an introduction to infusing technical communication practice and pedagogy with artistic creativity. Our hope is that these articles encourage you to (re)examine your own work (whether it be in the workplace or in the classroom) through the lens of artistic creativity. Perhaps you, too, will find unique opportunities to incorporate artistic creativity into this work.


Balzotti, J. (2016). Storyboarding for invention: Layering modes for more effective transfer in a multimodal composition classroom. Journal of Basic Writing, 35(1), 63–84.

Chong, F. (2018). YouTube beauty tutorials as technical communication. Technical Communication, 65(3), 293–308.

Cohen, G. (1992). Humarize to humanize. Technical Communication, 39(3), 468–469.

Cooper, M. (1996). The postmodern space of operator’s manuals. Technical Communication Quarterly, 5(4), 385–410.

Coleman, A. (2016, February 11). Is Google’s model of the creative workplace the future of the office? The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/careers/2016/feb/11/is-googles-model-of-the-creative-workplace-the-future-of-the-office

Daffer, H. (1970). Anatomy of an industrial motion picture. Technical Communication, 17(4), 6–10.

Gillette, D. (2005). Looking to cinema for direction: Incorporating motion into on-screen presentations of technical information. Technical Communication, 52(2), 138–155.

Girill, T. (1989). Technical communication and music. Technical Communication, 36(4), 424.

Ivcevic, Z., & Mayer, J. (2009). Mapping dimensions of creativity in the life-space. Creativity Research Journal, 21(2–3), 152–165. https://doi.org/10.1080 /10400410902855259

Kody, K. (1992). Storyboarding as a basis for collaboration. Technical Communication, 39(1), 83.

Laplante, P., & Flaxman, H. (1995). The convergence of technology and creativity in the corporate environment. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 38(1), 20.

Larkin, G. (1996). Storyboarding: A concrete way to generate effective visuals. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 26(3), 273–289.

Ledbetter, L. (2018). The rhetorical work of YouTube’s beauty community: Relationship- and identity-building in user-created procedural discourse. Technical Communication Quarterly, 27(4), 287–299. https://doi.org/10.1080/10572252.2018.1518950

Nelson, R. (1989). Clues for technical writers from Bernstein on Beethoven. Technical Communication, 36(4), 429.

Rice-Bailey, T., Chong, F., & Baker, K. (2019). Infusing TC pedagogy with artistic creativity through interdisciplinary partnerships. Proceedings for 2019 Council for Programs in Technical and Scientific Communication Annual Conference. West Chester University, West Chester, PA.

Rice-Bailey, T. (2020). The benefits of improvisational games in the TC Classroom. Technical Communication Quarterly. https://doi.org/10.1080/10572252.2020.1754466

Richards, A. R. (2009). Music, transtextuality, and the World Wide Web. Technical Communication Quarterly, 18(2), 188–209. http://doi.org/10.1080/10572250802708337

Robert, C., & da Motta Veiga, S. P. (2017). Conversational humor and job satisfaction at work: Exploring the role of humor production, appreciation, and positive affect. Humor, 30(4), 417–438. https://doi.org/10.1515/humor-2017-0034

Shelton, S. (1993). Script design for information film and video. Technical Communication, 40(4), 655–663.

Stewart, J. B. (2013, March 15). Looking for a lesson in Google’s perks. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/16/business/at-google-a-place-to-work-and-play.html

The University of Chicago Booth School of Business (2017, January 31). New partnership with Second City Works and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business to study how improvisation can promote better workplace dynamics. https://newschicagobooth.uchicago.edu/newsroom/new-partnership-second-city-works-and-university-chicago-booth-school-business-study-how

United States Code. Section 20, Chapter 26. http://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?req=(title:20%20section:952%20edition:prelim)%20OR%20(granuleid:USC-prelim-title20-section952)&f=treesort&edition=prelim&num=0&jumpTo=true#952_1_target

Weal, E. (1986). In defiance of humorless manuals. Technical Communication, 33(3), 184.

Welch, K. (2010). Poetry, visual design, and the how-to manual: Creativity in the teaching of technical writing. English Journal, 99(4), 37–42.

Wiley, A. (1993). The paradigm of jazz. Technical Communication, 40(2), 332–333.

Yu, H. (2015). The other kind of funnies: Comics in technical communication. Routledge.


Felicia Chong is Associate Professor of Writing and Rhetoric at Oakland University in Rochester, MI. Her research interests include usability and program recruitment. Her work has appeared in Technical Communication Quarterly, Technical Communication, Programmatic Perspectives, and IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication. She is available at fchong@oakland.edu.

Tammy Rice-Bailey is Associate Professor of Technical Communication and User Experience at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, where she is the Coordinator of the TC Minor. Her research interests are remote, distributed workforces; collaboration; and using improvisation in the TC classroom. Her work has been published in Technical Communication Quarterly, Technical Communication, and the Journal of Technical Writing and Communication. She is available at rice-bailey@msoe.edu.