Dyslexia, Creativity and Me

Are we doing enough to unlock everyone's unique superpower?

It's ironic that the creative industry is generally rubbish at making space for people who think and work differently. Isn't design, branding and advertising built on maverick thinking, outliers and weirdos?

I believe it takes a true diversity to make great work these days. Not just gender and ethnicity, but a diversity of backgrounds, abilities, life experiences and thinking. When unique and brilliant minds, hearts and skills come together around a brief, they can create something richer and more powerful.

But are we doing enough to create workplaces and ways of working that unlock everyone's unique superpowers? The last two years have been an amazing live experiment in ripping up the old normal. Are we now in danger of aimlessly coasting back to workplaces and ways of working we had before—approaches that didn't work well in the first place?

Try to imagine thinking while something distracts you every 5 seconds …
Try to imagine reading while words and sentences dance around …
Try to imagine writing when the words you see don't look like the words you hear …

That's the reality of dyslexia, something I have worked around for my whole career.

Dyslexia, so often misunderstood to mean "can't spell," has a wide variety of impacts. For me, as well as my spelling it effects my choice of words, meaning I can end up using the wrong words in context. This is something people like to correct me on. Tip, don't. Not only is it rude, it makes you feel like shit having your flaws constantly pointed out.

Two of my biggest challenges are articulation and concentration. (Not ideal when your role is storytelling, learning teams, solving problems.) I'm slow at reading because, crazy as it sounds, I don't always see the words written down in front of me. I get frustrated when writing because I can't articulate what is in my head and I struggle to concentrate.

I hear fine, but my brain is wired in a way that it jumbles up the words and information I hear. This affects how I pronounce some words, which when I need to articulate myself is a real bitch. I can't always get out what is in my head; it's like there is a break or a blockage. The slightest visual or audio distraction will break my focus, which is a nightmare when you work in a noisy open-plan studio.

Even now, this piece has been crafted with the help of my husband, who translates my thoughts into writing. I've come to appreciate that I need help in articulating the ideas I have, and I am lucky to have a translator.

Still think it's a spelling problem?

The 10,000-hour rule doesn't apply to dyslexia, believe me. In fact, the very word dyslexia is like a cruel joke.

Despite the challenges, I have come to value my dyslexia. In fact, it's my superpower.

I process information differently, so I visualize things more easily than others. My brain makes unexpected connections. I value emotions and ideas you can explain simply. Because of this, dyslexics are perfectly suited to creativity. Yet I don't think dyslexia—as with so many other neuro, social, economic factors—is taken seriously enough in the workplace.

Diversity is a hot topic right now: Everybody wants to be seen to be taking it seriously. But what are studios actually doing to change the way they work to make space for more diverse ways of working? More consideration is needed to support not just individuals with dyslexia but people with all varieties of diversity.

I'm not qualified to tackle other challenges, but for anyone interested in how to make their work environment work for dyslexics, below are a few tips:

  • Reading is slower for dyslexics. Give them longer to read briefs and simplify them to their essence. Be aware of information overload; try to avoid lengthy emails. I have to read things three or four times to absorb the information.
  • Distraction is a big problem. Open-plan studios look great, but they are almost perfectly designed to create constant audio and visual distractions. Build in quiet spaces for those who need that space. 
  • Help individuals by partnering them with people who can get the best out of them. Let them talk, while someone else helps write.

If we want to create truly diverse companies, we need to support people with all types of diversity to thrive. We need to reframe being in or out of the studio to build a different way of working. We need to rethink collaboration, too—helping individuals by partnering them with people who can get the best out of them.

The new normal is: There is no normal. By embracing this, we can create places where people can truly work the way they need to so they can unlock their superpowers.

Thanks to Pip Jamieson, who gave me the courage to own my dyslexia, and to Andy Harvey, my constant collaborator on creative thinking.

Profile picture for user Emma Barratt
Emma Barratt
Emma Barratt is global executive creative director at Wolff Olins.

Advertise With Us

Featured Clio Award Winner



The best in creativity delivered to your inbox every morning.