The value of process.

How understanding the creative process can both benefit your relationship with your creative, and your project results.

Collaborating with a creative can be a daunting, and sometimes overly frustrating experience. Especially if you hire one who just isn’t quite delivering. It may be that you are struggling to find a freelancer / creative with the right aesthetic for you – and that’s another story – but sometimes it can be about their process, or lack thereof.

You need someone who has the talent, but, who can also work swiftly, and with total communicative ease, to back that up – creatives who possess all three of these traits, follow a structure known as ‘the creative process’ to deliver to you, brilliant work, that’ll have you doing cartwheels over rooftops.

The value of creative process

So what should follow after you’ve settled on a creative / graphic designer / illustrator? What steps should be taken to achieve that poster or branding update you’re after?

I thought I’d share with you some insight into the process behind responding to a creative brief – hopefully this unveils some of the mystery often shrouding creative projects, if you’re unfamiliar, or, have had previous experiences that have left you running for the hills.

Firstly, it’s important to understand that the role design and illustration plays should not be undervalued as merely making things pretty — good design and illustration connects with it’s audience – by communicating tone and values, creating unique differentiation, it informs, communicates – even contributes to the zeitgeist. These positive effects are the very premise for having a structured creative process – good visuals – backed by a solid process – can achieve your goals. Visual communication should be employed as a strategic advantage, in successfully communicating your identity.

A strategic approach in design, means the designer considers the key objectives of your project. You are ultimately hiring a creative, to solve a problem to achieve the goals you define – what visual communication simplifies down to, is a response to a defined problem: it’s a puzzle to solve.

…What visual communication simplifies down to, is a response to a defined problem: it’s a puzzle to solve.

By defining the problem, be that, getting people to attend your show, or say, needing to update your brand for a new era, there lies a process for solving that puzzle and developing a remarkable response – a response that is meaningful, audience focused and much more likely to achieve the objectives you have in mind.

That process, goes a little something like this:

01. Write a clear and informative design brief that defines your objectives —

The most important tool to creatives, is what’s known as the design brief. A design briefing allows the creative and client to explore and define the project, objectives, success criteria, target audience, competition and the scope of work to be carried out. It works both as direction for the creative, as well as an exercise in alignment of everyone involved in managing the project. A great brief clearly defines the problem and thus helps to avoid frustrating dead–ends or disagreement, further along in the process. It’s important to remember that the more detail and time you place into the brief, the more likely it is your creative will produce work that you’ll be singing praises about.

A great brief clearly defines the problem and thus helps to avoid frustrating dead–ends or disagreement, further along in the process.

{ Recently I wrote an article about the benefits of writing a design brief, that explains this more fully. }

02. Investigate the design problem from all angles —

Creating meaningful design, starts with knowledge. Researching and understanding the factors of a project involves collecting information to better understand your design problem – by collecting all the available pieces, we are more likely equipped in solving the puzzle! This may include interviews / surveys with you and your audience, reviewing processes and existing elements / materials, researching the competition, the current market and culture, an analysis of current and / or potential audiences, and trends in marketing strategy. The more data made available, the better a creative can pinpoint ideas, concepts and restraints to build within.

03. Reflect. Develop concepts with insight and creative gusto! —

In reflecting on the above research findings, ideas are now ready to be developed – from an informed viewpoint – critical to creating visual communication that works. Knowledge is introduced to the most creative of the stages: creatives employ techniques such as brainstorming, metaphors, mind–mapping, visual inspiration / triggers, mood boards and other tools – seriously, my best ideas come to me in the shower! – to push creative thinking into exploring possibilities of the puzzle. Sketching out and experimenting with ideas are then followed by forming a proposed solution(s) and presenting them to you. You’ll know you’ve found a good creative, when they back up their choices by linking back to the design brief and research.

04. Question, refine and implement the design direction —

After having the concept(s) presented to you, it is most often necessary to move forward with choosing a direction and/or refining the work. Don’t panic, if your creative gun doesn’t get there on the first go – there may be a need for several rounds of discussion and refinement. When presenting feedback, it’s best to be guided by the objectives you’ve clearly defined in the design brief. Ask yourself – is the design reflective of the goals and objectives? Does it convey the tone and feel of your values? Does it appeal to the target audience? Don’t be afraid to discuss the issues with your creative – a good one will happily accept constructive criticism, take your feedback on board and be able to guide you to an excellent solution.

Ask yourself – is the design reflective of the goals and objectives? Does it convey the tone and feel of your values? Does it appeal to the target audience?

{ In my experience, too many cooks though, can spoil the broth. Here is a fantastic article by Rebekah Campbell of Posse, in which she talks about a method she has for making creative decisions when it comes to her brand. }

05. Sign off and launch your project! —

It’s go–time! All parts of a project are created, refined, and made ready for your final approval – after we’ve ensured the project objectives have been considered and answered to. Artwork is prepared and sent off to the printer or developer to finalise your project. Important information is passed onwards. Open channels of communication between your creative and printer and / or developer is highly recommended in ironing out any issues or questions that may come up. Files should be archived and delivered to clients for external use, if this is per the agreement in the contract. Where necessary, they can be accompanied by usage guidelines to protect and perpetuate the identity created.

06. Evaluate with any newly found hindsight –

If suitable – more so to extensive projects such as branding or a campaign – a creative can write a debriefing to evaluate and reflect. This might include discussion and feedback on possible improvements, such as the creative process, the outcomes of the project and it’s measurements in being successful. A debriefing can be done to benefit everyone in any possible future collaborations, or to further improve the project based on new data and recent outcomes. Evaluation on behalf of the creative I believe, helps to invest in your brand’s future – establishing a relationship with your creative as a partner, rather than a service provider – fosters a creative who will help to grow and champion your identity, in moving forward.

So, to sum up – what are the benefits of working with a creative who follows this process?

  • It encourages clear communication with everybody involved
  • It fosters collaboration and a more likely, successful outcome
  • By defining objectives, values and issues, it aligns all involved
  • It aids and resolves conflicts in personal opinions
  • It manages risk, by firstly defining your expectations and goals
  • It provides the creative with a structure for solving the puzzle

{ It may also help to avoid the pitfalls hilariously pointed out in this cartoon by The Oatmeal!}