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Learn best practices to collaborate with your creative team and streamline content creation.

There’s been a long history of creative professionals trying to find a perfect harmony between the fluidity of creative design, and the more rigid demands of profit-driven business.  Books like Design Is a Job were written to explain how design is a business like any other, and offer helpful guidelines for the creative process.

Here at Impact Radius, we are marketers, designers, data analysts, and more – just like you.  We run our own advertising campaigns, and work with a moderately-sized creative team.  We’ve found that if you’re not familiar with the proper ways to engage with design, you’ll feel like you’re running in circles.  Projects will quickly leave you burnt out – and your designers won’t be thrilled either.  So without further adieu, read on for the top tips to drive results with your creative team.

Avoid Prescriptive Feedback

When a designer takes on a project, whether it’s a website, a new piece of collateral, or a billboard, he or she has a responsibility to interpret the original request, and then transform it into a functional and effective product.

In order for that to happen however, the goals of the project need to be clearly defined first.

What is the primary customer action?  What are the secondary actions?  What is the brand trying to say in this campaign?  And of course, who are the customers?  Try to frame the conversation this way.

If you’re trying to deliberate whether a button needs to be green or red – don’t worry about it!  That’s the designer’s problem to figure out.  Personal preference (both yours and the designer’s) must be overruled by the best means to serve the goal.  For the designer, this might even mean designing against their idea of good taste.  It all comes down to whatever accomplishes the goal most effectively.  If you approach problems from that perspective, decisions should come quickly and easily.

It’s also important to be clear in your feedback.  You might not know exactly what you’re asking for – and using terms like “clean” and “pop” will only muddy the waters.  Instead, try to define the goal – i.e. “We want customers to click on this button” – and let your designer figure out the solution.  If you’re still not happy with the result, and you’re concerned it won’t achieve the goal – why not give it a try?  That’s what testing is for.

Your designer is a professional.  Paul Rand might not have been very tactful when he famously snapped at Steve Jobs, but he did have a point – if you’re asking for help with a project, you should honor their expertise.  If they’re competent, intelligent, and experienced – why not give them the opportunity to problem solve?  Tackling these kind of design problems is their main focus in life, after all.

A mutual understanding of this process, and an attempt to challenge each other while acknowledging respective responsibilities, is one element of how great campaigns are born.

Avoid Assumptions

While a creative team should be allowed to tackle design problems, don’t be afraid to challenge them by asking questions.  Your designer needs to base every decision they make in reason, logic, data, and the bottom line.  If they can’t provide some form of data behind a decision they’ve made, then it’s probably not defensible.

As an example – I refuse to use carousels in my work.  Early on in my career I had used them, but since shifting to a data-driven approach, I don’t integrate them in my designs any longer.  They might be flashy, but they don’t work.  And good design always works.

All of this being said, there is a balance.  While data can be important, humans are emotional creatures – and attempting to rationalize the process too much can harm one of the most important elements of design.  Most of the time data should validate creative decisions, not drive decisions entirely.

Good Design Has Emotion

We’re learning more and more that emotion is a key factor in good design and UX.  Humans are emotional, spiritual, thoughtful, and a successful company will need more than sterile presentation to have mass appeal.  I predict that the next few years will be interesting, as a growing number of companies will attempt to optimize the emotional quality of their content to increase conversion rates.  Many folks are already doing this.

If you ask me, companies like Mailchimp have succeeded in emotional design.  On one hand, you could call what they’ve done manipulative.  I believe they are simply creating an authentic experience with the customer – the opposite of manipulation.  .Authentic photography versus stock photography is a good example of this.  As a customer, wouldn’t you prefer less stock photography?

At the end of the day, when it comes to emotional content, it’s much harder to take a data-driven approach.  Just try not to argue too much.

How Big is This Project Anyway?

Determine the rules of the project before you start.  Decide what kinds of changes are negotiable to hit the deadline.  Make promises – whatever overall concept is decided on by X date is the plan – there are no deviations. There will be changes, but try to keep them small.  If you’re suddenly bored with the primary idea behind the project or campaign, try setting it live anyways.  If you’re collecting data and consistently learning, there’s no such thing as a failed effort.

When the changes do come, ask yourself – is this necessary?  Is it data-driven, or is it preference?  Don’t be afraid to be draconian in your criteria for what gets through – this same strategy allows product & engineering teams to release updates on time.  Also, ensure there’s one conduit for feedback to prevent a project from blowing up.  Is brainstorming the best way to come up with ideas?  It’s debatable.  But if you are going to brainstorm, and most teams do, limit the number of cooks in the kitchen.  A manager should collect feedback from other teams by themselves, and prioritize to-dos.

When working with creative teams, I’ve found the more structure and process there is, the more things get done. However, structure must not be confused with micromanagement or unnecessary control.  The solution is to keep things democratic.  Invite your designers to suggest new processes and workflows, and keep them involved every step of the way.

A/B Test

Before you begin split testing, make sure you’re tracking everything.  It can be helpful to let the designer chime in here, since they are intimate with the project, and may have suggestions to improve the “soft stuff” like colors, emotion and attitude.  You need to spend time upfront determining what needs to be tracked – and how.

As mentioned – once you have tracking in place, there’s no such thing as failure.  Don’t be afraid to put strange ideas out there, especially if you’re a newer brand trying to determine your audience.  Try wildly different concepts – conservative versus edgy, for instance.  In the worst case scenario, you have a bunch of directions that you now know won’t work in the future.

It is possible to overdo A/B testing.  While Google’s famous blue test had a solid outcome for their bottom line, there’s reason to be critical of that approach.  Remember that, and try to keep things enjoyable for the team.

Set Your Work Free

No campaign, TV spot, banner ad, etc. will ever meet the pure vision in your head.  That’s okay though – iteration is a key part of transforming your current team into a content machine that generates great work.  You need to decide when to ship something.  Then, learn from your mistakes and set the bar higher.  Because let’s be honest – that next few hours/days/weeks of revisions won’t get you there.  So don’t be afraid –  set that campaign live, and move on the next round.  Such is life.

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