A guide to getting the most out of creative collaboration
Aug 8, 2023
“This is not what I had in mind at all.”
If one sentence could strike fear in the hearts of creatives everywhere, it would probably be that one. In fact, most of us feel vulnerable when opening ourselves up to creative feedback on something we’ve worked hard on. That’s natural. But when it comes to creative work, design feedback is a part of the process.
Creatives use their skills and vision to bring an idea to life. From a creative’s point of view, it's their job to apply innovative interpretations, take creative liberties and push the boundaries when working on a project. But, from a client’s perspective, deliverables should be on point in every way. This can often lead to creative friction when both parties work closely to integrate competing visions, making the feedback process emotionally charged.
If this sounds all too familiar, we’ve got you. Research shows that creative friction actually helps creative and design teams develop and build upon ideas and create stronger outcomes. But, while that all sounds nice in practice, the creative process is also a fraught one. The final product can vary dramatically depending on who creates it and their interpretation of the brief, and the deliverable is a balancing act between pushing boundaries and respecting guidelines, making waves and nailing a specific message. So, the trick really is in how to manage creative friction, honing it so that no one wants to pull out their hair.
A comprehensive outline of the desired output, a clear timeline, and constructive, kind feedback – all elements of creative project management, in a nutshell – are the ingredients every team needs to get the absolute best from their creative teams. Here are our top tips for collaborating with your creative team in the best way possible.
Another sentence that we all fear: I’ll know it when I see it. Creatives have a lot of skills, but mind reading probably isn’t one of them. That’s why it’s imperative to start with a clear, detailed creative brief template outlining expectations and non-negotiables. This sets out requirements from the start and gives the team an anchor to reference throughout the project.
Make sure that internal teams are aligned on the creative brief prior to sending it to the creative team. Aligning expectations internally ensures that everyone is expecting a similar deliverable, making the creative review process much more streamlined.
Be realistic about creative talents and skills
Imagine going to a chef and asking them to cut your hair. The results would likely be hilarious – but not ideal. The same logic applies when scaling up a creative team. Consider relevant experience and seniority. Less experienced professionals may cost less but may require more revision rounds. Videographers may also be able to do photography work but may require more guidance than a bona fide photographer. Pressure test budget, timeline and the quality of deliverable needed against the creative team to try to align requirements with the creative brief and avoid any unnecessary delays or hand holding.
Speak with one voice
There’s nothing that kills creative juices quite like contradictory feedback. Be clear on who gets a say and how to rank that feedback in advance – at the creative brief stage if possible. When reviewing deliverables internally, agree on what the feedback will be and how to present it. If there are discrepancies between internal parties’ feedback, sort that out before sharing. While it’s okay to share differing opinions with creatives, make it clear if one opinion or idea should take precedence.
Get a second opinion
Did you know that Meta sounds like the Hebrew word for death? Much ink has been spilled on whether Facebook considered this when rebranding. That’s just one example of why a diversity of thought is always helpful when considering whether deliverables fit the bill and how they’ll be interpreted by the target audience. Since not all creative teams are as diverse as is ideal, it’s important to probe whether outside opinions should be consulted as part of the creative process steps. Otherwise, how can deliverables be vetted fully for clarity and cross-cultural appropriateness? There’s also real benefits to getting unbiased, third-party opinions from people who are not involved in the project (but are allowed to see it). Outsiders can often see the forest for the trees!
Have regular check-ins and project status updates
Keep momentum going by holding check-in meetings, mid-point reviews and design feedback sessions. This makes creative review and approval process an ongoing one rather than a series of reactions to a deliverable. Regular communication also leads to less miscommunication and fewer big surprises, and the creative team can more easily process ongoing commentary. Make these sessions a two-way conversation, and focus on presenting strengths and challenges but not making a decision – that’s what the creative team is for, after all!
Sometimes it’s difficult to articulate feedback, with an image or feeling stuck somewhere between the brain and spoken word. Telling the designer, "It needs more pop," may not get your full point across. Consider going back to the brief or mood board and finding inspiration in previous projects. Talking with the creative lead, who has experience in how to give design feedback, is also helpful.
During design check-ins and feedback sessions, be it one-on-one or with a group, take notes and put everything in writing. Services like otter.ai can transcribe live calls, or you can appoint a notetaker.
Fine-tune your delivery
It’s simple, really: Be polite. You’re giving feedback on work created by a human being, and human beings have feelings. Consider how you would like to hear feedback on something you designed, and try to deliver it in a similar manner.
It also helps to tie creative feedback back to the original brief. The point of design briefs are to provide guidelines and guardrails for the project. Any design feedback that points back to it reinforces that the feedback isn’t due to personal preference but, instead, requirements mutually agreed upon at the beginning of the project.
Pro Tip: Don’t expect perfection on the first round
The first pancake isn’t the only thing that often gets tossed. First iterations do, too! Creative work is iterative, and it won’t be perfect on the first try. That’s normal.
Consider both sides of the story
We all want to work with creatives who take pride in their work because it usually leads to a better deliverable. But it could also mean that things can get emotional when it’s feedback time. For cooler heads to prevail, step into the creative designer’s shoes for a minute. Consider why the creative team might be getting emotional. Is it because personal feelings are getting in the way, or are they making valid points that align with the brief? It’s okay to agree to disagree, and it’s your deliverable at the end of the day, but don’t miss out on a great solution or an interesting approach just because the feedback isn’t taken as gracefully as it was meant.
And remember, there’s a thin line between genius and absurdity. Sometimes creative campaigns can feel like a slog, pushing us outside of our comfort zone. If you’re unsure, bring in fresh internal eyes to act as a neutral third party.
Trust your expertise
Did you know that your brain and your gut share over 500 million neurons? When you feel something in your gut, it is usually based on thousands of signals that your conscious brain hasn’t had time to process. Translation: The gut knows, even if your brain hasn’t caught up yet, so trust it. You as the brand guardian and internal stakeholder are the ultimate owner of the deliverable, so when your gut tells you to go in a certain direction, it’s usually right.
Finding the right words to give constructive, considerate and impactful feedback doesn’t just come out of the blue. It’s built from laying a clear foundation, having ongoing processes that support the creative team and, of course, thinking about how to best deliver the news. A creative workflow management tool like StreamWork is just the trick for keeping feedback streamlined and organized. And the great news is that once you get all of these pieces in place, you’re well on your way to a killer creative asset!
Meredith is the Founder and CEO of StreamWork, a creative workflow management platform built for teams who work on creative. Meredith has 12+ years experience working as a marketer at Apple, Google, YouTube and Warner Bros., and has worked on hundreds of creative assets with teams large and small. Her mission is to simplify the way teams work on creative.