The Checkbox Syndrome

The biggest threat to the success of any creative effort is The Checkbox Syndrome.

In short, this is where people with a vested interest in the creative solution (usually on the client side) treat the concept as a set of checkboxes that can be independently checked or unchecked.

This betrays a lack of understanding of what it is that truly makes a successful concept tick.

A strong, convincing, communicatively powerful concept is greater than the sum of its parts. It hits the spot, not by accumulation of many little creative touches, but by Big Picture thinking. Start messing with the details and you will alter the concept from within, hollowing out the very core until you’re left with something that probably doesn’t reflect your intentions anymore. The X-factor that made you select that one concept from the beginning is no longer present. Because there was too much focus on getting the details right, noone noticed that the overall result took on a different shape. It’s a little like changing anatomical parts on a sculpture – eventually, the finished product will look less than Michelangelo’s David and more like Frankenstein’s Monster.

Good creative concepts are not always neat and tidy and never entirely logical. Some details might not always seem right when you look at them up close, but they make sense as integrated parts of the whole – perhaps not to every single stakeholder, but details can’t all be individually assessed by committee. Trying to make a concept mean one single thing to many different people will inevitably lead to the concept not meaning anything to anyone.

If, during the process of developing a concept, the required qualities fail to materialize, it is often better to start over and try a different approach, than to micromanage the creative process and disintegrate the whole into a myriad of parts that in and of themselves are useless. Once the concept is disassembled and some parts are altered or taken out, it doesn’t matter how much you polish the remaining parts. They most likely won’t fit together again.

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