Working with creatives

Understanding what matters most to Creatives will make it easier for you to work with them successfully. But what matters most to a Creative is not always what matters most to other professionals, so let me try to explain this from my perspective, as a Creative, but also draw on my experience working with other Creatives.

I have more than 30 years of professional experience as a designer, illustrator, animator, writer and creative entrepreneur. While I enjoy making money just as much as the next guy, and certainly appreciate recognition, I don’t typically focus very much on my paycheck or my title, and I don’t see my career as just a meal ticket. That is not to paint a picture of myself as some sort of altruist hippie, but simply to say that my work gives me enough satisfaction to make that my biggest reward, and I know the same goes for many other Creatives.

What matters most to me and to other Creatives is, hands down, having the luxury of being allowed to care for the quality of our work. Most people interpret this as signs of prima donna behavior, of artistic ego, and that is true to some degree, but on the other hand, if a Creative cares about producing top notch quality for you, how can that be a bad thing? It would be unfair to equate these signs of professional pride with an inflated sense of self-importance.

On the flip side of quality is timeliness and deadlines. While most Creatives take pride in being efficient and fast, they usually resent the notion that their work can be expedited, and cranked out without care. This would be equivalent of asking a trained chef to produce the goods like a hot dog street vendor. A client’s convenience is typically not a particularly rewarding consideration for a Creative, especially if that convenience comes at the cost of compromised quality. You may well perceive quick, expedited results from a Creative as being adequate, but your opinion of what is adequate may not matter much to a Creative, who would know precisely how much better they could have made something, if given more time. So, the best way to get Creatives to accept compromises in this context is to a) acknowledge that they actually could do better if given more time, and b) to occasionally let them do just that.

Consistency and professionalism are tricky subjects with Creatives. Any Creative would want to suggest that they always produce their best possible work, regardless of who the client is. This is unfortunately not quite true – who the client is, what the assignment is about, and what the Creative is being asked to do actually matters for the end result. While a true professional Creative should have a rather high standard, any Creative would confess, if pressed for an answer, that they sometimes elevate their standards further, and go above and beyond. This is because there is an emotional investment required in any creative endeavor, in which inspiration plays a part. There may not always be much you as a client can do about this, aside from encouraging your Creative to find that inspiration, but there is a lot you can avoid doing, so as to not sabotage the results. Being rude and disrespectful will never work in your favor – it is akin to insulting the waiter or the chef at a restaurant when sending your food back. You may not want to know what goes on back in the kitchen after such a display of rudeness.

Furthermore, on that same note, no Creative wants to be treated as a soul-less production machine. It would behoove anyone seeking the help of a Creative to recognize that if they themselves had been able to produce what they’re asking for, they would not need to talk to a Creative in the first place. We do not typically instruct a surgeon on how to perform surgery, and we don’t tell an architect how to plan a building. Similarly, my advice to any client would be to leave room for contribution from your Creative. When it comes to creative work, it s very easy for anyone and everyone to have opinions, but there are likely things that you’re not aware of, things your Creative can help you consider or avoid, which might improve on the desired end result. Micro-managing your Creative is likely not the best course of action, and it may even turn your Creative against you, which obviously doesn’t help.

Reviewing work is a particular point of concern for me and for Creatives in general. That is not always to say that Creatives can’t handle criticism, but it is a sensitive issue, and dismissive or unfair criticism especially so. Most Creatives, myself included, get very involved and put a lot of thought into their work. It may not always be the right thoughts, or the most relevant thoughts, and it’s true that Creatives sometimes believe they have a monopoly on the creative truth. But it is also true that many clients, managers and co-workers are not aware of the thought process and intellectual investment to begin with, and therefore tend to dismiss them too lightly and perhaps unwittingly. Therefore, the best way to work with a Creative is always to start by assuming they do have a purpose behind their work, and ask what that purpose is. You can then proceed to discuss it, and ask if and how the solution can be improved, if inadequate in any way. Asking how something good can be made even better is a challenge most Creatives would embrace quite willingly.

It is important to recognize that creative work – especially in design, where components interact in often complex visual systems – is always intended as a very specific (custom) solution to often very specific (unique) challenges. Therefore, framing those needs and challenges accurately at the outset of a project is of paramount importance. Also, connecting the problem and its original specifications to the solution when reviewing it is equally important. Very often, a reviewer (be it a client, a manager or a co-worker) changes and evolves the definition of a problem as a project progresses, and to me, this means that my solution is based on faulty assumptions, and work therefore has to start over, to ensure that my results are addressing the actual problem. Instead, reviewers often go about reviewing creative as if it is a set of checkboxes that can be unchecked independently of each other. This notion is often insulting to Creatives, who tend to see their solutions as too complex and specific for that – a set of dominoes laid out in a path, rather than a set of freely exchangeable lego pieces. Remove a piece in the laid-out path, and the chain is broken.

A reviewer may feel they are helping mould and sculpt the solution, whereas for a Creative, the solution is being bastardized and Frankensteined into something unrecognizable and less purposeful. The best way to proceed is actually therefore, somewhat counterintuitively, to go back to the beginning and start over. Personally, I always prefer that to being forced to mutilate something I have taken great care crafting.

Finally, it is exceedingly common for clients to think that creative egos require flattery, and to mistake that flattery for an expression of respect. And it is true that any Creative appreciates being recognized for their talent, but flattery really doesn’t work very well and is very often seen as insincere or manipulative, at least it appears that way to me. Creatives tend to only respect the opinions of other Creatives, and flattery – especially if directed at work the Creative is not happy with – will only serve to further undermine the respect felt for others. You don’t need to worry about your Creative feeling unappreciated; that will only happen if you actually tell or show them you don’t care for what they’re doing. If the work is good, a Creative will know it. And if there is a difference in opinion in regards to the quality of the work, you expressing a liking for something will not change a Creative’s mind – even if they may be willing to compromise.

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