How to work with creatives

There is no question about it, being a creative professional is a difficult job. But working with creatives is no easy task either. They are moody, judgmental and opinionated. They can be your best friend or your worst nightmare. They can make or break your project, career or business. How you work with your creative team is directly proportional to how effective they will be for your business. Here are five simple—but often overlooked—things you can do that will insure that your creatives respect you and work their hardest on your project.

1. Trust them

 They may be eccentric, obtuse or down right strange, but they are trained professionals (well sometimes) and one of of the quickest ways to undermine any creative is not to trust them. It can start with simple, but often irritating questions; I call these the "show me your math" questions: "Did you try moving the logo here?" or "Did you try a funnier headline?" While you don't intend these to be derogatory; they are. Because they either already tried your suggestion or they didn't because it probably wasn't the best solution to begin with. You think you are being helpful and collaborative, but it just comes off as senseless quizzing.

Does this mean you must acquiesce to all of their recommendations? No. Of course not. But you should trust them and their opinion. This is what they do. If you don't understand something, ask them. They will have a point of view; it is what you are paying them for after all.

2. Don't tell Creatives what to do

 Yes, you may paint landscapes in your free time, take excellent photographs or *gasp* even studied design in college. But these things don't build a bond between you and a creative professional. It just irritates them. And while you may be an amazing illustrator or short story writer in your free time, you are not being paid to do it now; they are. And they take it very seriously (in their own weird way).  So while you think you are endearing yourself to them by sharing photos of your pottery; you're not. So just stop it.

And if you actually were a designer or copywriter in a previous professional life never mention it. In their eyes, all your pointing out is that you either didn't have the talent or stomach to make it as a creative professional. Which means you're a hack. And nobody likes a hack.

 3. Be clear in your vision

Nothing is more frustrating than in-actionable feedback or direction. Input like, "I don't like the design's energy." or "Can you Swiss it up?" or "It needs more blue." (These are examples of feedback that I have actually received over the years). Be direct. Tell them what you like, what you don't like and most importantly why have come to your decisions. Their job is to do the best they possible can with your suggestions and directions. If your input sucks, it will directly affect the quality of their work.

4. Remember, everything is subjective

Art is in the eye of the beholder. You may hate something that your target audience will adore or vice-versa. Good creatives do their best to balance your objectives, your target's needs and their own personal aesthetic. This is why you hired them in the first place. They are your partner. They want you to be happy, but they need it to be something they are proud of doing as well. Never hire anyone without reviewing their work and getting a sense of their style, because it is part of the package you are buying. And if you don't like their work and hire them anyway; you have no one to blame but yourself.

5. Not all Creatives are created equal

The best thing you can do to insure that your project goes according to plan—your plan—is to use the right creative person for the job. Don't hire an art director when you need a production artist or a print designer for your website launch. If you're in need of big punchy ad headlines, don't hire a long-form copywriter.  It seems pretty simple, but agencies and businesses alike try to treat creatives as a one size fits all. If you have no choice but to work with a individual that is not best suited to your needs, then set expectations accordingly.  It will make for a much better working relationship. Though the final product may not be what you originally envisioned.

It is an incredibly stressful job to be creative on demand. This is probably why creative professionals have their odd idiosyncrasies and eccentricities. But if you can learn to properly harness and nurture these wunderkind, you will have a well-oiled machine of creativity that will only increase the value of your work. If nothing else, happy creative people make life more interesting and what's more rewarding than that?

November 3, 2010
Theo Fanning ECD

Theo is an illustrator and filmmaker by design, a designer and copywriter by necessity, and his office is living proof that vintage tin toys and crystal skulls can live harmoniously with deer heads and silver emulsion photo cells.