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De-mystifying the Creative

Working in a creative profession comes with a lot of positives and negatives. On one hand, you have one of the coolest jobs around and get to work on something new every day. On the other hand, it can be overwhelming having to walk through the door knowing that you’ll need to make something fresh and exciting. The other negative is that your mom never really knows what you do for a living, and you’re constantly worried about what she’s actually telling people when they ask.

More often than not, people assume that this creative ability is a talent they just weren’t born with. This can come through in many forms, typically something like “I just don’t think that way” or “I don’t know how you do it, I could never do stuff like that.” This can also be a con as it puts an invisible wall between you and coworkers or clients, making it extremely difficult to communicate ideas or direction. This barrier has always been an interesting factor of my job and something that I’m constantly trying to recognize and address, especially with clients.

So what can an agency do to break that barrier down and get clients more comfortable speaking the creative language? I believe education and recognition are key to a successful partnership between agency and client. The more educated a client is on the creative process and specific processes of an agency beforehand, the more comfortable they will be while exposed to them in practice. For instance, instead of introducing the steps of a process as they are occurring (say designing a website from scratch), go over the big picture, and walk the client through the process from start to finish. This way, they’re aware of what’s coming next and aren’t blindsided by something they weren’t prepared for.

Recognition is also a key factor in understanding the creative process. This is where most of your “I just don’t think that way” statements come from. Most clients don’t understand that design is essentially just visual problem solving, not some divine genius performing renaissance-style feats of artistry. And they don’t understand this because it’s typically never presented to them any other way. Educating clients on the creative process not only gives them a little more insight into what’s actually happening behind the scenes, but also helps to communicate that there is a science behind design solutions, and this science is based upon a marketing and advertising foundation. Analogy is always a good tool to use here as it evens out the playing field a bit. If you were to communicate to a designer the same way you would a doctor, how would the tone of that conversation change?

While it may seem daunting to try to understand their rationale or role within a project, this fear seems to be based on a self-fulfilling prophecy that designers think differently and so must be treated differently. At the end of the day, designers are just people trying to do their job to the best of their ability like anyone else. Doctors review symptoms and prescribe the most appropriate medication for an illness; designers review marketing challenges and create appropriate designs to address those challenges (See what I mean about analogy?). Treating your designers as sources of authority and not just sources of logos goes a long way in validating their expertise to your clients and building internal trust within the agency, which will make your process smoother and your final product much stronger.