Creatives often hear that they need to “get their head out of the clouds,” but that’s exactly where a creative’s superpower lies. Studies have shown that daydreaming gives our thoughts an opportunity to sink into our unconscious mind, allowing us to develop novel solutions even when we aren’t trying to. Considering that we spend between 25-50% of our waking hours daydreaming, it’s a good thing our brains are so productive.
However, sometimes we don’t have the luxury of waiting for our unconscious mind to solve our problems. When the time comes to hunker down and get things done, we can turn to a process fine-tuned by the multitude of artists before us: the creative workflow. It’s not a perfect process, but once you can diagnose the pain points, there are plenty of ways to work through them.
Stage One of The Creative Workflow: Discovery and Ideation
The first phase of the creative workflow is all about imagination; you’re actively taking in as much inspiration as you can, letting the unconscious get to work as the information simmers. If you’re lucky, ideas will come without much effort… but that’s not always the case. Sometimes you have to work at it for a while before the ideas start flowing.
Pain Point: Unclear Project Requirements
Designers might be super creative, but they aren’t superhuman; unfortunately, creatives can’t read the minds of their clients. If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, a vague or confusing brief could very well be the issue. People tend to think of creativity as something that can’t exist in containment, but quite the opposite is true; like water, creativity fills the container it’s placed in, and in many cases, that container is the brief.
The first step in determining the project’s boundaries is identifying which pieces of the brief need more information. A strong brief should adequately describe the company, the project, the objectives, the target audience, the required deliverables, the competition, the tone/style, and the message. Once you’ve determined where the brief is lacking, you can ask the client for clarity in that area; only with this information can a designer come up with ideas that fit the requirements.
Pain Point: A Creative Block
Another barrier to the creative workflow that often rears its ugly head during ideation and discovery is a creative block, which occurs when an artist isn’t able to access their inner creativity, rendering them (feeling) incapable of making new work.
The first step in solving a creative block is often to identify the cause, but that isn’t as simple as it sounds; the reason tends to be multifaceted. Creative blocks can come from stress, burnout, perfectionism, rejection, you name it – so it might take some introspection to get to the root. Another possible solution, whether you can identify the cause or not, is to take a break from ideating. A short walk to clear the head, a mindless task, or even another (less creatively demanding) project could be the cure.
If it seems like the creative block is occurring because you’ve gotten in your own head, it can be helpful to remember that there are no bad ideas during ideation; if a thousand duds lead to one winning concept, this phase was a success. Many people find it useful to keep a pen and paper on hand so they can write down anything that crosses their mind, whether it’s a great idea, a terrible one, or entirely irrelevant – you never know what will trigger a “eureka” moment.
Stage Two of The Creative Workflow: Creation
Stage two of the creative workflow is where the magic happens; it’s where the designer turns their concepts into reality.
Pain Point: It Doesn’t Look The Way You Imagined
Often, the work doesn’t end up looking like the image in the designer’s head. This is somewhat unavoidable for a number of reasons. To start, our thoughts are complex, making them nearly impossible to translate to something more concrete. In addition, execution is defined by compromise; not only are we bound by the brief, but we’re also limited by our skill, time, technology, etc. And of course, there’s the copy; sometimes, it just doesn’t fit into the art the way we envisioned.
The solution to this pain point, time permitting, could be to play around with the design. Designers could try shifting the location or adjusting the size of elements to find a better layout, changing colors to change the tone, or removing pieces to free up space. If the copy is the issue, designers could look into cutting it down, changing the text size, or altering the shape of the text box to remove orphans/widows. While it can certainly be frustrating when designs don’t match the mental image we have for them, it isn’t always a bad thing; sometimes this trial and error leads to a better design than the artist had even hoped for.
Pain Point: Time (or more accurately, lack thereof)
Occasionally (99.9% of the time), the deadline is a huge pain point. When the due date’s approaching and pressure is coming from all angles, it’s no wonder why it’s so challenging to get started in the creation stage. One possible solution is to get the idea onto the page, completely disregarding quality. From there, you can fine-tune and adjust until it is fit for review. Another option, and one to consider whether time is a constraint or not, is to plan your capacity ahead of time. We can only do so much in a period, and by planning capacity, you can make sure you don’t have more to do than realistically possible.
Stage Three of The Creative Workflow: Review and Approval
In the third stage of the creative workflow, the designer presents their piece to the client for edits, feedback, and approval – which they will receive at some point, eventually. Let’s just say, the term bottleneck is being a little too kind.
Pain Point: Unusable Feedback
One major cause of a review and approval bottleneck is ineffective feedback. Reviewers don’t always know how to describe a design in useful ways – they’re hiring designers, not designers themselves. The problem is that the artist is still required to implement that feedback regardless of how vague (or unusable) it is.
One possible solution is to make it as difficult as possible to give vague feedback by having reviewers tie their comments to a specific place on the proof. With Ashore, reviewers can use the contextual commenting feature to do just that, further clarify with markup tools, and even include photos and links in the comments. By making it clear where the issue lies, designers don’t have to try and interpret the feedback – they’ll know exactly what the comments are referring to.
Clients can also be extremely helpful in alleviating this pain point by learning how to better discuss design. Here are a few resources to get started:
Putting Visuals Into Words: How to Use Words to Describe Design Aesthetic
15 Examples of Client Feedback (And What They Actually Mean)
Pain Point: Endless Review Cycles
A second prevalent complaint in this stage of the creative workflow is the endless review cycle – designs getting critiqued and adjusted over and over again without any end in sight. The main source of this issue is often poor communication; when people are unsure of their role, unsure of how feedback works, or forget to approve altogether, the process doesn’t tend to operate at maximum efficiency.
Luckily, this pain point can be alleviated by adding clarity – and it starts with roles. Every reviewer should know exactly what they are supposed to accomplish and when they need to accomplish it. With this information, people can work confidently, knowing they are doing what they are meant to. But of course, that doesn’t mean people will always know when the right time to review is, so it can also be helpful to set automatic reminders so that no one forgets when the time comes.
Another contributor to the endless review cycle is a black and white approval process. When a proof can only be designated as “approved” or “not approved,” reviewers are forced to restart the entire process – even if only a minor tweak is needed. Software with a “review with changes” option can solve this issue. When a proof is approved with changes, the designer can make a quick adjustment, gain approval, and end the cycle without wasting time going through every single item on the checklist once again.
Stage Four of The Creative Workflow: Launch/Publication
The fourth and final stage of the creative process is where the design is released into the world for all to see; accordingly, you’ll want to make sure it looks as strong as possible when it is. However, printed work, in particular, is vulnerable to an array of last-minute issues.
Pain Point: Low-Quality Printing
A beautiful design doesn’t accomplish much if it doesn’t look right in its final form. Design assets are often the first interaction a consumer has with a company, and consumers tend to equate the quality of branded materials with the quality of the brand. This makes a top-notch printer a top priority when it comes to physical collateral; you want to put your best foot forward, and a pixelated, discolored, or crooked piece isn’t that.
While this is a relatively easy pain point to diagnose, the solution is a bit trickier. A great place to start is with the file sent to the printer – was it high enough quality, the right format, and in CMYK? If so, then the fault might be on the printer, in which case your options are to try again or find a new company. It can be helpful to have a trusted printer on hand, one you use for the majority of your printed work, as a relationship with a printer can be a huge asset. If you are a valuable source of business for them, you can rest assured knowing they’ll work hard to provide a quick turnaround and high-quality work (and they may even do you a favor when you really need it).
Solve The Paint Points With Ashore
Every stage of the creative workflow has its challenges, but when designers can identify the pain points and learn to work around them, the process becomes a force to be reckoned with. Ashore was designed by creatives, for creatives, so we know a thing or two about the creative workflow. Ashore won’t just help diagnose pain points in your process, it can solve them. Ashore has all of the tools designers need to understand their capacity, ensure everyone is on the same page, and manage review and approval from beginning to end. Ready to transform your creative workflow? Sign up for free today!