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How To Increase Workflow Efficiency Without Killing Creativity

November 23, 2021 | Productivity

We don’t often associate creative workflows with efficiency. It’s not that we view them as polar opposites, just as incompatible. Clients, unfortunately, don’t usually accept “I’ll get it to you when I get it to you” as a due date. Design projects usually come with a deadline, and meeting that deadline does require a certain level of efficiency in our workflows. The problem is that focusing on efficiency in the wrong ways will kill a creative streak before it even begins. Rushing through stages in the creative process or cutting them out completely might get things done faster – but at a cost. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to maximize workflow efficiency without sacrificing creativity.

The Importance Of A Workflow

A workflow is the step-by-step process, from planning to final approval, that creative teams follow when creating deliverables. Workflows are documented so they can help project managers quickly determine where the project stands, see who is in charge of what piece, and gain a clear picture of the actions that have been taken so far. This documentation makes it far easier for creative teams to gather insights; workflows provide a comprehensive timeline for every project, enabling teams to make more accurate predictions around future work. 

However, workflows also have benefits beyond the transparency they offer, as they can do wonders for a project’s efficiency. Not only do workflows streamline the design’s creation, they clarify roles, ensuring that the person best suited for the job is the one in charge of it, and make the creative process replicable, allowing you to fine-tune your flow until you find the best fit. 

How To Increase Workflow Efficiency Every Step Of The Way

While workflows are undoubtedly beneficial, they won’t help you meet any deadlines if they aren’t efficient. To make sure that they are, it can help to look at each phase of the process individually. In doing so, you can optimize how you use your time and resources so you won’t have to skip over or rush through steps to finish projects in time. 

The Brief 

A thorough creative brief will lay out, in detail, everything the designer needs to know about the client, the competitive landscape, and the project expectations; it’s the strategy behind the design. While this document is typically only a page or two long, it’s pivotal to the project’s overall success. 

Though it may seem a bit counterintuitive, one of the best ways to increase workflow efficiency is to spend a little extra time fine-tuning the brief. Since a strong brief acts as a single source of truth for the creative team, putting in the effort to get the brief right at the beginning of the project will help prevent costly, time-consuming miscommunications from occurring down the line. 

To start, make sure the scope of the project is clearly defined, then get the client to sign off on it. This will help fight off scope creep, which can throw a wrench in a project’s timeline. And you’ll also want the rest of the brief to be thorough because once it’s approved, a robust creative brief enables the design team to hit the ground running. 

Another way to improve your workflow’s efficiency during this stage of the project is to utilize a brief template. Not only does a template help guarantee that all of the necessary information is covered, it will also significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to draft the brief. If you aren’t sure where to start, in most situations, a brief should include a description of the following:

  • The client
  • The competition
  • The project 
  • The deliverables
  • The tone and voice
  • The objectives and goals
  • The target audience
  • The timeline
  • The budget
  • The stakeholders

Research And Ideation

Once you’ve drafted the brief (and received approval), the next step is to gather inspiration to fuel your ideas. In some situations, that could mean waiting for a “lightbulb” moment to strike, but when time is of the essence, you’re likely better off taking a more active role in the idea-generating process. It’s often beneficial to have a go-to list of resources to turn to, such as websites, artists, and design books, as knowing where to look is half the battle when it comes to finding inspiration. 

In addition, staying focused is a great way to work faster without sacrificing creativity — but that’s easier said than done. It can help to set time limits for each task, as that will hopefully prevent you from going too far down a rabbit hole without realizing it. 

However, if you’re working in a team, to truly increase workflow efficiency during this stage of the process, you’ll need to use your teammates. Ideas inspire other ideas, and by bouncing your thoughts off of your colleagues, the group might just end up with a concept that’s better than any individual could’ve come up with on their own. To do this more efficiently, it can help to identify a few brainstorming techniques that work well for your team. For example, you could test out: 

  • Rapid-Fire Sketching: Get every idea you have on paper (regardless of how good or bad it is), no erasing.
  • Brainwriting: Everyone on the team writes down their ideas, then passes them to another team member to add to.
  • Mind Mapping: start with the central theme in the center, write out all of the words and attributes related to that theme around it, write out the words relating to those words around them, and so on. 
  • Worst Possible Idea: Come up with the worst ideas you can, identify why they are bad, and play around with them (substitute something in for the worst attribute, consider the opposite of that idea, combine bad ideas and see what happens, etc.). 


One simple yet effective way to increase workflow efficiency during the design phase of the creative process is by staying organized and up to date. While organization may seem minor, tracking down files and sorting through different document versions are great ways to eat up time. On that note, so are slow, outdated technologies; by updating your tools, you’ll face less lag time, fewer application crashes, and a reduction in bugs. 

Another way to increase efficiency in this phase of the workflow is with a timeline detailing deadlines, milestones, and other important dates. This will provide clarity into the process, allowing you to better plan how you spend your time and helping ensure that no deliverable is forgotten. 

And of course, it’s also important to get feedback on your work throughout the design process. Often, clients will think they know what they want, but after actually seeing it, they decide to pivot. By showing clients your wireframes, storyboards, and mockups, they’ll be able to tell you early on if you’re going in the right direction, saving you from wasting time and resources on an idea that ultimately won’t work out. 


Review and approval are notoriously inefficient; no matter how fast your process moves before then, a review bottleneck can slow things to a halt. Luckily, this is one place in the creative process where you can increase workflow efficiency the most. 

The first step is to clarify the number of revisions you’re willing to make, as unlimited edits are a recipe for a missed deadline. Instead, it can help to offer up a few different options at the start of the review phase so hopefully, the client will find something they like early on. However, when doing so, be careful not to allow for Frankensteins. This occurs when the designer is asked to combine elements from multiple different designs, which, despite the client’s good intentions, often results in an incohesive mess of a piece. 

Utilize Proofing Software

While limiting the number of revisions and offering a few different versions can definitely help speed up the process, nothing streamlines review and approval like proofing software. With Ashore, you can create and save as many workflows as you need, so once you find a process that works, you can replicate it. Not only that, but Ashore also offers project management tools to keep everyone on track. Ashore automatically notifies approvers when it’s time for them to look over the work, offers a dashboard showing the status of every project you’re working on, and provides a comprehensive timeline to help you keep track of every action taken on a proof. 

However, the biggest way Ashore improves efficiency is by clarifying feedback. Ashore puts reviews in a position to point to something directly and talk about it, guaranteeing that the feedback they offer is not only direct, but actionable. Are you ready to remove the bottleneck and streamline the review and approval process? Sign up for a free Ashore account, and increase the efficiency in your workflow today! 

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