“I don’t like it.”
“OK. What don’t you like about it?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t like it.”
“Is … is it the color? The image? Headline? Font?”
“No. Maybe? I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel right.”
“Can you show me an example of something you do like?”
“Oh, I like everything. I’m not picky.”
Conversations like this are all too familiar for creatives. Listen, we’re not mad about it — communicating across departments can be tough, and sometimes it feels like no one’s speaking the same language.
To help, I asked our team of creators to air their grievances when it comes to communication during the creative process. Consider this your inside guide to building a better relationship with your creative team.
Say This, Not That — How to Deal With Creatives
Michaela Brandt, digital media strategist
What not to say: “Now that we’re down to the wire, I have some thoughts …”
Tip: As a creative, you go through so many steps to reach the final deliverable — from ideation to research to creating (and often re-creating). It’s important to get the feedback you need at a phase in the project when the deliverable is still malleable so that you can adapt accordingly. Otherwise, you may spend tons of time getting something just right only to have to scrap it and restart under a time crunch.
Rebecca Wong, director of client services
What not to say: “Let me show you what I don’t like.”
Tip: You’re allowed to not like something, but it’s not productive to tell a creative that something isn’t working for you without being able to help them identify what the problem is. What’s more helpful is to share examples of things you do like and why. Go beyond your company’s own work to pull inspiration, and be specific about what you like: Is it the color? The image? Headline? Font? Give the creative team the arsenal to create for you.
Pedro Armstrong, manager of custom production
What not to say: “I don’t really know what I’m looking for.”
Tip: If you’re having a hard time explaining what you want, try providing images, words, colors, even sensory examples of things you do like for your project. Be as descriptive as possible and don’t let the technical language or jargon get in the way. And this goes both ways — your creative should be able to explain things in lay terms and break down their reasoning for creative decisions to help you better understand the project.
Cory Davies, director of client services
What not to say: “Here, let me fix it.”
Tip: It’s totally OK to give ideas and input, but rewriting or redrawing things for your creative isn’t so cool. Let your creatives be creative — they have their jobs for a reason, so trust their expertise. The same goes for respecting a creator’s work: Telling someone you feel like you could have done it is not only offensive, but unproductive. Instead, ask them to talk you through the project, and then work together to figure out what needs to change.
Annie Wiles, managing editor
What not to say: “Could you just glance over this [20-page manuscript] super quick before I send it off?”
Tip: If you don’t want me to edit it, don’t let me look at it! The creative process takes time, and you can’t expect good work to get done in just a few minutes. Be mindful of a creative’s time; don’t assume something will take 15 minutes when you don’t actually know what that process looks like. We’re always game to re-prioritize to accommodate hot projects, but the key is to communicate and be realistic about how a time crunch may change expectations.
Kylie Valigura, art director
What not to say: “Looks great — let me just loop in 12 more people [from various departments with absolutely no background on this project] to get their feedback.”
Tip: With too many cooks in the kitchen, you can quickly lose sight of your goals for a project. Be mindful of who’s going to weigh in during the creative process, because once you bring someone in to consult, they will have an opinion — and the more people you rope in, the more conflicting views you’re going to have on your hands. When you do bring people in, do so early on, make sure that everyone has clear and consistent background information, and define their roles up front — and make sure everyone sticks to that.
Abby Kinsinger, managing editor
What not to say: “Oh yeah, guess it would help if you had this …”
Tip: So often crucial information about a project comes in too late in the game. Take time to think through what your creative needs to know for a project and provide it at the start. This may mean background information like audience personas or a project brief, past related work, sources, project goals, and so on. Waiting to drop this information late in the game can be a big time-waster.
The key here, of course, is that all this goes both ways. We could make a list just like this from the opposite perspective (you probably could, too). But the quickest way to solve all such problems is to communicate. That’s why we wrote this!