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Posted on December 6, 2011 and read 2,188 times

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pierno RoadmapAdam Pierno
Creative Director
Partners + Napier, Atlanta
Hunting the Spark

Feedback from clients about creative projects frequently comes in the form of a bullet-pointed list of requests. This is referred to as “direction.” And to a certain degree it is direction. It literally directs the creative person what to do. This is bad.

As creative professionals, we are paid to think of solutions to problems. That’s why agencies invest so much time and energy in writing briefs; to explain to the creative team the details of the problem they are trying to solve. We put tons more energy into turning the problem over in our brains to come up with interesting or engaging solutions. When we present the work to clients, well, we are explaining how the work addresses and solves that problem. Every detail of the work is designed to contribute to that solution.

Quite typically we get responses from people looking on not as a continuation of a dialogue about solving that problem. We get a punch list of shit like “move this bit from up here to down there” or “not loving the orange, can we try another color from the style guide?”

Humans respond to stimuli. What you feed them is how they grow. If instead of the bulleted list, a creative person was given a reaction to the work from a broader perspective of addressing the problem, they would be more likely to carry on the dialogue in their work. They would look for better ways to solve the problem visually, or totally rewrite the headline, instead of changing the exact word they were asked to change.

The dream is that creative people would always be encouraged to reevaluate their solution at every stage of a project looking for ways to improve the core concept itself. But for a lot of people, getting that list of changes puts them into what one CD I worked for called “solution mode.” The team will move swiftly through the directed revisions, thinking they are near an approval, and not always realizing that by round three of punch-listed changes, they are nowhere near the original solution, or at best they spent six hours making design and copy tweaks that added no value to the concept or the execution.

When I present to a new client or even to a new internal audience I will sometimes direct them to “give us the what, let us tell you the how.” I try to use that as my guide for giving teams direction to teams as well. There are times when I catch myself asking to move an element from the left to the right, and have to adjust and say “that’s not a mandate, that is my reaction to something about the balance of this layout. Offer another solution.” I will also almost always ask if I have given good direction. I never want a team to leave a review wondering what I was talking about, or not sure which problems they are going to invest their time to solve.

On my first day at Partners+Napier, I met with the ECD who handed me a document he had written, which outlined how creative work would be judged and the list of qualifications on what things are debatable. Concept, brand, engagement: yes. The client might be scared of this: no. What an amazing way to hang the ropes around the ring and define what we are all fighting over.

At each stage of the process, we reevaluate the solutions based on meaningful guidelines and turn every punch-list into a deeper challenge to make sure we ourselves understand what is actually meant by Item 3: Make the logo 8-12% bigger.




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