Have you ever felt creative direction is like giving directions to someone who doesn’t speak your language, and they don’t seem to understand what you’re trying to say? Creative direction is one of those elusive skills that we usually take for granted until it’s time to give it.
If you want your creative team to produce the best content possible, then it pays off to invest some time and energy into giving them creative direction.
As product photographers, we know that strong creative direction is the backbone of every project.
Whether your team is creating a simple logo or an elaborate marketing campaign, creative direction keeps the team in the right headspace. It carries the creative vision, turning your ideas into reality.
Here are six important tips for giving creative direction to your team:
- Know what you want—and what you don’t.
- Put together a creative brief.
- Give useful feedback and clear directions.
- Inspire, don’t dictate.
- Follow a review schedule and set deadlines.
- Be available for questions—and ask your own.
Creative direction drives the process of bringing brands to life through advertising campaigns, logos, and other marketing materials and strategies. Read on to learn six essential tips for giving good creative direction and taking your team to the next level.
Table of Contents
1. Know What You Want—And What You Don’t
When offering creative direction, it’s critical that you know what you want—and what you don’t want. Take time to think through the project and its entirety before outlining your requests.
Define clear objectives for your team. It’s okay to allow room for creative freedom—but know that too much is stressful for designers. It leaves the door open for too many angles and possibilities.
While they’re still capable of creating something remarkable, it’s less likely to be the vision you had in mind without clear direction and guidance.
Specificity is essential. It ensures that your designers meet your expectations and reduces the amount of time spent on revisions, which is a strain on your relationships (more on that later).
You don’t need to have a final project idea, but you need to give your team ideas, standards, and specifications to interpret creatively.
To outline your expectations clearly, put together a creative brief for your team.
2. Put Together a Creative Brief
A creative brief is a basic document that outlines your creative vision, including the project’s objectives and goals. It also includes design specifications—such as dimensions, file specs, color palettes—and any other information or ideas you want to provide before beginning work.
The creative brief ensures that everyone on your team knows exactly what they need to do. It also helps creative professionals get a better understanding of what your brand is all about, which allows them to work more effectively and efficiently.
Before writing out your brief, think about the project and note everything it requires. Your creative brief should include the following information:
- A brief overview of the project
- A list of what needs designing
- Brand standards and specifications (i.e., fonts, colors, etc.)
- Overview of the target audience
- The message, tone, and/or vibe the company wants to convey
- Company’s long-term goals
- Images for ideas and inspiration
- Anything that the team should avoid
Your team cannot design a project that they do not fully understand. The project needs clearly defined objectives, specifications, standards, and a distinct purpose. The creative brief is your place to articulate your visions and plans to bring the ideas to fruition.
However, it’s rare that the first draft is going to be perfect.
Which is why it’s extremely important to give useful feedback before too much time is spent on the project heading in a direction that your client may not like.
3. Give Useful Feedback and Clear Directions
Don’t assume creative professionals know what you want or how to interpret your creative brief exactly as how you intended.
It is their job to understand it and make creative decisions, but they can’t do that without guidance from you. You need to give feedback before the project is in full production—not after drafts are finished!
Creative projects require clear communication and direction. A lack of instruction sets the team up on a path to failure, and failure lets everyone down—the creative director, the team, and the client.
It’s improbable that the design team will get it perfect the first time—but that’s okay! Helpful feedback is crucial during project reviews.
When reviewing the project, take time to look at the designs closely. Immerse yourself in the designs from the target audience’s perspective. Make a note of what you love, like, dislike, and any elements that need improvement.
Think about the following questions. If the answer to any of these questions is no, think about why. Use your responses to give valuable feedback:
- Are the core messages in alignment with the brand and target market?
- How will the design affect the business?
- Does the design meet brand standards and specifications?
- Will this creative concept appeal to the customers?
- Does the design align with the company’s long-term goals?
- Is the overall structure satisfactory?
- Do the colors and design reflect the brand as a whole?
- Are the important elements of the product/service communicated well?
Bring the notes to the team and let them know exactly what needs improving.
Don’t just say, “I don’t like these colors”—tell the designers why you don’t like the color scheme and offer additional suggestions. For instance, you might say, “Pink and white does not reflect the overall feel of the brand; blue resonates more with our client base.”
Also, showing your team what you DO like is just as important as showing them what needs improvement. This helps designers produce more of what you want and less of what you don’t.
By offering your team clear directions, they can incorporate their creative ideas into your vision. This is where the magic happens! When describing a project in detail, designers can form images in their heads before working on it.
A Note About Constructive Criticism
Too little feedback is bad enough, but what’s worse is when you beat around the bush about what you don’t like in fear of “being mean.” This project is related to business. A creative team that is professional is able to handle constructive criticism in this business, and they don’t take things too personally. If they do, then the creative design field may not be the field for them.
That’s not to say that you need to go on a rampage every time you dislike something, in fact that’s not helpful for your long term relationship. Just be honest and direct. Being straightforward helps bring your team one step closer to achieving the best possible designs.
4. Inspire, Don’t Dictate
If creative professionals feel that they are being told how to do their jobs, they may become less creative and lose motivation. Your creative team wants to produce the highest quality work for you—and part of how they’re going to get there is by feeling inspired!
As a creative director, it’s your job to inspire the creative team with ideas that will move the creative vision forward.
There’s nothing worse than a creative director that hires a team and then rushes in, stepping on everyone’s toes. By hiring a team, you’re deferring the creative process to them—by becoming a “creative dictator,” you’re showing that you don’t trust their judgment and that you’re difficult to work with.
Offer strong leadership but don’t take over the project. Point your team in the right direction, offer guidance, and inspire them to do the work that needs completing.
- Responding to their needs
- Recognizing their hard work
- Using failure as a teaching moment
- Offering inspiration in the form of images
- Managing projects together as a group
- Having fun during projects
- Making yourself available to discuss the project
- Encouraging them throughout the creative process
When a creative team is truly inspired, that’s when the magic begins to happen. True inspiration can mean the difference between a mediocre project and one that exceeds all expectations.
5. Follow a Review Schedule and Set Deadlines
Pushing your team to the drawing board and leaving them to their own devices without a set schedule is not only inefficient, but it’s also irresponsible. Not only do they need specific direction, but they need deadlines for the review process.
Review schedules and deadlines are for the team’s benefit, and for staying within the clients budget. They provide a cohesive timeline that allows the team to create a time-based strategy for the project. Schedules ensure that you’re discussing creative progress regularly. During these reviews, you can reiterate the creative direction and address any concerns or questions.
Keep the project moving fluidly by sending regular deadline reminders.
Here’s a basic review schedule (exact timing will depend on the project—extremely complex projects may require additional review rounds.):
- First Review – Discuss how the project is going. Take note of any issues and provide valuable feedback for improvement.
- Second Review – Ensure that previous issues have been resolved. If there are still problems, offer specific guidance and instruction.
- Final Review – Approve the project.
6. Be Available for Questions—And Ask Your Own
Once you’ve provided your team with strong creative direction, your work is done—right?
Communication throughout the entirety of the project is vital to its success. You must be available to your team to discuss the creative direction you’ve given them.
Review schedules are great because they give you an exact time to address concerns, but that shouldn’t be the only time you’re available. Making yourself available to your team helps things flow more smoothly. Let them ask questions to reduce time spent on revisions.
In addition, feel free to ask questions of your team! They’re available to you if you have questions, concerns, advice, or fresh ideas. Don’t wait until review rounds to discuss the project. Communicate clearly and regularly and you’ll be well on your way to a solid creative team and successful business.