A Tale of Two Creatives—and the Importance of Process

June 28, 2016 Heather Hurst


Years ago, I briefly worked with an associate creative director (let’s call him “Trent”) who was a walking, talking stereotype of the edgy graphic designer. He had the funky haircut, hipster glasses, full tattoo sleeves, and retro car—even before many of those things were trendy.

Unfortunately, he was all about style over substance. He would laugh derisively at other people’s suggestions in brainstorm sessions. He would critique fellow creatives’ fashion choices—openly, during staff meetings. He cared deeply about pushing artistic boundaries and had little time for pedestrian things like “process,” even though, according to Ann Handley, processes make creative work doable.

Download our free ebook 18 Ways To Get The Most Out Of Your Creative Team for creative experts' secrets to managing creativity using structure and process.

Meanwhile, the senior designer wearing the “boring shoes” (Trent’s words) in the office next door was busy designing circles around Trent, mentoring junior designers, and impressing clients with his innovative solutions. And yes, even caring about process.

It didn’t take long for Trent to depart for a much cooler city (Seattle, and I’m not just talking about mean temperatures), where he probably joined a band.

Boring-shoe guy went on to build a highly productive, cohesive, and creative team that continues to keep in touch and share referrals over a decade later.

It’s All About That Process

Even if you don’t have an egomaniac on your team who diminishes other people’s contributions and undermines team cohesiveness, there are many sources of internal conflict that plague marketing and creative departments. Things like:

  • Unclear expectations from those requesting the work.
  • Lack of respect for the time and effort it takes to truly innovate.
  • Endless rounds of reviews and approvals.
  • Opinion-based critiques from people who think they have design chops.

As different as these problems are, almost all of them can be overcome by applying the same three practical solutions, outlined by Workfront CMO Joe Staples in an article for MarTech Advisor. He writes:

“While a certain amount of tension is to be expected between those who request and approve the work (marketing and sales leadership and other stakeholders) and those who produce it (art directors, writers, designers and other creatives), you can keep the worst of the head-butting at bay by adjusting your process in three key areas.”

I’ll give you a hint. Those key areas are: request management, status reports, and reviews and approvals. For the record, boring-shoe guy seemed to understand these concepts intuitively.

In particular, Staples says, “it helps to set a firm protocol that allows for a set number of review rounds, each with a different purpose.”

The three stages he outlines would have helped rein in Trent’s subjective, self-serving critiques back in the day:

  • Round One: High-level feedback on the overall concept. Are the client’s goals being met? Does it meet brand standards? Is the look and feel on target?
  • Round Two: Granular feedback on the full array of finished deliverables, focusing on colors, layout, and text.
  • Round Three: Final tweaks to final files, looking only for errors and inconsistencies.

Don't Be a Trent

Now, I'm not suggesting that a person's hairstyle, shoe preferences, or inclinations for or against body ink have any bearing on their ability to build effective processes at work. In fact, most creatives I’ve worked with manage to look cool and be cool to their co-workers at the same time.

But if you care about what’s on the surface (regarding your physical appearance or your creative output) far more than you care about the mechanics of getting your work done, just send me an email. I’d be happy to ask Trent if his band is looking for new members.

Check out our video, Adding Structure Without Killing Creativity for tips from Workfront CMO Joe Staples on how structure and creativity don't have to be mutually exclusive and how marketers can actually get more time to be creative by implementing just enough structure.

About the Author

Heather Hurst

Heather has enjoyed playing the game of marketing for the past 15 years, at the agency and corporate level, in both B2C and B2B companies. She's run PR campaigns that took her from the MTV Beach House to NASDAQ and many media outlets and content channels in between. She is currently the Corporate Marketing Director at Workfront.

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