Overcoming Creative Hurdles: “I Hate Yellow” and Other Lane Violations

January 09, 2017 Nate Denton

If you’ve ever been a part of a design approval process, you’re familiar with the challenges that occur before, during and even after project milestones. And while it isn’t possible to completely remove these hurdles from the equation, there are steps to help ease the process.

Below you’ll find five tactics to help you overcome creative hurdles, gain buy-in from your most important stakeholders and improve your chances of design success.

1. Identify Stakeholders
Your stakeholder group is the lifeblood of progress for any project. Make sure to identify and involve the right stakeholders as early in the process as possible.

By involving them early on, the project will feel less complicated, as opposed to pulling in people and bringing them up to speed as you go. Knowing your stakeholders upfront also expedites the planning process, making aligning schedules easier and more accurate.

Consider how you’ll present the project to the stakeholders at an individual level. The way you communicate to each person should depend on what they care about and how the project applies to them, whether it be at a day-to-day progress or a high-level understanding.  

You’ll need to not only know which stakeholders to involve, but also clarify your expectations for each of them. By defining their roles within the scope of the project, you can efficiently pull the right person in at the right time, while avoiding superfluous or inappropriately-timed feedback.

Lastly, identify your most important voices and use them as your champions. Having a champion for your cause, oftentimes marketing or practice leaders, can help move projects along. If you’re using an agency, your contacts there can help create the narrative and buy-in other stakeholders need to push the process forward.

2. Do Your Research/Use Your Research
To create successful designs, it’s essential to consider your users and their needs. Data-driven design becomes hugely important when creating for your users, so regardless of the scope of your project, some amount of research is crucial in creating strategic and impactful digital solutions.

Of course, in order to use your research, you’ll need to understand your user priority. The optimum user priority list is as follows (but may vary slightly depending on the engagement):

  • Clients
  • Recruits
  • Media
  • Internal

While it is very easy to focus on internal feedback when making adjustments or changes, it’s necessary to remind yourself (and those internal voices) that they’re not necessarily the priority, and calculated decisions are being made with users in mind.

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Another necessary component to your design narrative is the identification of your design goals. Whether your goal is to unify the brand, develop image-driven content or create a minimalist feel, you’ll need to keep it top-of-mind throughout your process. This way, feedback that leads you further from the goal can be redirected, creating more constructive conversations while efficiently moving the process along.

Once you know those goals, you’ll need to test your designs. Testing gives you qualitative and quantitative data to back up design decisions – rather than leaving it up to a fruitless exercise of objective preferences.

Using data in comparison with your goals to strategically target your identified audiences aids in the design editing process, leaving less room for wants or preferences and more room for concrete, tactical decision-making among stakeholders.

3. Iterate
Oftentimes, design projects involve a lot of collaboration, and with collaboration comes communication and iteration.

Rather than letting your agency go on a three-week hiatus to return with a barrage of deliverables that didn’t quite hit the mark, you should work together throughout the process. By staying involved as the design evolves, you (and your stakeholders) will be able to connect the dots on decisions, lessening redesign work in the long run.

Making adjustments is much simpler on low-fidelity concepts than during the prototyping stage of a website, for instance. Continuously touching base and diving into certain processes by building out a momentum flow helps alleviate pressure not just on you, but on your agency as well, creating a stronger relationship within the team.

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4. Tell the Story
Narratives are essential to earning buy-in for your project and mitigates subjective knee-jerk reactions. By handing over comprehensive reasoning for decisions, it becomes harder for anyone to push back based on personal opinions (like color preference, for instance).

Diving into the process and its reasoning not only helps stakeholders understand decisions being made, but also helps them feel more involved in the project itself. It’s much more difficult for a stakeholder to flip flop on a decision he or she had known about for months.

The best way to tell a story through research is to:

  • Identify a need
  • Identify the insight that solves that need
  • Deliver the solution

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5. Know When to Step Away
Let’s face it: it can be challenging to decide when exactly to step away from a design. But, finalizing the project’s design is essential in avoiding concept fatigue and keeping you focused on your goals.

When the design process is coming to an end, remember to go with your gut. It’s likely you will see several iterations of your design during the process, so keep in mind the impression you felt when initially introduced to the concept. If you loved it then, it’s likely your users will have a similar feeling.

Without the right communication strategies in place, design projects can hit hurdles and push back deadlines. By considering your stakeholders and goals, you can strategically use research to tell a story, earning buy-in from your most important audiences, instead of subjective, even obstructive feedback. By doing so, your projects will run more smoothly, allowing your digital efforts – and the efforts of your agency – to come together with efficiency and excitement.

These tactics were originally shared during One North’s #1NLab16: Digital Endurance. Watch the full presentation here.

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Nate Denton Creative Director, Experience Design

At the time of publishing, Nate was a Managing Director of Creative Services at One North. 

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