Thinking about Skipping Steps in the Creative Process? Don’t.
At Annoydne, we have recently begun to institute a monthly retrospective of select projects in order to learn what worked and what didn’t work and to then refine our process. I will be honest, it’s a tedious couple hours. Before the meeting we all take part in a survey, which we then review at the top of the meeting. We then recreate the timeline of the project, including artifacts that add color commentary to see the full picture of how a project was executed. We record our discovery and establish a couple key action items to focus on. But it’s well worth it, as it brings to light an action plan that helps to continually refine our process toward great work.
Out of our recent retrospective arose one key finding that I’ve heard again and again — and I think it’s worth repeating. No matter the external circumstances, no matter what pressure from client or management, we cannot skip essential steps in our projects. In this particular project, a spec doc was a key item that was missing. Thinking back, as I am entering my seventh year as an account manager, I have come to realize that any time in which a step is skipped in the process, it has backfired, leading to a less-than-stellar deliverable of product and breakdown of trust between the client and agency.
So, this message is a warning and a call to action for all those fellow account managers who are considering saving time or money by trying to cut corners. Here are the key steps in the process and what I’ve found to be invaluable pieces to the creative process puzzle.
Step 1: Discovery
The account manager interprets the client’s needs and objectives in a way that can be tactically executed via a creative brief and kicks off the project along with the project manager.
WHAT NOT TO SKIP: The creative brief. It’s easy to think that the job is so easy, quick or small that you don’t need a creative brief. If you don’t do a full-on creative brief, a work order or job backgrounder should still be developed, including the background of the request, objective, audience, key message and creative considerations. Without this, the result is much more likely to need rewriting or redesign. It also enforces discipline on part of the client when reviewing, where any deviations from the brief can be noted and worked into budget overages.
Step 2: Creative development
The copywriter writes copy that hits the objective and conveys the message in a fresh way; the designer take the copy doc’s direction and brings the piece to life visually, referencing the approved style guide for the brand.
WHAT NOT TO SKIP: The style guide. The style guide is a document often provided by the client. However, there have been times when the creative look and feel of a brand stems from one key piece of creative and is never formally recorded in an official guide. If possible, include the development of such a guide in your budget and get it approved all the way up the management chain. Not only does utilizing an approved style guide ensure that your deliverables align to the expectations of the client, but it allows the client to circulate the document to other departments, which can increase consistency of creative design throughout the company. (Read: You are seen as the hero!)
Step 3: The build
The tech team utilizes the spec doc to build out a digital project, ensuring that it functions on all browsers and across all devices.
WHAT NOT TO SKIP: The spec doc. The spec doc at Annodyne is a formal document created by the project manager that bridges information between the account manager and tech team. It includes valuable information such as Google Analytics and tracking codes, destination URLs, the copy doc, wireframes, comps, site map — essentially a repository of documents the tech team references throughout the development process. Key to this doc is version control — only approved docs are accessible to the tech team.
Step 4: Review and revisions
All parties review and give feedback on the creative with the initial objectives in mind, each member reviewing for aspects specific to his or her craft.
Repeat steps 2-4 as necessary.
Without a solid, approved creative brief, the copywriter is writing on speculation. Without a solid copy doc and style guide, the designer is designing from personal preference. And without a solid spec doc and layouts, the tech team is developing out of past experience only.
So, the next time you are thinking of cutting corners, just know that it may feel more efficient to skip steps in the short term, but upon retrospect, everyone will thank you for staying the course.