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Entrepreneurship, Startup
The bags under your eyes betray the forced smile on your face. It takes twice as long to get ready in the morning, picking the right clothes feels like a monumental chore, and in the end, you’re dressed in black anyway. Stress has overwhelmed you, hampering your ability to simply pick an outfit and now you need to come up with creative and innovative ideas.
While we’ve all experienced burnout and have developed solutions to survive it, there is added pressure if you’re in a creative field, or are faced with developing a creative solution. Unfortunately, burnout can hit when you need the clearest focus to be creative. 
Some people live to work towards a deadline, crushing items off the list and squeezing a project out just in time. Others prefer to manage their time in chunks so they can methodically proceed through their days in a comfortable manner. Some people believe that their work is better when it is produced under pressure while some know their output is best when they can dedicate days on end to the task.  But there are times when no matter what your style is, it feels like stress is winning and your creativity has been zapped. During these times of creative block, it is great to be able to turn to some proven tactics outlined here to help keep your head in the game, and your creativity flowing.
Set Deadlines
Waiting until the last minute to start a project was a terrible idea back in university, and it’s even worse as a professional. But that’s never stopped any client or boss from last minute requests. One of the best time management techniques is to break big projects into smaller pieces and this can help stimulate creativity every day – taking baby steps or breaking a project into the sum of its parts. By driving yourself towards daily deadlines, that rush to hit the goal can inspire new and creative thoughts on how to complete the task. Smaller steps help you to focus as you reach each milestone and once it is achieved you can then think and concentrate on the next step.
Collaborate With Others
Stress is usually caused by other people, so it might seem like working with others is the antithesis of calming stress to be creative but it can be the exact opposite. Gathering a small team of your co-workers can help you increase the opportunity for those breakthrough moments of innovation and ideation.
Allowing yourself to listen to other ideas being generated fuels your own mind. It also comes with the added benefit of removing your head from your personal situation which is causing the stress. This gives your brain a much needed constructive distraction that can help realign your thinking. Sometimes listening and seeing what others are doing – or have done – can lead you to your own innovations and creative solutions. 
Reduce Distractions
Loud office, text messages, emails, aggressive music and more are all competing for your attention. While you might have one eye on your work and the other on the clock counting down to your deadline, distractions sneak in and become productivity vampires. Distractions pull you away from the task and pull your mind out of the zone you worked so hard to get into. 
By focusing on a single task (sometimes easier said than done while under pressure) you can improve your creativity. Giving yourself a spotlight on the task at hand can open doors of thought that you might not have expected to see. Adding in some ambient music like low-fi beats or classical have been proven to increase brain activity and also lower blood pressure, thus reducing stress. When you’re able to block out distractions your anxiety and stress go down and your mind is prone to be more creative with your thoughts. 
Take a Break
Go for a walk. Seriously, get up, grab your jacket, leave your phone and go wander for 15 minutes. Doesn’t matter where, simply get outside, breath the fresh air and soak up all that is life in your part of the world. Walking is consistently touted as one of the most underrated exercises – it is low impact, improves circulation, steadies breathing and burns those extra lunch calories. 
By leaving your workspace you get to leave your stresses on your desk for the time being. You can bring your thoughts along and take the time to untangle the problem without distractions during increased cardio activity where your brain is alert and firing on all cylinders. Walking is the perfect exercise to wake the brain and keep it clear enough so you can focus on one problem at a time. There’s truth to the CEO’s who constantly say, ‘walk with me’.
Immerse Yourself in Inspiration
Does music evoke emotions, photography inspire dreams, written verse transport you into new worlds? As we know, inspiration is supposedly everywhere, but when faced with a creative block due to stress, inspiration needs to be strategic and selective. Not just any song or playlist will do (Throwback Thursday might be fun to dance to in the shower but it might not inspire writing a pitch deck), and not every visual stimulation will connect to a dream. Being selective about your stimulation can help break down the walls of stress and lead to productive solutions.
In our modern connected world, keeping a selection of inspirational stimulants on our devices has never been easier. Finding opportunities to save playlists, images, verses, dances or more can help you build an inspiration library that you can turn to in times of stress. Think of it as another tool in your kit to stimulate creativity and innovation. 
Stop Beating Yourself Up
This one can be the hardest, especially if you’re a perfectionist. Simply the thought of missing the mark on your tasks can send you into a tailspin of negative thoughts which can become a millstone pulling your mind down into the darkness. Get in front of the negativity before it creeps up on you. While this might sound a little like a self-help TED Talk, it is important to remind yourself that you are doing fine, strike a power pose in the mirror, find a quiet corner to practice calming breathing or simply look at some cherished memories on your phone. 
The important thing is to get out of your head, to stop questioning your abilities and punishing yourself for simply being stressed. Remember, stress comes from events and actions outside of your control and while you can’t change the past, you can choose the attitude you carry into the future. Go a little easier on yourself and you’ll be surprised at how quickly your creativity and clarity of thought come back.
Want to learn more about how your company can benefit from an experienced creative professional? Click below to set up your 30-minute consultation. We’ll sit down and work through your branding, marketing, or creative materials to find where you need some work, and offer our suggestions.

Design, Startup
Nothing kills the good feeling of deploying a great looking product to your audience than receiving a bill far higher than you had anticipated. Sure, there were some revisions but the back and fourth for those final little changes didn’t seem like it took too much time. If you’re not mindful of it, revision costs can cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Most studios, agencies and freelancers bill by the hour – every little colour change, type movement, image swap – is logged on a timesheet, and those little tweaks can add up fast. It doesn’t have to be this way, here are some tactics to help keep your revision costs in check, and also streamline communication with your creative team.
General practice is to provide a couple rounds of revisions – two to three – included in a quote, with anything beyond those being billed on the clock. A good account manager or freelancer will alert you when the clock starts ticking, however it’s never a bad idea to ask. A revision round is considered any change made to a file and is generally present in the file name of any creative work being sent for review (PDF’s, JPGs, PNGs, etc…) with a filename looking similar to this, sample_card_v4 (or sometimes r3). So when you see ‘4’ showing up, the clock is probably running. A good practice when working with a new studio, agency or freelancer is to understand how their billing time works; by the minute, quarter, half or full hour and when the clock starts ticking, like when a file is opened for example.
Looking for tactics to keep your company’s revision costs down? Here are five tips to help you and your team avoid extra rounds of revisions.
1. Define project goals
Although this article is about how to keep revisions under control, like most things in life, setting a project up for success at the very start always proves to be invaluable when it comes time for changes. Before any research is conducted or concepts explored, the major stakeholders of the creative project need to clearly and specifically define what the expectations are. 
For example, if a new brand is required, what are the expectations around it? What is a logo to you and your team? Is it an icon? A shape? A word mark? A combination? What does that logo stand for? What is its mission? And these are just the start of the questions on the business side of a brand, there’s a whole other world of questions around your customers and audience, but we’ll get to that in the next point.

The major stakeholders need to conduct internal research on what the project goals are, who they are serving, who will be involved in the approvals process (so they can help define the goals) and who will be the single point of contact between the company and the creative team. Knowing who is responsible for what, and who everything will funnel through can catch errors sooner and save valuable time over the course of the project.
2. Start with the brief
The brief is really where everything comes together in advance of project kickoff. It’s your opportunity to capture everything that you require from the creative team. A good creative brief will not only ask what pieces are required – Five sizes of google ads, Facebook and Instagram ready videos, business cards, and letterhead, etc – but will also explore your customer and audience personas. This is your opportunity to take the creative team on a deep dive into your request. Creative briefs should be detailed enough to give the team a clear focus on what is required while leaving them with enough leeway to do what they do best – design incredible pieces for your company. To see what should be included in a brief, here is a copy of Method’s that you can use as a starting point (here is our additional website brief to compliment the main brief).
Solution: Don’t be afraid of the details. Take the opportunity to provide visual samples (or links) to designs and work that inspires you and influenced this project. Describe the user experience you’re aiming to achieve and show some other companies that have achieved this. Before you submit the brief, be sure to get buy-in from all the stakeholders involved as this will ensure that the project it completely clear on your end helping minimize revisions in the long run. 
3. Assign one point of contact to communicate with the creative team
Studios and agencies have built their client facing department – account managers – around the proven practice of having one manager overseeing an account; being the sole point of contact between the bustling bodies of the studio and the client. This process not only eliminates broken telephone between creative departments but puts accountability for all communications through one funnel. The same practice should be applied on the client side. Consider this; there are four stakeholders on a web design project all wanting to communicate with the design team. Throughout a day, four different emails are sent, saying four different things. This not only takes time to untangle the requests, it often increases the margin of error and ultimately the number of revisions.
Solution: To avoid the phenomenon of ’too many cooks in the kitchen’, establish a single point of contact to speak with the creative team. This individual will be tasked with sorting out questions and opinions internally before connecting passing them on for execution. Sometimes it’s necessary to have a few people involved. In these cases employing the use of project management software like Asana or Airtable which will ensure that everything is logged and minimize miscommunication internally.
4. Consolidate rounds of revisions
Receiving the first version of any design project is exciting! It’s the first time you get to interact with your vision and really see what your creative team is capable of, and how well your team was able to communicate requirements. While you might be tempted to share immediate feedback (praise is always appreciated) it is inevitable that you’ll have additional ideas in a few hours, after sleeping on it and especially when other stakeholders get involved. Rapid fire revisions are not a good use of time, and pretty much instantly eat up your revision rounds. 
Solution: Book a meeting of all stakeholders to review, discuss and consolidate all revisions. Sometimes a project needs to be shared internally (even with the board) for a week or so to properly collect everyone’s feedback. This is also a situation where project management software can help keep track of requests. The added benefit of consolidating feedback is that the creative team will know the timeline of when to expect the revisions and can schedule them into the workflow keeping your project humming along on time.
5. Ensure feedback is specific and exact
When the time comes to send feedback and revisions to the creative team, specific requests that avoid vague or buzz terms ensure a clearer understanding of what you’re looking for. Nothing is worse than requests like, “make it cooler’, or “there’s something here that isn’t working”. Feedback containing really subjective terms such as ‘cool’, ‘modern’, ‘techy’, ‘relaxed’, etc… are catnip for extra rounds of revisions as the creative team is left to decipher just what ‘cool’ really is. The reason is that everyone has a different interpretation of what ‘cool’ means, and looks like. 
Solution: Don’t be afraid of the details. Avoid subjective terms altogether. Similar to the briefing stage, this is another chance to go into more detail by using visual references to explain what ‘cool’ is to you and your team. Having visual references allows the creative team to focus in on what your expectations are, without being mind readers. Don’t worry about limiting designers by getting too specific, we actually love it – it allows us to focus our energy and produce the right solution faster because we’re not guessing or lost down the wrong road. 
At the end of the day, we all want to see a successful project completion, and that includes presenting a final bill that is within the agreed upon quote. Following the tips above you’ll be able to contain overage costs and keep everything on a smooth timeline. The added bonus is that your creative team will love you! While we love billing for every little change, the reality is that doing 25 rounds of revisions is not helping anyone and is only demoralizing both teams. Happy teams produce great work and in the end builds a strong relationship that should serve you well into the future.
This blog is dedicated to my Marketing Director fiancée, who has dealt with more than her share of runaway revisions over the years. Since she has put these principals in place her team has seen great success on projects spanning the print and digital design universe.

Want to learn more about how your company can benefit from an experienced creative professional? Click below to set up your 30-minute consultation. We’ll sit down and work through your branding, marketing, or creative materials to find where you need some work, and offer our suggestions.

Design Thinking, Startup
Being a designer is a dream for many. Full days creating beautiful pieces and stunning interactions. This is great for members of a design team, but it’s only the beginning for a design leader.
We’ve all seen agencies and studios promoting their skills and why they ‘know brands’. But once you look a little deeper, it becomes clear that most don’t really walk the walk – and worse, are posers copying designs and reselling them as their own original creations. While businesses are in the midst of a tectonic shift towards user experience and good design, understanding and finding the right type of design leadership for your company is critical. 
Design Thinking is here and with it comes the need for design leadership. With this, the question arises; what makes a great design leader? Here is my take on the qualities that shine through.
1. They see simplicity
Great design leaders can see problems stripped down to their bare essentials, understanding what matters and what is superfluous. They find simplicity in everything from experiences, packages, products, collateral, interfaces and methodologies. Ultimately, design leaders establish simple processes and encourage their teams towards the solutions. 
2. They know process wins arguments
Having the vision to establish creative methodologies, then developing the processes to support them is critical in separating great design leaders from everyday designers. They understand the differences between processes like Waterfall, Agile, Sprint, Scrum, etc… and have the ability to switch between them based on the project. Ultimately this will help elevate your company’s Design Thinking approach as a whole. 
3. They actually know what makes up a brand
Lots of people talk about how they know branding, yet only a fraction of them actually know what they’re talking about without the use of buzzwords. A great design leader sweats the small stuff to understand things like: 
• How a service is delivered
• How a technical product works
• How a user interacts with an interface
• How a brand becomes relevant to its buyers
• How to use innovation to solve a problem or when to innovate a new solution.

Great design leaders know brands, and more importantly, they know how to give a brand meaning. They know how to create experiences, how to be relevant and how to execute on these to bring the whole brand package together.
In every company, every touch-point has been designed. It is the responsibility of the design leader to connect the dots – to create a seamless experience that stretches from the products a company puts out into the world right down to the employee onboarding process.
4. They get empathy
Listening is a lost art, but one that great design leaders have honed in on and have learned to perfect. They ask questions, inquire and inspect. They know how to assemble great teams to compliment their strengths and those of the company at large. With the right team in place, they’re able to inspire and guide them to success. 
They laugh and cry with their team, and get their hands dirty all the time. One of the most important aspects is their ability to critique the work and not the creator. Being able to provide clear, constructive feedback enables the team to create even better work, while avoiding the built-in sinkholes of critiquing someone’s art.
5. They are futurists
Great design leaders are thinkers, always dreaming and creating solutions to today’s, tomorrow’s and next generation’s problems. While they are solving today’s problems, they are thinking four steps ahead to how their solution will impact future iterations and making necessary adjustments to minimize impacts to come.

Design Thinking drives innovation, as we discussed last week in a similar post. Design solves problems, and strategic design connects the right problems with the right solutions. Great design leaders know how to make this happen, they are probably sitting in your office right now. Maybe it’s time to tap their shoulder to learn how they would solve your product problems. 

Want to learn more about how your company can benefit from an experienced creative professional? Click below to set up your 30-minute consultation. We’ll sit down and work through your branding, marketing, or creative materials to find where you need some work, and offer our suggestions.


Design Thinking, Growth Hacking
Design is in the C-Suite. So what happens now?
The cheers can be heard from art school classrooms, from behind drawing tablets in design studios and in long forgotten cubicles occupied by internal creative teams living in corporate purgatory. Design has won, it is now at the boardroom table. What will smart executives do with this opportunity? Design leaders are ready to introduce the world to Design Thinking. You know, that inherent, natural, gut-driven process that creatives ‘just get’ and take for granted? This process has finally been plotted out, studied, reviewed, processed and found to be one of the magical markers of success. 
So what do you do with it? How can companies get that critical advantage when design is no longer their competitive advantage, but another barrier to entry? Today, I’ve tackled five key ways companies can adopt Design Thinking, and offered possible solutions to get the most out of them.
1. Innovation is driven by Design Thinking
Over the past decade, we have witnessed the vast majority of consumer-focused companies embrace design thinking to not only improve their user experience but to also drive innovation. It has become so critical that Fortune 500 companies are now reporting that it is one of their top three priorities. By adopting the processes pioneered in the creative industry companies can reap the benefits of iterative rounds of ideation, stripping an idea, concept or process down to its purest form and analyzing and modifying it.
Steve Jobs infamously sent his designers back to the drawing board after designing and prototyping the first iPod – a design that any other company would have launched on the spot – Jobs knew that this design was what the world was expecting, so the team stripped it down further, to what we now know as one of the greatest industrial design pieces of modern time.
Innovation is born from a strong, data-informed cycle; user experience informs design, that drives innovation which responds to user experience.
Solution: If you have not embraced Design Thinking, start today. If you have but it has failed to take hold, it’s time to re-evaluate your processes to find the right implementation.
2. User experience is at the core of Design Thinking
Historically, there have been clear distinctions between design disciplines; industrial = 3D, graphic = 2D, interior = inside spaces, and so on. With the advent of digital design, industrial and graphic have blurred. Throw experiential marketing into the mix and now architecture, interior design, industrial, graphic and UI design have become one large melting pot all focused on delivering exceptional user experience. 
Smart companies are investing heavily in building design-driven customer experiences, and we’re just getting started. Consumers can expect UX designers to work their magic into all facets of the consumer and the corporate world in the years and decades to come. 
Speaking on why design matters is Daan Roosegaarde, Founder of Studio Roosegaarde, “design matters because it is about triggering curiosity, it’s about thinking about the future.” With so much focus and attention on user experience, it’s clear that design will slowly eclipse more traditional marketing efforts. Roosegaard continues, “design has never been about a chair, a lamp, a table. So how can we use design to improve technology, to improve life? For me, this is the essence of design” 
Solution: Start filling your teams with UX designers, even if they don’t seem applicable to your product or service. The value they’ll add in their thinking could change the entire narrative.
3. Design Thinking isn’t a trend, it’s a driving business principle
Business is built on best practices, trial and error, risk taking and above all, innovating to stay relevant. At the core of this is Design Thinking. “I think the need for design is something more and more executives are starting to understand,” says Derrick Kiker, Partner, McKinsey & Company. “It became something that wasn’t around the art of creating beautiful things, but around developing something more fact-based, around what the people like, what do they need. What is going to complete experiences for them”
While the C-Suite has always (sometimes begrudgingly) understood that their customers are at the core of their business, the focus has only recently come around to understanding the customer’s experience with their product or service. “Depending on how you place a device, the instructions, and how the thing unboxes and presents all the information; if it’s not done the right way, you get people who fail to use the product correctly” states Ernesto Quinteros, Chief Design Officer at Johnson & Johnson. By giving customers a complete experience from the moment they open the box, through the lifecycle of the product, understanding how people use and experience the product is paramount in building brand evangelists. 
Solution: Weigh different Design Thinking methodologies and apply the right one for your business.
4. The demand for design leadership will continue to grow – hire now
There is no question that with the business world adopting Design Thinking and design leadership as part of its core ethos, that the demand for Design Leadership will only continue to grow. Consistently, hiring managers report that finding candidates in high-demand talent pools is their top challenge. Design thinkers, user experience gurus, design leaders, and design strategists count among the most in-demand roles today. 
Using Design Thinking to parse all the data is also a major factor in the success of design leaders, as is witnessed by a recent LinkedIn global recruiting trend study. The role data plays in Design Thinking cannot be overlooked. It is critical for any company to develop, SME or enterprise, data-driven design leadership to continue to innovate and stay relevant to their customers. In the past companies could compete in the ‘burger wars’ – selling near-identical products, mediocre design, and a fight over price and territory – but the future will be owned by companies differentiating themselves with good design and fighting other companies through great design. The competitive advantage will be won through internal design leadership, not just user experience alone.
Solution: Give designers positions of power.
5. Real design leaders are hard to find
The best design leaders are already out there. Senior designers who cut their teeth in advertising agencies and design studios alike who toil over client briefs day in and out. Others have moved over to the corporate side and are leading internal creative teams. The reality is that the talent is here, and probably sitting in your office now. The question is, have you as a leader, harnessed them yet?
The best design leaders tend to keep their heads down and create astonishing things. Those that are most boastful tend to be juniors (design leaders are senior, directors, executives with decades of experience) or simply posers looking to talk their way into a ‘cool’ job.
True design leaders understand that “this is an opportunity for you to demonstrate to people on the ground that you care about them, the way that you create gives them dignity, “ says Mokena Makeka, Founder, Makeka Design Lab. “You’re already beginning to elevate people’s conscientious and helping them to get out of their circumstances, encouraging them and showing that you believe in them. This is why I believe good design is a human right.”
Taking that understanding further, the quiet, focused design leader knows that “a large part of design is just the ordinary grunt of making the burden of being a human being on this planet a little bit more pleasurable.” With ideas like this, and a passion to unleash their creative way of thinking upon the world at large, it’s no wonder true design leaders are sought after far and wide. 
Solution: When contracting a recruiter, ensure that they have creative recruitment abilities. Better yet, grab one of your internal creatives, or someone from your agency to sit in on interviews and meetings to get their professional opinion.
Closing Thought
While we’re in the early stages of Design Thinking, agile companies have already started to reap the rewards of enhanced, data-driven user experiences. As every designer knows, great design starts with the user, not the sketch pad. 

Want to learn more about how your company can benefit from an experienced creative professional? Click below to set up your 30-minute consultation. We’ll sit down and work through your branding, marketing, or creative materials to find where you need some work, and offer our suggestions.