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Design Thinking, Entrepreneurship, Marketing
Do you ever wonder how creatives at ad agencies come up with new ideas on a daily basis? What type of brainstorming processes do they use to stay relevant to attract the viewers’ attention? At its heart, this overused buzz term is essentially that really focused, results-driven sister to daydreaming. Brainstorming generates ideas, challenges conventions, and brings about new perspectives to the status quo. 
 
This is usually the best part of the design thinking process. Everyone involved in the project gets together to harness their diverse viewpoints, knowledge, and interpretation of the research. The team is one supercharged brain of collective intelligence. Now it’s time to unleash their ideas through a structured and repeatable process that drives creative thinking around your users to create more value for your company. Successful sessions should produce multiple options to look at, and from those, you will be able to select a few for further exploration. 
 
While it might seem logical to jump right into brainstorming when presented with a new problem or challenge, the pro’s know you can’t start the game until you’ve warmed up. This is why we’ve talked about How To Start Journey Mapping and Understanding Users Through Interviews in previous articles because they lay the groundwork in your mind to prime it for idea generation. You have probably noticed that when you are Journey Mapping or conducting Interviews, ideas have already started flowing. Now is the time to focus those ideas and harness them into truly productive thoughts that can go on to become viable concepts.
 
If you have the right research groundwork laid out, brainstorming becomes the Goldilocks equation of creative thought; too early in a project and the ideas are underdeveloped and uninformed, too late in a project and momentum has stalled or information is stale and the world has moved on. Unfortunately, too many executives and founders rush into execution with what seems to be the easiest solution in hand without brainstorming based on the collected knowledge that can guide ideas and flag potential pitfalls. 
 
Starting at Zen
Clear your mind, block out the distractions and focus on your breath. Buddha taught about the philosophy of Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action. This is the ultimate goal of every marketer, so how can we take this and apply it to brainstorming? It’s all about using the right mix, processes, and structure to generate user-focused, research-backed ideas and prevent the whole exercise from becoming a potential idea bacchanal.
  
Team
Only those involved and immersed in the research and data should be in the room, at the start. If there are stakeholders who will eventually need to sign off on part or all of the project, or you need them to support an idea, bring them in later on in the process so that you establish the right conditions for the later stage idea refinements that come along. This will also give them a chance to have personal involvement in the idea generation so if they need to sell it up the chain, they now have a personal stake in it.
 
In advertising, we would normally have three to ten people involved – usually the Account Director, Art Director, and Copywriter. Then Strategic Planners, Media Planners, Creative Directors, Production Managers, and other creative teams would join as needed and based on the scope of the project. For small businesses and startups, it’s best to rely on the company leadership to drive the process.
 
It is also possible to conduct a session with a few wild cards thrown in. Customers, impartial third-parties, the accounting division… anyone that the team has identified who could provide additional value based on their experiences. Cross-pollination can produce wonderful ideas, the key is to keep the group small. Get a large group together and it becomes a party with ideas flying everywhere and eventually the goals of the session end up passed out next to a keg. 
 
Agencies usually have small, whiteboard walled rooms for brainstorming specifically to keep the groups small because they know that multiple small group sessions produce more value than one big group in one session.
 
Structure
Before the group starts, everyone needs to agree on two principals. First is, ‘what are we solving?’ Second is that everyone adopts the mindset of a creator, not a critic. 
 
Everyone should know why they’re there, so agreeing on ‘what are we solving’ should be pretty obvious. But with a brainstorm, our minds get pulled all over the place. Writing the goal at the top of the page will ground the session, and help anchor thinking. This is a good time to write or post key elements from the creative brief, or problem at hand as well. These little management aids can help the team refocus their thinking when they inevitably get pulled down a rabbit hole. 
 
No tearing down of ideas, only structured blue sky thinking is allowed. This is all about turning the little critic inside each of us off, and only listening to the dreamer. In this case, the educated, goal-oriented dreamer. To help keep this on track, simple ground rules should be applied to everyone:

    • Don’t judge
    • One speaker at a time
    • If you see a good idea, build on it
    • Everyone is equal 
    • Show sketches, mind maps, whatever
    • Don’t engage in oneupmanship 
    • Have fun
 
Rewarding courage is one of the most important approaches in creative brainstorming. Encourage your team to take big leaps with their ideas. If it sounds crazy, it just might work. So don’t be scared of thinking beyond the norm, foster the right type of courage in your team so they are comfortable pushing their perceived boundaries. This could just spark your company’s next big thing.
 
Environment
If only we could jet away to live with our users and brainstorm around their lives. So in place of that, it’s best to create an environment that has all the right stimuli to elicit new ideas from the team. 
 
When you’re preparing for the session, not only is it good to have key lines from interviews, completed Journey Maps and vision boards lining the walls, it is important to have designed the right framework for the session as well. This includes using the right triggers to spark ideas, but keep them within the right box. Basically, this is structured blue sky thinking. Good triggers define the box you’re working within and they focus energies to a specific area. 
 
Building triggers off of ‘how’ and ‘what’ questions can help free your mind, then pad it with the right structure to effectively generate successful new concepts. To help build out effective triggers, consider trying some or all of the following approaches:

    • Use catalyzing quotes or stories
    • Challenge assumptions
    • Push the boundaries
    • Switch roles between team members
    • Look at trends
    • Put yourself in the user’s shoes
    • Think to the future, then look back
 
Management
The session is almost ready. Now is time to prep for your role as the session leader by figuring out how to effectively run it. Keeping everyone motivated, confident and on time are the critical functions of the leader, but the actual tactics for how the session is run is up to you too. 
 
Steve Jobs had a famous technique that was derived from what his friend Lee Clow, the legendary Creative Director at TBWA, Apple’s longtime advertising agency. Everyone in the session would fill the walls with great ideas within a set timeframe. When the time was up, all but three ideas were taken down and the process was repeated. Again, all but the three strongest ideas survived on the wall. After five sessions, the ideas left standing lived to leave the session and move to concept development. This is the technique the team here at Method uses primarily, all taught to us in our junior years in the big agencies.
 
Quick detour to talk about Apple, Jobs took this process one step further, and it’s not for the faint of heart. When the session was done, and the teams went off to develop the concept and then ultimately the product, he was known for outright rejecting the final product when it was presented. He would send his teams back to the brainstorming session stage and restart, throwing out everything they had done before. If it wasn’t for this process, the first iPod would have looked like the Zune, and if you’re asking what is a Zune, that just shows how well that product was designed.
 
Back to our brainstorming process, we’ve just completed five rounds of ideation. The first round tosses out the low hanging fruit that has kicked around the team’s heads for a while. Once the clutter is gone, then new ideas start to form. Once the easy new ideas are out, the team is now really thinking through the triggers, the research (stimulus in the room) and goal(s) to dig deeper, not being satisfied with the easy answers. By the time the team has mined their minds, the ideas generated will have depth, backed by knowledge and will be unique AF. 
 
This approach can be done out loud, with one writer recording the ideas on whiteboard walls, chart paper, sticky pad, index cards, whatever can be stuck to a wall that everyone can easily read (ie: use markers and write LARGE). Or it can be done in a quieter version where everyone has their own marker and index cards and they write out ideas within a couple of minutes per round. The main goal is the collaborative conversation that is generated once the ideas are on the wall and the team is able to build upon them. 
 
Using this proven tactic builds the team’s confidence in one another and ensures that the one loud extravert doesn’t end up dominating the process. It has the effect of breeding competition between team members that gets the creative ideas flowing from some of the most unlikely places. 
 
The last consideration in managing a brainstorm session is the timing. Keeping everyone on pace, keeping momentum and staying on track. You’re essentially a creative referee for your team monitoring the time between rounds so people don’t get burned out trying to generate new ideas. If the session runs too long it can have a negative effect causing people to feel anxious and ultimately releasing their inner critic. Switching between quiet and loud rounds can keep stimulation up, as can changing the view. Literally, switch rooms or go outside for fresh air halfway through the session can provide a much-needed shot of creativity to the process.
 
Mental fatigue will inevitably arrive, but if you’re prepared for it through savvy management you can keep it at bay longer and help foster some really incredible ideas. 
 
Follow-Through
At this point, you and your team have generated 50, 100, 200+ possible ideas and/or solutions. There should now be two or three killer ideas left standing that are ready for further exploration. It is important to remember at this stage the ideas are not full concepts yet, nor have they identified what resources and methods will be required to execute them. Sure, you have a rough idea of what comes next, but it’s important to make sure the follow-through is done correctly. 
 
The ideas have the potential to become concepts, but as they stand right now they are simply raw ideas that haven’t been fleshed out. You wouldn’t want to stake your company’s next marketing campaign on a raw idea, there are simply too many unknowns and untested assumptions at this point.
 
Ideas need to move into the Concept Development stage now, where they are tested against assumptions and the unknowns. This is accomplished by small teams (we use teams of Art Directors and Copywriters) after the brainstorming sessions are complete. Their task is to research the unknowns and start testing assumptions while tweaking the idea to fit the current realities. From there, the right resources, tactics, and methods can be deployed to see the idea through execution.
 
This is the creative advertising secret sauce. How we come up with killer ideas, regularly and at scale. 
 
Final Thoughts
To give you an idea of the volume of ideas that are generated by the creative pros in the ad world lets consider the elite level of brainstorming used to create new campaigns for one of the most heavily marketed brands of all time, McDonald’s.
 
If McDonald’s runs a new campaign monthly, in every region across the globe, that is over 119 different campaigns running at once. Each region has it’s own unique creative campaigns, which would represent over 1400 different sets of ideas that actually make it to production, globally, every year. Now, remember that this brand has been producing this sustained level of advertising for decades. Understanding the process that creates this volume of ideas paints a picture of the challenge ad execs face when creating original, unique creative content.
 
For every winning idea that becomes an ad, about 50 other ideas have to be born, then quickly die. Globally, just for this brand alone, that equals over 70,000 creative ideas generated yearly. So when you think about Mad Men, Don Draper and all the cool kids working in advertising, you can now see behind the (faux) glamour of the job and understand the mental Olympics that occur every day to keep the ideas coming. Now that is truly Design Thinking.
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Design Thinking, Growth Hacking, Marketing
Talking is one of our most primal and basic functions, yet when presented with an interview or data on a computer screen, more and more people are choosing the impersonal interaction.
 
User research has always held a high place within design but it now has come to the forefront with more people competing for customer attention. While a number of user insight approaches exist such as A/B testing, heat mapping, and expression tracking, these all tend to get overly complicated and are better suited for later in the design process. They also rely exclusively on technology to solve a non-technical problem that is understanding what your users feel.
 
With so many alternative research methodologies, why bother actually talking to your customers at all? 
 
Because people inherently don’t trust a screen but will open up to an empathetic stranger in a matter of minutes. The need for interviews stems from the complex nature of people being people and the fact that we can’t always be defined by numbers or predicted by patterns. 
 
Forget Your Assumptions; YOU ARE WRONG
Research methodologies were born out of the sciences, they were designed to provide validation on hypothesis, concepts, ideas, and statistics. Due to this, most questions result in ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers which provide a direct response to the hypothesis but do not explore the emotions or journey that got the user there. Unfortunately, the answer to ‘why something works?’ is then based on a pre-determined combination of prior knowledge, demographics, and psychographics. Interviews, on the other hand, have the flexibility to be structured in a way that makes no assumptions and goes to the heart of what the customer is actually feeling.
 
During customer research for our stock 3D model company, we assumed that artists were purchasing stock 3D models to simply fill out their scenes. That stock models were not core elements of their designs. Through a combination of in-depth conversations and literally sitting at their desk asking questions while they worked, we learned that our customers weren’t using stock to simply fill out backgrounds, but as critical components of their designs. The majority of customers were actually using stock models as ‘mostly’ complete skeleton of their project, then modifying it to meet their requirements. We had been aware of this use, however, the research data we had showed that this wasn’t really a big use scenario. It wasn’t until speaking with 3D artists that we learned that the existing academic data we had was entirely superficial and didn’t really understand the job that 3D artists do every day. 
 
During these conversations, it was revealed that since we weren’t the only platform for our customers to purchase 3D models, they would open multiple browser tabs to look at us and our competition. They would then search all platforms and buy the 3D model that was the closest to their needs. Our assumption was that they searched one site at a time and hunted around, spending quality time in our store. In hindsight – should have been obvious – we were blinded by our assumptions and missed something that helped us rethink how we shared our product offering – from site design to marketing positioning.
 
Fill in the Knowledge Gaps
One of the great advantages of in-person interviews is that they enable you to discover things about your product that you didn’t know existed, or was needed. This can come from suggestions by the user, from you discovering new lines of inquiry during the interview and sometimes even when the user misunderstands a question. Discovering something that you aren’t looking for it is part of the conversation that always brings a new perspective and avenue for exploration every time.
 
Users = People
Interviews can be really hard on your ego, especially if you have staked your hypothesis on your assumptions. This is because your assumptions are about to be tested. You are now able to check if the personas you have created are actually representative of your audience or if you are introduced to a new group of users who you hadn’t considered before. You are able to connect with these people and understand the challenges they face not just with your product but also in their life. This is where empathy comes in, to make the emotional connection between your offering and the user’s problem. Ultimately, it enables you to better integrate your product into their lives.
 
So if interviews can reveal far more intent and understanding than other research methodologies, why aren’t more people conducting user interviews and why do most interviews end up being a waste of time?
 
Assumptions Instead of Goals
One of the biggest mistakes made while planning a user interview is not defining the purpose of the talk. Without clarity on why you’re talking with users, the whole exercise turns out to be futile as there is no set direction and it ends up becoming a generic mess of nothingness. You’re not a reporter doing a human interest story, you have a specific reason for requesting someone’s time.
 
Solution
There is no need to get into the weeds here, you just need to define the problem that you are trying to solve. If you can’t put it in a single sentence then you should probably keep refining it, because everything you do after will have to be validated by whether it helps you reach the stated goal.
 
Less Specific, More Open Ended
When you have your goals clearly defined and expectations established, it’s now time to develop the framework of the interview. There is no need to develop a detailed set of questions as these will add too much structure to the conversation which can choke off spontaneity and new discovery. While this sounds unstructured (it somewhat is), the worst thing you can do is to wing it; it doesn’t work. You eventually end up losing track of what you needed and everything looks like a great insight, it is only later that you realize that nothing of value was gained from the interviews.
 
Solution
The interview framework should be divided into sections based on the main questions that need answering and it should include follow-up questions to enable you to dig deeper into the ‘why’ of your user to understand what they’re feeling. Using a defined framework and accepting an unstructured approach that will be contained within the established framework will open more doors to insights you and your team might never have thought of.
 
Striking Balance
While it is important to get to the bottom of why something works/doesn’t work, you really don’t want to annoy your user by asking a follow-up question to every answer. You’ll need to strike the right balance between getting to the core of something and getting thrown out.
 
Solution
During your interview, it is inevitable that you will have the realization that you missed something of real importance. This makes adaptability a very important tool; you need to be willing to throw out the framework and explore this new revelation. As we discussed with Journey Mapping, you can treat the first few interviews as trials and revise the framework based on the feedback. This will not only help make the framework more complete but also help structure it based on the flow of the conversation.
 
While we all agree on the value of these user interviews, how do we get users onboard to spend their valuable time talking to us about our products?
 
Proving Value
Sadly, design isn’t a major concern for society, most people don’t really think about it until something doesn’t work and then all hell breaks loose. There isn’t enough time in an interview to educate the user on the design thinking process and quite frankly, they probably don’t care. However, what needs to be done is to convince the user that having these conversations results in a better product for them. The user only needs to understand that since they are the ones using the product, they are the best people to suggest how to improve it.
 
Establish Rapport
A conversation would be useless if the user doesn’t open up and answer the questions candidly; a disengaged user will give answers that they feel are the most unlikely to generate follow-up questions. To start, you’ll need to ‘warm up’ the interview by starting with general lines of inquiry about topics the customer is comfortable talking about before you jump in and make it about your product. This will ensure that when the ‘why’ questions approach, the customer already has the momentum going for them.
 
Keep Focused
It is easy to lose focus during these interviews because external distractions can come up and the fact that the customer might go off on a tangent can easily pull both of your focuses away. While this can be great to develop a better overall understanding of the customer, spending too much time on non-core issues is counterproductive, it could even dilute the research.
 
As mentioned with Journey Mapping, have two people conduct the interview along with audio and video recording. This way one person can lead the conversation giving the customer their full and undivided attention while the other can take detailed notes. In case of a single person, it’s best to allow the recording equipment to keep track of the conversation while you lead it, building the rapport and learning about your user’s problems.
 
Final Thoughts
While interviews are a great way to gain insights, without proper care and attention they end up being a gimmick and a waste of everybody’s time. Interviews are a design exercise in their own right and they should be treated as such. So instead of just conducting interviews next time, design them.
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Design Thinking, Growth Hacking, Marketing
Imagine being the proverbial fly on the wall watching your customer’s journey from recognition of your brand, through research to contact and ultimately purchase? What would that journey look like? What types of ‘a-ha’ moments would you hope to uncover?
 
Journey Mapping is taking the hypothetical customer journey and plotting it out in a flow-chart, Gantt chart or another visual format. This map envisions the actual journey, documenting touch-points and areas of friction. It can also envision the ideal journey, identifying an existing area of concern to provide an overall smooth experience. 
 
Regardless of the approach, plotting a customer’s journey with your product or service forces you to focus on your customers, and not on your company. When you map their journey, you’re walking the mile in their shoes, feeling the highs and lows associated with your brand and getting a better understanding of your customer’s experience.
 
Creating the Journey Map is a critical component of Design Thinking. Taking the trip and documenting the existing customer experience to feel what they feel will help you generate informed ideas when it comes time to brainstorm solutions or new opportunities for them. 
 
The number one reason great ideas fail is that we misjudge what the customer wants. One of the best ways to remove this uncertainty and reduce the risk is to develop a map that gets you as close as possible to your customer’s lives, to their problems and their frustrations, as you seek to understand how your brand can create value for them. 
 

How To Do It – A Designers Guide For First Timers

 
1. Select Customers That You Want To Understand
Spend time investigating the context in which they’ll be interacting with your brand, and how you contribute to their overall picture at that moment. Looking to secondary data is a good start, before actually engaging with real customers. Blogs and websites can be a great source of information to learn about the world surrounding your customer and give you a better understanding about the context that your brand lives in, and will ultimately interact within.
 
2. Sketch The Hypothetical Journey
This is the first map you’ll draw, albeit a hypothetical one. This is your opportunity to outline how you think your customer’s journey goes. Be sure to cover all the steps in the journey beginning to end, and not just the ones that your brand is involved in (ie: If you’re selling an app on the App Store, the journey probably started with a need, then a search, then a visit to the App Store, all before your brand was introduced).
 
3. Interview time
Select a small group of customers or prospective customers (usually 12 to 20, but less isn’t necessarily bad) representing a range of demographic attributes that you’ve already identified in your marketing strategies and business planning. This will give you a range of experiences to draw upon which can help challenge your hypothesized pencil sketch Journey Map. 
 
It’s time to conduct interviews. However, these interviews are far different than the traditional focus groups, as they are conducted one-on-one and reject the herd mentality when answering questions. With these interviews, you’re going to go (physically) where the customers are interacting with your brand, and joining them on their journey not only observing them but talking about their journey as they experience it.
 
Initially, interview two to five customers. These first conversations allow you time to practice your interview techniques, but also to refine your questions and approach. What might have felt like the perfect question internally, might turn out to lead the conversation nowhere. When you are fine-tuning the questions, you can easily find the focus points on the emotional moments of the customer experience, which will provide the strongest data for your team to analyze. 
 
Using your hypothetical Journey Map, ask your customer to take you through their journey while comparing it to your notes. Be sure to dig into the details so you are getting an accurate picture of their steps and getting the kind of data you need. Sometimes you’ll even need to keep digging in order to get your customer to truly reflect deeply on their thoughts and feelings. Remember not to accept superficial answers, they won’t do advance anything.
 
Lastly, it is important to conduct the interviews as a team; one person taking notes while the other conducts the interview, thereby giving the customer their full, undivided attention. 
 
4. Moments Of Truth
The interviews are complete, you’re sitting on a pile of data, now it’s time to uncover the truth. This is an intensive, deep dive, of sense-making. By summarizing what was learned in each interview on a single template, then identify the key emotional moments of each interview, you can start to plot out what your customers are feeling. Taking these key emotional moments, writing them out in large print, then sticking them on the wall, you and your team can start to see the bigger picture and identify themes across all customers. 
 
5. Study The Themes
Now that you’ve identified the core themes, its time to uncover and identify a number of new dimensions that are usually physiographic, rather than demographic, that will help you reveal the difference in your data. To help make sense of all this, try using the list of Universal Human Needs, compiled by the Centre for Nonviolent Communication, for generating the key points and needs from your customers. 
 
6. Map The Journey
Armed with your data, the emotional needs and wants of your customers and the understanding of what they go through, it is time to build the Journey Map of your customer (or for each persona if you are expanding your research across multiple customer types). The map should reveal its own set of high and low points. These pain-points represent the most valuable innovation opportunities for your customer – this is where you make their life better! 
 
Journey Mapping is a whole different monster from traditional market research tools like focus groups and surveys. Marketing leaders trained in those methods are often suspicious with the findings from Journey Mapping interviews because of the small number of subjects and versus the large nets that they are used to casting. However, the small sample is a deliberate choice (and not only because it is more economical for startup businesses), because the data gathering is much more deep, personal and emotionally focused. The process uses observation and intensive interviews in real-time while the customer is in the middle of the experience and the interviewer walks with them through each part of the journey asking questions as they go along. 
 
Final Thoughts
Like all tools, there is a time and place for Journey Mapping and it must be remembered that it does not produce statistically significant results that a corporate auditor can review; it doesn’t “prove” anything. Instead, it sparks creative thinking about the unmet needs of customers which are often inaccessible using traditional market research methods and larger sample sizes. The aim of Journey Mapping is not to produce a set of statistical data, but to produce a new set of hypotheses for testing. As such, Journey Mapping is another iterative tool in the Design Thinking toolkit that pushes companies to engage their customers to really understand their experiences, and design better solutions for them.
 
 
 
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Design, Entrepreneurship, Marketing
Designers are visual people, creating for the eyes and in-turn, the mind.
 
With incredible skills developing colour pallets to fonts, tactile objects to expansive spaces, stunning images to coveted fashions, designers truly live in the now of visual creativity. Designing the interfaces on our phones and buildings for our offices the universal language of design is user interaction – how to simplify or enhance how people interact with everything they create.
 
Visual design touches the eye first, but it is created to stimulate the mind.
 
If a designer is already creating successful pieces, they have the inherent tools to become a strong, detailed writer. While beautiful designs get noticed, written messages persuade much deeper. So why not take the time to build out this critical skill set?
 
Fast Company uncovered how writing is a designer’s unicorn skill in March 2017, ‘Forget Coding: Writing Is Design’s “Unicorn Skill”’ however, few designers have really pushed themselves to write. The trifecta of successful design leadership tends to be:
 
– Design
– Copy
– Code (or; Production, Modelling, Prototyping, etc…)
 
Each contributing equally to a successful creative execution. Even if your method is not digital, the same thinking applies. When the final product is in the users’ hands, a nice layout is appreciated, but the content is where they connect.
 
When I was starting my career in a large advertising agency, I worked with copywriters who would supply me with the lines to place and I’d go about my merry way making something look pretty. Words were simply another shape to be manipulated into place. While the copywriter and I would have discussions about how to use it, my influence over the development of it was limited. This was a missed opportunity.
 
Most studios and design firms are smaller operations and do not have the client budget for copywriters, so those tasks tend to fall upon account managers and the client themselves. This is where the designer who writes becomes the unicorn. Taking the time to proof and double check the copy as it is placed in the design, making edits and suggestions can help create a stronger end product. The designer is the one who has the full 360-degree view of all aspects of a project. So much so that with the significant rise in micro-copy (all those little lines guiding users in apps and help sections) it has become essential that micro-copy is part of the overall creative and brand strategy.


Lorem Ipsum
What designer can’t recite lines of the glorious Lorem Ipsum!? Ever since Adobe automatically started filling it into new text spaces with the release of Adobe CC2017, filling in Greek copy has never been easier. And yet, at this stage on the design industry, it comes 10 years too late.
 
Greeking in copy worked for print design decades ago, and still has its place in very early, internal concepts. Beyond the concept stage, it’s usefulness has dried up. It’s great as a placeholder and should be used for that – getting the design into a working place where you can start to define and refine it. Advancing the design by adding in the real words, forces the designer to approach the layout with equal consideration for the content as well. Without the context of real words, the design may not be as easy for the end user as originally intended.
 
Working with the content versus Lorem Ipsum allows the designer to see the final piece, grasping the critical links behind the visual and written to guide the user along. Allowing a designer to work with, and develop, the copy can additionally provide another layer of proofing with a detail-focused set of eyes that can provide valuable insight and feedback on the words themselves.


Get Writing
It’s time to get started! You don’t have to create a website from scratch to start writing. Start small, try out platforms like Linkedin, Facebook or Medium. You could even use Evernote and start a blog (like this one!).
 
Top creatives like the lead UX designer at Bannersnack, Gery Meleg, uses Medium to publish his thoughts. He also guest blogs for DesignModo, but he republishes the same article to connect with different readers through his Medium account. He doesn’t have a personal website, so he uses his social platforms to communicate his messages.
 
While we all have the capacity to become writers, I don’t think every designer should write or have a blog. Some may be better off with a podcast, or maybe play around with video and learn After Effects at the same time.
 
Sometimes it doesn’t matter the type of content you create, it’s more important that you create it and get it out there for the world to embrace (or reject, because the internet is why we can’t have nice things). At the end of the day, you have to want to write to do it successfully. Forcing yourself to polish off and evolve this skill isn’t easy, but even just a small monthly writing habit can be a good start.
 
 
 
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.


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Design, Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Startup
Think of all the great creative work we see on a daily basis. How the right image paired with the right words evoked reactions. How a new interface felt like a friendly piece of software that you were able to use with ease. Or a new product that came in such precise packaging that you wonder if you should keep the box as well. 
 
All of these pieces, products, and designs came to life from a creative brief. A creative brief is the foundation of any design project, UX product, marketing campaign and really anything produced by a creative team. In essence, a brief is a roadmap outlining the journey that the creative team is about to embark upon. The brief shows the team where to start driving to discover ideas but also how to evolve those ideas into fully formed concepts that complete the journey. 
 
One of the biggest challenges multidisciplinary teams face is getting, and keeping everyone on the same page. The creative brief is the proverbial shepherd herding all the stakeholders together. It provides a central point of reference to clarify the project goals, details, mandatory elements, timelines and budgets for creatives and clients to reference throughout a project. It also has the added bonus of acting as a cover for scope creep for creatives and a deliverable list for clients. A creative brief also provides a way to navigate the messier parts of collaboration on big, complex projects with multiple moving parts and people.
 
In the blog, 5 Ways to Keep Revision Costs Down, one of the key elements for cost control is a detailed creative brief. By capturing all the project elements in one place, both client and agency teams can be held accountable allowing for a more accurate quote and fewer revisions in the final stages.
 
A 2017 survey of over 1,200 international advertising executives by Ad Age asked them to rank clients on topics including integration, procurement, compensation, and consolidation.
 
Specifically, regarding creative briefs, their response was, “Agency assignment briefs were a major problem area, highlighting the old ‘garbage in, garbage out’ mentality. Most agencies reported some level of frustration regarding the quality of assignment briefings: 53% found briefs complete but lacking in focus; 27% found them incomplete and inconsistent; 20% found them complete and focused most of the time, and zero respondents found them complete and focused all the time.”
 
Now, more than ever, teams need to orchestrate and distribute brand campaigns that include multiple media options, timed deliverables, and collaboration efforts with creatives located all over the globe.
 
At the start of a creative project, it is important to answer some essential questions from the key stakeholders.  
 
      • What problem needs to be solved?
      • Who is the target audience?
      • What product, service or solution will solve the core problem?
 
Clarity around these aspects is at the heart of any project success. These questions work for any project type and help get everyone on the project aligned with the main objectives.
 
At its purest, a creative brief is like building a house; a strong foundation will ensure everything else stays together. So, how do you want to build your house? Here are some tips.
 
1. What Are Your Goals?
Before diving into the details of the project, try focusing on a few details. This will allow you to keep the project manageable and your brief focused. However your project is structured, it is important to lay out individual goals that will comprise the steps required to complete the project. 
 
Having a clear vision of who you are is critical when communicating your goals to the team, so they can amplify your amazing qualities. If you have a brand guide, you’ll need to attach it to the creative brief to reinforce who you are and give the creative team a reference they can look to when questions arise. If you do not have a brand guide, now is the time to get one (warning: self-promo ahead) from Method Creative Studios; user experiences driven by simplicity. 
 
2. Who Are The Key Stakeholders?
Ownership drives accountability, on both the client and agency side. Having someone, or team, listed as the decision makers for the client and main point of contact for the creative team allows each group to identify the project leaders. The brief should clearly outline who’s driving the car and who is the senior leadership that can provide guidance if problems arise.
 
Selecting stakeholders who will play an active role in the process will leave the teams with a clear understanding of who they need to turn too when questions arise. However, be sure to not overload already busy staff who might overlook important details. Realistically, this isn’t always possible, but it’s nice to dream, right?
 
3. Who Are We Talking To?
This should be self-explanatory. If you don’t know who you’re talking to this project is far too embryonic for a creative brief. At this point, you should know who your audience is and what their customer person looks like. This needs to be clearly communicated to the creative team. If you have research and detailed persona outlines, put this in an appendix. The agency teams love having a detailed understanding of who they’re talking to.
 
4. What’s The Deal With Your Competition?
Who’s the competition? What are they doing? Where are they finding success? When are the right market conditions? Tell us your ‘why’ statement. This information will help inform the direction that your product, service or brand will go to stand out and help focus both client and creative teams towards a clearer picture of the destination on the roadmap that is our creative brief.
 
5. What Is Our Key Message?
This is the biggie of the project, everything created is in service of this message. To help point the creative team in the right direction try to position the tone and style around the brand’s voice, mission and/or values. 
 
Thinking about the overall goal, try to distill it down to one sentence, or even a few words if possible. If this is presenting itself as a challenge, try using the Golden Circle approach to simplify your message to its core elements. From there, both teams will be able to focus on the best way to communicate it with your audience. 
 
6. How Are We Communicating Your Message?
Let’s get into the specifics now. What channels are you using to push your message? On a screen in a conference hall is a far different screen than your phone playing on Instagram. By narrowing down where your message will be placed, the creative team can design it to cater directly to your audience.
 
7. What Are The Deliverable Details?
Now it’s time to dive into the details. This is where you document exactly what needs to be developed, what mandatory elements are needed, what size the final product needs to be, how it will be produced, who’s responsible for completing a phase and who is it being passed onto. 
 
Let’s get a laundry list of what MUST appear on your piece. Things like logos, selling lines, legal copy, phone numbers, web address, etc. You can also help us out by identifying any possible legal pitfalls or regulatory issues. Do you have a branding guide? What are your corporate colours and fonts? Does it need to be bilingual?
 
This is also your chance to have some fun and join us in the creative process. Please share with us the idea you have in the back of your head, let’s call it a ‘bad ad’ or a ‘jumping off’ point. We know you have an idea of how you see things ending up, it’s time to share. Pull out the crayons and get started. If you have samples of images, brands, ads, apps, websites, or anything else that inspires, this is the time to share it. By knowing what styles, UX’s, tones, etc. that you like, the creative team and focus in on delivering your vision.
 
Don’t be afraid to get really into it here, the more details on the final deliverables, the more focused the creative team can be thus saving you revision costs in the long run.
 
8. How Is Success Measured?
Before the creative team goes nuts building the next great app, do we have tangible metrics to track that will determine growth and success? Do the current analytics account for multiple campaigns and outbound sales activities so this project can be isolated and measured on its own? 
 
Establishing metrics in advance for reporting data helps facilitate stronger client-agency relationships in the long run. It builds trust upon everyone delivering their tasks, and allows for insight into problem areas as they arise. Just make sure there are agreed-upon metrics so everyone knows whether goals have been reached.
 
9. What Are The Timelines?
Let’s face it, some projects are far simpler than others and some are multi-agency, multi-disciplinary complex projects that require a lot of detailed specs. Understanding where this project falls within the marketing mix, content calendar or marketing strategy can help outline the appropriate timeline for completion. 
 
Timelines are the backbone of your project and should be laid out plainly in the creative brief. Try to focus on time windows and then narrow them down to specific days after working with your creative team to fit your project into the production schedule if possible. Ultimately, each deliverable needs to have a due date, as well as a sign-off date. These timelines let the teams know what needs to be done to hit the deadline and how things may be delayed if something is not completed for the next phase.
 
Remember, if every job is a priority, then none of them are a priority. 
 
10. What Is The Budget?
Let’s talk money. What is your budget? We can tailor the job to your budget? Does your budget include hosting, media buys, delivery, and/or printing and production costs? Have you factored in translation costs, audio production, stock image/video purchases, transportation, location fees, licensing, permits, etc.?
 
In most cases, you’re working with a set budget based on the complexity of the project – a 15 second motion graphic ad for Facebook has a smaller budget than a live action 30 second on-location spot that includes digital and print ads to accompany it – this needs to be included in the brief and part of the discussion with the agency team. They will want to know where the flex points are to see if new ideas or techniques could be applied. 
 
If the agency’s quote is above your budget, talk it over with them. Quite often we’re willing to tailor a job based upon budget and needs. Through this dialogue, we can figure out realistic expectations and deliverables before jumping into the project and discovering that the budget has been burned two-thirds of the way through. 
 
Final Thought
Taking the time at the start of the project to think through these 10 tips, and reviewing the brief your agency sent, you’ll be able to build a creative brief that is not only thorough but effective and focused. Now armed with your creative brief, you and your agency team can build the right project for your business. 
 
If you would like a sample of our thorough creative 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). Now go out there and create something beautiful.
 
 
 
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.
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