Can Process and Creativity Coexist?
Being creative is about using your imagination and breaking new ground. In the marketing world, however, creativity can’t run the show. At Tendo, for example, we often create marketing materials that need to adhere to certain criteria—such as a client’s brand guidelines, editorial style guide, or template for a product one-sheet. So what happens when creativity and process have to live together in harmony? I had questions, and Edgar Pardo, Tendo’s creative lead, had answers.
We’re all crunched to finish work faster. How does that affect your creativity?
I’m amazed at how fast the work happens now. Not too long ago, you had typesetters, photographers, and so on. Creating a piece took a few weeks and a lot of people were involved. Now the entire responsibility for executing has fallen to art directors and designers. We’re equipped with the tools to deliver right away.
To some degree, clients know that, so anything can be turned out quickly, but the challenge is that you still need to allow for the thinking and strategy that go behind the creative. Production tools might speed up the execution, but we still need to factor in time for the creative process. That can’t be condensed.
Do process and process-focused tools (like templates) help you save time?
Definitely. Process helps structure the time we need to create something that works within a given framework. A template or guidelines from the client gets us going in the right direction faster, and establishes expectations. A client should not be totally surprised when they see an initial draft of the work.
Do you want clients to provide brand guidelines?
I welcome brand guidelines. As marketers, we are stewards of the brand and the important role that it plays. The existence of guidelines and templates means someone is paying attention to and looking out for the brand.
Some guidelines are bare-bones—perhaps just logo treatments, color palette, and typeface. Others include an extension and application of the brand—for example, how to apply these elements to white papers, eBooks, and so on. A good set of brand guidelines will allow a designer to maintain his or her creativity and explore within the bounds of the brand so that the work can be unique. It shouldn’t stifle creativity—it should just provide parameters.
How does imagery factor in?
I think the exploration of imagery is under-used today. I also think that there’s an expectation that you can find a good image quickly, and that’s not always the case. It’s too easy to grab something that’s already been used and not take the time to explore other options.
I like to take a bit more time and find something complementary or interpretive. A headline might spark an idea for an image, and then I look for something that complements and enhances the headline rather than regurgitates it in visual form. In words, it’s like a thesaurus—perhaps you look up a synonym and that takes you down a path that branches out to another word and you land on the right thing.
With imagery, time and budget are always the biggest challenges, but getting it right is well worth it.
How do you avoid a sameness to content assets when you have to use tools like brand guidelines and templates?
Some of it’s in the imagery, but it comes down to the layout of the elements and the amount of copy and content we have to work with. Content may be provided in a copy deck, but there are so many ways to pull out the technical ideas and concepts and present them visually using the brand elements and visual vocabulary. I’m always looking at different creative pieces to see good work that’s out there and evaluate what makes it effective. There are a ton of ways to lay something out, but it’s easy to fall into a rut and execute pieces the exact same way.
Who is the keeper of the brand?
I don’t always see a centralized brand group reviewing everything; a lot of companies don’t have that oversight. Brand guidelines are a tool given to marketing, and the person managing the project is generally the one to sign off. It puts a stronger responsibility on us designers to make sure we’re respecting the brand.
It’s inherent for designers to want to push the brand as technology and styles change and the environment around us shifts. Sometimes designers look at the brand as a set of rules they can’t break. The noncreative approach is to try to break those rules—but if we want to respect the brand, then we don’t want to break the rules. Instead we think, “How can I use these tools within these parameters and be innovative? I’m working in this box, but I can still do something cool or new or different.”