3 Creative Decision Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them.

Even straightforward decisions can be tough. Weighing the options, examining all the factors, finding the “right” choice can be difficult. Creative decisions can be just as tough if not tougher for the very simple reason that “right” and “wrong” are subjective — it’s not necessarily math with a definitive equation, it can be an opinion.

Because of this, especially when hiring a graphic designer, the decision-making process can get expensive. Unless you negotiated a flat fee, every revision will cost you more, and even if you have your designer on a retainer agreement or negotiated a flat fee you’ll spend time that you might not be able to afford.

Why can it be so hard to come to a design decision?

  1. Not everyone likes it.
  2. Not really sure if you even like it.
  3. Not sure if you even know what you want in the first place.

Not Sure If You Even Know What You Want

This is the first thing that you should think about before you even call your graphic designer. You know you need something — a logo update, a flyer, a brochure, a website. It could be anything. The problem is when you can’t get past the “something” wall. This is when you will want to brainstorm with the following questions:

  1. What made me think of doing this in the first place?
  2. Who am I trying to impress/attract/speak to?
  3. What do I want to say?
  4. What impression do I want people to get from this? (High end? Good bargain? Great service?… etc.)
  5. What do I like?
  6. What do I think my audience likes?

From there, browse through magazines, websites, and other materials, and collect the things that you like, and the things that you really don’t like. Why? Because you can learn as much from what you’re not happy with as you can from what you are happy with.

After you’ve answered your questions and collected your materials, take them and sit down and chat with your designer (in person if possible). He/she should be able to help focus you and form a good idea of the first concepts to see in your design.

Not Really Sure If You Like It

This usually happens after the first couple of revisions, maybe the 2nd or 3rd round. You’re getting closer to making a decision, but it’s just… not… there… yet.

This is when you let it rest.

Just like painting a swatch to pick a new wall color, you might have to live with it for a little bit. Tack it up on a wall you’ll walk past during the normal course of the day. As you get used to seeing it without staring at it intently, you’ll find that you’ll start either liking it more, or liking it less as time goes by. Granted, you don’t want to wait too long, I recommend 2 or 3 days.

If after 2 or 3 days you like it more… go for it. Approve the design and move into the final proofing stages.

If you like it less, go back and do another revision. But don’t start over. You’ve gotten this far for a reason. Try to figure out what it is that bothers you about it, and tweak the design until works for you.

Not Every One Likes It

This one is tough. On the one hand, getting the options of others can be invaluable input. On the other hand…

Design by Committee is NEVER Pretty

Why? Because it is an opinion-based decision, and no two opinions are ever (okay rarely) alike. Those who try to get everyone on a committee to agree will find the process taking many times longer, absolutely draining on energy and resources and extremely frustrating.

So how can you avoid “Design by Committee” and take advantage of the valuable viewpoints of others.

1. Own the project. By this, you acknowledge that you and you alone (or the person you appoint alone) makes the final decision. You never put the designs up for a vote and you accept the fact that someone isn’t going to like it. It’s hard, especially when you’re not certain. But by having the project’s owner alone making the final decision, it makes “Design by Committee” virtually impossible.

2. Don’t call a meeting to collect opinions. Yes, it’ll take more legwork for you and it’ll seem like it’ll take more time, but in the long run it’ll prevent a committee from forming.

3. Choose your outside opinions wisely. You don’t necessarily want everyone’s opinion. But going it entirely alone isn’t a good idea either. So here are some ideas for how to choose the people whose opinions you might want to tap:

  • A colleague who is not necessarily a close friend: Why? A close friend might not want to hurt your feelings, so their opinion may not be entirely honest. A colleague who is not also a close friend should respect you enough to give an honest opinion but without fear of damaging a good friendship with honest criticism.
  • A “comfortable” subordinate: A comfortable subordinate is someone who works for you, but is unafraid of your authority. You respect and value them for how they perform, and they respect you and are able to be honest with you. You’ll know who they are because they are able to respectfully voice a dissenting opinion to your face. This person has a different perspective of your business (more a ground up view) and may be able to give you some insight that you don’t already have. If you’re the President/Owner, don’t just look to the VP’s and C-level executives. Other good people for this can be assistants, receptionists, warehouse/mailroom personnel, and lower-middle managers.
  • Someone in your business’ demographic or target audience
  • Someone you know, who doesn’t necessarily know or understand your business: This is an odd one, but there’s a good reason for it. The whole point of graphic design is to communicate a message in a visual way. So if you’re looking to produce a new piece, especially a logo, brochure or other promotional material this is especially true. So by showing it to someone who is not already familiar with your business, you’ll know if it works because the piece should tell them something about your company without you having to explain it. Depending on the piece they may not learn everything about your business, but you want to see something click.

A word of caution. Limit the numbers. One of each is good, two or three of each is fine too, but much more than that and you’re forming a committee. You’re not going to agree with every opinion, but listen. If you hear a suggestion for change from more than one source, then take that opinion seriously and really consider changing your mind about it.

Ultimately, remember the decision is yours — or, if you assigned the project to someone else, the decision is theirs. Either way, one owner. Listen to input, but don’t try to make everyone happy. Live with the design a little bit, but limit the time it spends on your wall (and in your mind) marinating. And when in doubt, talk to your designer, he/she should be able to help you focus your thoughts — and decide!