We’ve all been there and it stings. We dive into the creative process and shape something amazing—or at least we think so. We put all our creative vision, skills, and expertise on the table. Essentially, we bear our soul through creative expression.
Once we’ve wrapped the project and finally reveal it to others, their reaction shows they are less than inspired. Or worse, they respond with critical feedback and stop us dead in our tracks. At that moment, the feedback feels harsh. In reality, it’s not, but it sure can feel that way.
So, how can you avoid these speed bumps in the first place? Though these types of setbacks can definitely slow you down, they don’t have to grind you to a screeching halt. Here are a few ways to help you find your creative jam:
1. Stay grounded in your creative calling and purpose
The most important thing to remember is your true north, your driving purpose and why you’re involved in creativity in the first place. This will help you quickly rise above any setbacks you might experience along the way. If you are grounded and know why you care so deeply, it will help you recover more quickly from the natural frustrations and downers of the creative process.
2. Dig down deep to envision and shape more compelling ideas
It’s important to remember . . . the end product is only as good as the underlying concept that drives it. If your end product feels weak, it could be because the foundational concept is not really compelling or has not been well thought out. Of course, it could also mean that the way you’ve executed the concept simply needs to get tighter. It’s important to discern where things are falling short—in the concept itself, or in the way you are expressing it?
3. Articulate your concepts verbally to refine and solidify a tight vision
Since visual assets can be strong and overpowering, I often share my ideas verbally before shaping them into written or visual assets to get a preliminary read on how people react to the raw concept. If the reactions you get when you verbally unpack your concepts are flat, pause and ask yourself why. Will the concept translate well visually? Is something inherently wrong with the concept? Is the concept simply too hard for others to “get” quickly without explanation? If so, take a deep breath, back up and give it another shot.
4. Show your ideas to several different people to gain a diverse perspective
Before presenting your finished product to those who will decide on its ultimate viability and worth, test the waters with as many diverse people as possible. Be careful not to only share it with other creative types who might more easily get it. Show it to that guy who doesn’t have an ounce of creativity. Take his temperature on it. This can be very revealing about the strength of the concept. Honest reactions are your friend. Embrace them. To do so, you will need to make sure you . . .
5. Don’t take it personally when feedback feels critical
Over the years, I’ve worked with hundreds of great creatives. I’ve noticed that some of them simply don’t do well with feedback and suggestions for improvements. As a creative, how you posture when given feedback is critical to your professional growth, not to mention the project’s ultimate success and your client relations. If there’s even a whiff of arrogance or resistance in your response to others when they offer feedback, you’re just hurting yourself. Receive feedback with open arms, even when it feels critical. Without question, it will drive you deeper as a creative and force you to get better.
6. Look to other industries, disciplines and environments for inspiration
It can be easy to get stuck in a rut when you’re constantly working in the same context. If you need a fresh dose of inspiration, take a field trip into other industries, disciplines and environments. Are you a designer? Try writing in a journal. A photographer? Try your hand at some basic construction using raw materials. Are you a writer for a nonprofit? Work for a church? Visit a corporate creative environment. Spend time listening to different genres of music or viewing classic paintings and styles of architecture. Break out of your norm and switch it up. There’s inspiration everywhere you look, because everything you see was designed by someone. Think about it.
7. Pull digital and physical examples which illustrate your creative vision
It can be hugely helpful to pull together a list of websites, digital assets, paintings, photos and print collateral to help illustrate your vision before work is started. Once you develop a habit of finding inspiration all around you, there will be no end to what you might reference. Showing examples helps everyone align their project goals and stimulates creativity.
8. Generate conceptual sketches and thoughts before going digital
As much as you want to dive right into digital, it pays to take a few steps back first. Before you commit to anything in the digital space, try working with some real pen and paper. Sketch concepts, whiteboard your ideas, jot down notes, diagram what’s in your head—whatever suits your style. There’s no substitute for spending time massaging concepts by hand before you translate them into digital assets—trust me, it just yields better quality. It may seem old school, but it was actually hipster before hipster was hipster. We’ve proven it works over and over.
9. Create a high volume of concepts and iterations before going digital
Though it takes extra time and work, when you generate a higher volume of concepts, it usually yields higher quality concepts. Sure, it’s also sometimes true that the first few concepts are the strongest. But, it’s also hard to know for sure unless you really “work it out” and massage a legit number of concepts. There’s just something about volume that yields stronger concepts. Some of these will be original concepts, while others will be iterations of an original concept. In both cases, volume helps yield the best stuff.