I believe in fast iterations. I like to stand behind our graphic artists while they work. It makes projects move fast, saves everyone’s time and, believe it or not, no one has snapped at me yet.
There are times when hovering over someone is not possible. We had such a situation a few months ago when we ordered a poster from Asia. Things went as expected: communication problems, passing deadlines, dozens of comments and requests for changes, several “Final” versions and I’m sure, a very frustrated artist.
At the end, we finished the project only a little late. We got very close to what we wanted and the artist was happy to be done with it. This was a textbook example of what usually happens when you’re working with someone overseas who probably doesn’t share your culture, language, not to mention, your vision. Here’s a short rundown of our project.
A Request for Ice Hockey Superheroes
Our brief was short. While we did include some references of what kind of vibe we were looking for we had no examples of background, colors or layout. Basic things that we, being in a hurry, took for granted but which are fairly relevant for an artist starting the project. We did provide pictures of the players’ features and a list of their natural abilities, e.g. this guy is a goalie, this guy is big, this guy is happy and fast.
We posted our assignment in Upwork and it got attention. We received a good amount of applicants which itself is key criteria for a successful project. I think the reason for getting many candidates was that the work seemed fun.
From three runner-ups we needed to choose one. For our final selection we asked the artists to draft a quick sketch and made our decision based on that. When deciding on a creative artist key is to choose someone whose style resembles the style you are going after. Many artists say that they “can draw anything you want in whatever style you want” while that might be true, don’t make the mistake of choosing someone because you like them and “maybe they can do things a bit differently.” There are two reasons for this: 1) You might not be clear on what you want. Explaining a vision that is not clear is difficult, asking someone to change their style to fulfill that vision is impossible. 2) Always bet on a person’s talent. You get the best outcome when you have people doing stuff that they do best. Very simple.
We wanted a vibe that was powerful, dynamic and a bit gloomy. Here is the winning sketch:
What Happens when You don’t Know what You Want?
We were not easy clients. The project started smoothly but as we moved from the sketching phase to illustration we suddenly didn’t like it anymore. We wanted iterations but presented them far too late. At the point where we were provided with final versions we started asking for changes in the concept. That was not fast iterating and it was clear that we had no vision for our poster. In addition to vision, we weren’t able to communicate details properly. Minor things that we as Northern Europeans took for granted were suddenly portrayed wrongly. For example a Russian flag in an NHL arena and hockey sticks that were too long. Biggest challenge was making the players look dynamic. We found the poster strange because it was too static. We wanted velocity, action and skate marks on the ice. Due to lack of clarity and a proper process we were unable to communicate our wishes and ended up with a huge mess of going back and forth with backgrounds and concepts. It got a little funny and awkward. Finally, we regrouped and managed to finish the project.
Planning Really is Half the Battle
All things considered this project went rather smoothly, i.e. it got done. Still, to respectively save everyone’s time and make sure your project is as successful as possible here are a few pointers to make your life a little easier.
- Vision: Make sure you know exactly what you want. Find a way to present it as visually as possible either by drawing, using mood boards, image collages etc.
- Communication: The person with the vision is the one who communicates the idea forward. This person is also the one in contact with the artist.
- The Brief: When briefing the artist be as specific as possible. There are no useless details. Especially if you are working with someone in different settings. In our case, Ice Hockey is not a huge thing in Thailand. Don’t take anything for granted.
- Fast iterations: In addition to giving very good specs, a clear vision enables you to halt the project as soon as it starts to stumble. Save time, hours of useless work, and your artist’s nerves by pausing the project and making changes fast.
- Direct access: For fast iterations have an instant communication channel with the artist. Use what ever you can; Skype, Facebook, Whatsapp, Slack etc. Talk to them and ask them to show you their progress in real-time.
- Valuable feedback: People are quick to state that they either like something or they don’t but they usually have a hard time specifying what it is that they like or don’t like and how things could be fixed. Everyone involved in the project need to learn this in order to give valuable insight and suggestions.
- Deadlines: As a pointer, give the artist and the team a deadline that is a couple of days earlier than the hard deadline. Something always happens.
- Benchmark: Do your research. What works? What has been done before? What hasn’t been done before?
- Goal: Why are you making this? If you are making an ad: Where are people when they see it? What are they doing when they see it? What are you asking them to do ? Whatever you are asking, is it easy for them to do right then and there?
I want my creative projects to turn out perfect and magical. The thing with perfection and magic is not that the artist does exactly what we ask, it’s that they do what we don’t ask. To accomplish this, the artist needs to share our vision and know exactly what we want. If we can’t communicate it, or even worse, we don’t even really know it, magic will not happen.