7 Ways to Overcome Creative Barriers

Breaking new creative ground can be a challenging proposition for designers. In a recent survey by our company, eight out of 10 in-house designers said it’s difficult to convince senior management to accept ideas that deviate from the prevailing corporate style. And more than a quarter of respondents cited their company’s unwillingness to take risks as the most frequent obstacle to creativity.

On the bright side, many in-house designers feel they can exercise more creativity than they did five years ago. However, it remains difficult to break certain barriers. Following are seven strategies for overcoming challenges and enhancing creative freedom.

Design is not just ‘window dressing.’ Glenn Arnowitz, director of corporate graphics at Wyeth, a global pharmaceutical company, says it’s imperative to talk about design as a core business competency. “You have to recognize and communicate the value you offer and understand the role of design in your company,” Arowitz says. That’s why it’s important to involve yourself within business strategies your firm is pursuing, whether it’s moving into a new international market or acquiring a competitor. Knowing your company’s larger goals will help you make a stronger case for your designs.

Work on your soft skills. The ability to communicate effectively with everyone, from your boss’s boss to the person in IT who troubleshoots your computer problems, is key. When it comes to critiques, avoid a “know it all” attitude that suggests the person asking for changes to your work has no concept of real design. No one wants to work with someone who sees himself—or herself—as superior. Instead, remain open to constructive criticism and, if you disagree with a point made, focus on the business aspects of why you believe your design works.

Educate and enlighten. Part of the reason for tight project budgets and warp-speed turnaround times is a lack of knowledge about the creative process. Many non-creatives simply don’t appreciate the style guidelines with which you must comply. They might not be aware of the cost of original photographs, for instance, or realize how much time it takes to produce a 75-page brochure. Do your best to diplomatically enlighten non-designers about the intracacies of your job.

Build your case. You won’t be successful breaking new creative ground if you can’t tie a design concept back to your company’s business objectives. To help sway others to your line of thinking, focus on relevance to the audience, for example, or the brand awareness (i.e., return on investment) an expensive design element generated in an earlier campaign. Avoid talking up the “coolness” factors of your ideas; you need more substance to boost your powers of persuasion.

Give examples. If you want to convince the VP of Marketing to use an entirely new color scheme for the firm’s deliverables, do some research first and present relevant samples. You might take a cue from Ann Brenner, art director for Healthy Advice Networks. “I use examples of good design from high-profile companies to show non-creatives concepts that may work well for our audience,” she says. “And when presenting color palettes, I bring articles about what the colors represent and how they are successfully used in print, interior design and fashion design.”

Avoid jargon. Direct, concrete statements are typically the most powerful. While every profession has its own lexicon—from Web 2.0 to CMYK—such buzzwords perplex the uninitiated. Remove design-specific jargon from your vocabulary when presenting to non-creatives. By speaking in layman’s terms, you’ll make a more persuasive case.

Show you’re a winner. Entering your work in design competitions will help build your credibility. When outside organizations recognize your design savvy, you’ll earn respect from those working around you, as well as upper management. Such credibility can go a long way when you’re pushing for an edgier annual report design.

It’s true that those on in-house teams often have to work extra hard to push through new ideas. However, incorporating the suggestions above will help designers earn the respect of those with whom they work, making it easier to enhance creative freedom on the job.

The Creative Group is a specialized staffing service placing creative, advertising, marketing and Web professionals on a project basis with a variety of firms.