You can get more out of a creative review than just a go-ahead to move to the next phase of the project. In coming together with your client to assess work in progress, opportunities open up that you can take advantage of.
I can’t tell you how many creative reviews I’ve had over the years, nor can I remember them all, but certain ones stand out to me for reasons beyond getting a client to approve the work. So I wanted to share my thoughts about creative reviews so they can be more valuable to you than simply obtaining a good-to-go from the client.
First, let’s look at what a creative review is. For an ad agency or design firm, it’s usually a conference room meeting with the creative team, the client and the firm’s account execs. The creative team presents their concepts and approach, the account execs present stats and figures, and the client provides feedback and asks questions.
For an independent creative, it’s a meeting with the client where you share your approach to their problem and the insights that guided your thinking and the resulting creative work. The client provides feedback and asks questions. The meeting can be face-to-face or virtual.
During a creative review, you will be expected to defend your creative decisions. The client will want to understand how you analyzed their problems and concerns, and how you arrived at each solution. This presentation is the first time the client will be able to experience how you work, and will naturally make a decision whether to proceed with what’s been presented or to go in a different direction.
Here are some insights about creative reviews that I’ve gleaned from working with clients for over 35 years. Use the creative review to:
Understand your client better.
Present your work and reasons for your design choices, and ask what they think. Every client is looking for something different, something that fits their purpose uniquely and thoroughly. You cannot meet one client’s needs by repeating what you did for another client. Something that’s suitable for Client A may not be at right for Client B. It’s your responsibility to ask them to put things in the point of view of their clients or customers. What’s working? What’s not? What needs tweaking?
The more you know your client, the easier it will be to create useful solutions for them. You will be able to anticipate their need, and suggest other possibilities to them.
For example, I learned that one of my non-profit clients was looking for funding beyond their donor pool. I asked if they had heard about the Amazon Smile program. They had not. But they have now set is up and are starting to see good results.
Improve on your presentation skills.
Are you able to talk about your work from their point of view? Can you present their problem in your own words and describe how you are solving it? Is your presentation style working? Can the client easily view your presentation? Do you have a backup method in case there’s no wifi? Does the client prefer hard copy or digital? Do they prefer seeing the presentation before your meeting so that they can review it at their leisure and prepare for your meeting? After each presentation, assess what worked and what didn’t. Make adjustments. Use every experience to learn and improve.
Educate your client.
When your client asks for something that would be bad for the design, (see my “white space” comment in the example below), you can teach them why, from a practical and aesthetic point of view, that’s not a good idea. Or if they ask you to do something that’s no within your service offerings, you can remind them what you do and refer them elsewhere for that need.
Improve your work.
There’s always room to improve on what we do, whether it’s creating the work or the process. Did you do enough research and the right kind of research? Did the client notice something that you didn’t but should have, like a typo or too much space between sentences?
It’s better to make mid-course corrections than to entirely miss the destination at the end of the process.
Use the review to confirm direction and approach.
Anytime you drive somewhere you need to adjust your steering. You are always compensating for wind, weather, road quality, and visibility in order to get to your destination safely. The same idea applies to your creative work. In-progress conversations with your client will make you aware of where you’re on track and where you’ve gone astray. They’re your opportunity to be sure you’re going in the right direction, and to know if you missed something along the way. It’s better to make mid-course corrections than to entirely miss the destination at the end of the process.
After a review, follow up with the client in writing — send an email — to summarize your understanding of their feedback and how you will address it, next steps for you, next steps for the client, and scheduling. The follow up on your part helps to assure the client that they’ve participated in your creative process and that you’ve heard and understood their concerns. Here’s an example of a follow-up summary I recently sent to my non-profit client (this has been slightly edited):
Thank you for getting together yesterday to review progress on the website project. Your feedback is helpful to me in creating a site that will help you reach more people, present your information clearly, be easy to use, and build awareness for your cause.
I wanted to summarize our conversation before going forward. Please confirm or correct my understanding:
The size of the fonts needs to be increased for headers and body text because a large percentage of your clients are older. I will change the type styling and adjust the page structure as needed.
Links are too light. I will select a darker color for the links, increasing the light-dark contrast between the link color and the page background.
You prefer tab sections over multiple columns, and that the tab structure is consistent on all the pages. I will reformat the pages to follow the standard of the About page.
The header images are too large on mobile devices. I will remove header images on all but the home page and place them in the page body to create “pauses” in the text and/or introduce new sections.
I will add resources, event calendar and the quote to the page sidebar.
I will add the board of directors and history of the organization to the About page.
Add the logo to the home page hero image so that people get used to seeing it.
I will retain the current percentage of white space because it works to frame the content on each page and bring focus to it. As we discussed, it’s like a picture frame. White space increases legibility. If you want to know more, I have written an article about it here.
I will continue building out the site (please pay my invoice right away so that I can continue). We should be able to launch with minimum viable content on time.
What I need from you are the following actions and content:
Installation of the SSL certificate.
Copy for the home page hero image headline and subtext.
Sidebar descriptive copy introducing “hero” stories, and the stories themselves.
Please let me know if you have questions.
Creative reviews have a huge impact on the client’s ability to trust that you’re the right person to develop their job. And they should be confirming to you that you’re serving the client well. In any case, every interaction with your client is an opportunity to learn and mature creatively as as a business professional.
Additionally, they can confirm that you are doing work that helps others and is meaningful to you.
What would you add? Share in the comments.