Striking the right balance

Can creativity be pragmatic? Or do practical considerations stifle the ability to push the envelope? asks Barry Seal

When clients come to design consultancies, it’s for innovative thinking and a high level of creativity – and yet all too often, designers get carried away with the idea without thinking about the practicalities of implementation.

Unfortunately, this leads to an inordinate amount of time spent working on a project that ends up in the bin, as it just doesn’t work. And yet, if you start from the perspective of practicality, doesn’t that limit the potential for coming up with a truly original idea?

I strongly believe that creativity and pragmatism can live happily together. It is a question of having the right team in place so that designers can give free rein to their creativity, but work with skilled implementers who collaborate with them every step of the way to ensure that ideas are practical.

The key is to engage the production team in a project in its early stages, making it part of an ‘innovation committee’ – and not to wait until after the ‘sexy’ design process has been completed. And I don’t just mean bringing in the consultancy production team, but involving the client’s head of production too – so that buy-in can be earned across the board. Working in this collaborative way right from the start, it is possible to highlight any potentially tricky areas early on, and create samples and carry out testing to ensure that the designers’ ideas can fly.

It’s also possible to identify any additional costs that an idea may incur in terms of packaging, printing and so on, to ensure that the idea is within budget.

Indeed, the production team can also introduce its own creative ideas regarding new techniques and packaging innovations that could help the concept, while the creative team can put its weight behind an idea that it knows will work.

Without combining creative and production expertise it can be very difficult to bring the best out of an idea and ensure that it really works. This can lead to huge frustrations.

If an idea ends up not being practical, there can be unexpected costs and delays which can affect the whole supply chain – especially if you have to go back to the drawing board – ultimately affecting getting a product or promotion to market.

Equally as frustrating is having to compromise on an idea, watering it down to make it work within a deadline – which is never a good end to a design project.

Rather unfairly, production departments are often looked down on by designers – but this tends to be because they are brought in late in the process, putting the dampeners on a great idea because it doesn’t work.

Similarly, production practitioners can view designers as ‘fluffy’, because they come up with unworkable ideas. This stand-off can be very negative and essentially stems from a lack of understanding of each others’ roles and expertise. But working as a ‘dream team’ they can see how well they complement each other.

By ensuring that creative and production people work as a collaborative team, getting left brain and right brain to work together with a seamless, holistic mindset, you get the best of thinking all the way through. It’s possible to put any issues relating to the concept to the client early on, so that decisions can be made without compromising on deadlines.

To get the balance right you must make this approach part of your company ethos. You need to have great designers, but they mustn’t be too precious. And you need to have great production experts, but they should be creative thinkers rather than doomsayers.

At Anthem Worldwide, as we are owned by a global design implementation specialist, Schawk, it may be easier for us than for many other consultancies to have our feet on the ground, but with our head in the clouds for great ideas – our company structure lends itself to this approach. However, it should be workable for any consultancy.

Essentially, we find that this approach is a win-win situation. Far from stifling creativity, it enables designers to think in different ways – and, in fact, ensuring that they work within parameters stretches designers’ creativity and makes them think harder about the best solution.

Similarly, it is very motivating for the production department to be part of the design team and, invaluably, the end result – a happy client with a great piece of design that really works – makes it doubly worthwhile.

Barry Seal is managing director, UK of Anthem Worldwide


• Make your consultancy’s production staff part of the design team at the beginning of any project
• Include the client’s production team early on, to earn ‘buy-in’
• Keep all parties motivated throughout the process to maximise inspiration
• Sit the production team alongside designers to make collaboration a natural part of everyday working life
• Encourage cross-fertilisation of ideas

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