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A short article for graphic designers out there struggling with the difficult task of creating on demand. How do we design highly creative work all the time when there are Art Directors and agencies with unrealistic expectations for deadlines? How do you make a portfolio of five star work when creating on demand?

Who can benefit from reading this?

  • Anyone who manages a creative person
  • Anyone who creates on demand

The Portfolio of Threes (Mediocrity)

I listened to a podcast on Accidental Creative about expectation and striving for more creative work. The podcast explained it as having a “portfolio of threes” and a “portfolio of fives” where as the threes (3 stars out of 5) are what designers who are creating on demand are the inevitable rut that graphic designers will get stuck in. While threes are more mediocre work, the client is still going to be happy with the work (those who have been designing long enough know that the work they’ve done, while it’s not award-winning, is going to make the client happy). Maybe it’s not the most ‘out there’ creative boundary stretching solution that they have ever come up with, but it meets the requirements of the project at hand and allows the designer to comfortably function in their work environment. Let’s face it, creating on demand is a daunting task. Every single idea and every single site can’t be “the best”. There’s always room for improvement, and if given more time, designers can come up with more creative solutions.

But the question of time is obviously the real question. While designers need more time, graphic design agencies (or companies with in-house design teams) more often than not, cannot afford to give the designers more time. They need to stay profitable and efficient, and the designer gets caught in the ‘Creating on Demand’ trap; How do I make this project the best it can be, when I just don’t have enough time or creative energy left in me today to do that?

Something’s gotta give, right?

How do we Strive for a Portfolio of Fives

When creating on demand, on deadlines, in an office-setting, with no travel budget, day after day, etc. etc.

While all projects can’t be fives, it doesn’t mean that none of them can be. I feel that the more opportunities that designers have to really stretch their creative thinking, the quality of all the work will eventually increase. Creative work does have peaks and lulls, it’s not completely steady throughout. The goal is to get designers to strive for the fives as often as possible. This will ultimately increase the median as time goes on, and they have time to develop their creative skills.

As I’m writing I’m realizing that it’s much easier to explain with a drawing.

While all projects can’t be fives, it doesn’t mean that none of them can be.

Creating on Demand Diagram

How to Solve Mediocrity

Well now that we know that your designers or creative team members are in the burn out zone, what can we do to fix the problem for them? Creating on demand is a tough job, and it needs to be handled delicately. My best advice is this:

Come up with a “Strive for a Five” Project for your creative team.

By giving your team a little extra time for research and development, you can increase the quality of work median over the whole department. If designers are given the time to choose one project that they are really interested in, and are allowed to take that design to the next level (Strive for a 5), it’s going to give them a chance to explore new techniques and concepts.  Overall this will increase their worth to the company they work for, help them to better themselves as a designer, and research and learn new techniques that they would otherwise not have time for.

In Conclusion

Let’s be honest. Almost every designer I’ve ever met LOVES being a designer. They WANT to work. Giving them the time and resources to be MORE creative is like handing them a big box of chocolate and saying “I appreciate you.” And believe me, the designers will appreciate you just as much for giving them the opportunity to “go crazy” once in awhile.  Everyone wins!

Questions, comments, and thoughts are encouraged.