Make it better, before you’re asked
For years, and years, I had a basic struggle with creative initiative. I’ll go as far to say that I’ve not entirely overcome it – mostly, yes, but I still get caught. See if this rings true to you: you’re laying out a page, and you’re 3/4s done, and you notice there’s something about the layout that you know someone is going to mention, or complain about. Maybe the font is not the typical font to use for this client or brand. Maybe it’s an element on the page you really like, but you’re almost certain no one’s going to let you do it. You can even hear their voice in your head, protesting it. You finish your layout, save it and show your boss. “Yeah, it looks good – just change that headline font, and take that graphic out. They’ll never let us use it.” Then you say, “Yeah …I was afraid you’d say that.” This is the point when they look back at you with the, “Okay, so why’d you do it if you knew that’s what I’d say?” look. Then you go back and do it the way you knew you’d have to go back and do it eventually anyway. I’ve been there 1000 times. You?
I eventually started to become annoyed at people for making me change my layouts. It took me longer to realize (for some reason) that it was all me. I knew what to do, but I wanted to be told to do it. Maybe because I wanted someone else to be accountable for the change. No idea why. It was just something I went through. The strange, and funny thing about that, is as I became more senior (and made that error a lot less often) and took on the roll of evaluating other people’s creative, the reverse was happening.
“Hey Shawn, do you have a minute to look over these layouts?”
“Sure, what’ya got?”
<I review the layouts>
“Yeah, looks good. Just change the font to Helvetica – that’s what they use, and remove that graphic – we’d never get away with that.”
“I knew you’d likely say that.”
<I hand the work back and look him in the eye with a look like, “Well, then why’d you do it that way, if you knew I’d change it?>
“Well, I guess you know what you gotta do, then.”
It seems we all do it, or have done it for some reason. It’s part of growing as a creative pro, I suppose. Once you become aware that’s what you’re doing, it’s time to change it. Do what you know you’re going to have to do, then if there’s time, do the version you’re thinking of as long as it’s on strategy, and show it as an alt, but have a better reason for it than, “I dunno – I just like it.” You’ll get better projects long-term if you always deliver what needs to be done, with all the screws tightened properly. It’s also the first step towards creative leadership roles (if that’s something you’re interesting in). Make it a habit to take creative initiative – it’ll show, and create opportunities.