“It’s good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
– Ernest Hemingway
As the halfway point of the year looms large, Chloe and Emily reflect on the trickier bits of the design project journey: how to weather them, and how to get the most out of the creative process as a whole.
Many journeys in life are rewarding when you reach the finish line, but you almost always encounter a tricky stage about halfway. There’s no escaping it, whether you’re competing in a marathon or tiling a bathroom, even a creative project like a brand or campaign.
Unsurprisingly, this is where we most often encounter the halfway point – and the whirlwind of emotions that come with it.
The finish line, real or metaphorical, is such a rewarding place that it’s easy to focus expectations and energy on the ending. But as our friend Hemingway points out, the journey is just as important as the final result.
In this post, we’ve gathered our thoughts on why it can sometimes feel like things are getting worse before they start to get better, and suggested ways to plan and prep for minimum halfway-point angst.
Why do we often face creative block halfway through the creative process?
Getting in sync
At the beginning of the project, you saw an opportunity to address a challenge with a unified creative brief. You brought your team, perhaps some other internal stakeholders, and your agency together to find an answer.
It feels great to get that ball rolling. And then it comes time to check in on the progress, see how things have gone so far.
To say that people are coming from different places is an understatement. Some have spent hours preparing for this presentation, others have barely had a chance to accept your meeting invitation.
Even with the clearest brief in the world (circulated well in advance), it can be a challenge to get everyone onto the same page, and into the right headspace to review the work that’s been done.
It sounds obvious, but we’re only halfway there
The halfway point doesn’t usually come with a grand reveal. It’s more of a moment to pause, reflect and collaborate, so everyone keeps moving in the same direction.
We’ve taken one or more ideas as far as we need to, to show you how they could answer the brief. They’re by no means finished, and at this point, we’re figuring out the way forward together: it’s not one way or the highway.
“We’re pushing you. We wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we weren’t… It’s no wonder you feel uncomfortable.”
– Design Director, Nicola Edginton
Things to remember at the bottom of the curve
It’s normal to feel uncertain. As Nic puts it, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs properly if you didn’t feel like you were being pushed somewhere new. By the time you’re seeing creative work, we’ve been on quite a journey already. We guide you on a sped-up version of that journey, condensing the work of a week, two weeks, or more into a meeting or phone call. That’s a lot to take in. Effective, innovative work very rarely happens without one or two unexpected moments along the way and a dose of brain-ache. (For more about design journeys, check out this excellent Netflix series.)
It’s definitely happening. Our clients’ roles generally demand dipping in and out of projects. It must be easy to feel that if you haven’t looked at a project in a day or two, it can’t be getting much attention from anyone else either. This is where the trust comes in between you and your mark-making* team. Rest assured we’re putting the time in to find an answer. Updates happen when they need to, and in the meantime, we’re working away.
Take your time #1 – to get everyone up to speed. While a project might be all-consuming for the creative team involved, we recognise that it’s sometimes only a small proportion of your everyday workload. It can feel like a significant period of time between the brief and the first creative review. Our presentations recap and remind everyone of the journey so far. Regardless of each team member’s level of involvement, we aim to get everyone on the same page so we can move forward together. Halfway points are as much about consolidation and reflection as they are about the next steps.
Take your time #2 – to let things settle. Gut reactions are valuable, but it’s important to put them in the context of that unified brief. Depending on the stakeholders involved, the discussion can wander towards (to put it bluntly) wants, rather than the needs in the brief. In our experience, there’s a sweet spot for productive feedback: by all means write down those gut reactions, and collect them from stakeholders. Then take a brief break – we find that a coffee and a flapjack do nicely. Come back to the project with the brief in mind, when everything has had a chance to settle down. This is a truly valuable exercise even (in fact, especially) when time is tight.
You’re not alone (talk about it). At the tricky halfway point, a collaborative approach is key. Whether it’s a quick regroup with your internal stakeholders or a catch-up with your creative project team, talking about it can really ease the pressure and help you feel confident about the way forward.
How to make it feel better next time
We understand that project deadlines are usually driven by marketing activity. While these milestones are vital, the most realistic planning factors in everything you know about the wider team involved (and their diaries). The headspace and time required shouldn’t be underestimated.
Often, the articulate (ideas, design development) and deliver (build, print) phases are perceived to require the biggest investment. In fact, it’s usually the other way round, with the most time and energy spent in the define (strategy) phase. And that’s all to the good: a focused investment in the define phase means a smoother process and a more effective creative output.
Who needs to be involved and at what stages? Who will have material input, and who just needs to see it for sign-off? We’ll support you to make the process productive and rewarding for everyone involved.
When the dust has settled after any project, a wash-up lunch, meeting or even Google doc can make the world of difference to the next big piece of work on the horizon. We always appreciate the opportunity to reflect. Whether you do it in your team or together with your agency, it’s a helpful way to learn from your projects.
The halfway headache is a real thing. With a creative project, it really is about the journey as much as the final outcome. The end will be rewarding, but we’re not there yet, so it’s important for everyone involved at the halfway point to come to it with expectations that reflect the stage we’re at. It’s a pause in the process to sense check the direction we are taking. And on top of that, it’s different for every project and every person – no wonder it feels daunting.
We wanted to write this to make it clear that you’re not alone. We’re here to help you bring your colleagues and other stakeholders together as collaborators, to get the best work done and to meet your challenges with truly effective design. And of course, help you make your mark.