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3 Tips to Improve Your Creative Relationships


What do you get when you put a bunch of creative people in a room? Usually, an argument. But it doesn’t have to be that way: Stephen Martin, Mobile Product Director at MailChimp, knows how to keep creative brainstorms from going off the rails.

Since joining MailChimp in 2009, he’s led multiple teams and tackled a wide variety of challenges, from analytics to app development. He helped create the Webby Award-winning MailChimp Snap and continues to work on expanding MailChimp’s mobile offering. Over the years, he’s also honed his skills in fostering creativity in collaborative projects. Don’t miss his advice on how to spark ideas for an end result everyone can be proud of.

Why are creative relationships so difficult? You’ve been there. You’re trying to collaborate on a project and the outcome could fall somewhere between miracle and all-out disaster. It doesn’t feel predictable and that makes the situation difficult.

Although there’s work to be done to maintain any relationship, creative relationships usually have a deliverable that relies on collaboration. It’s a topic I’ve heard industry professionals speak about as long as I’ve been an industry professional.

When you're a designer collaborating with a developer or any other team member, there are a few simple things you can do to improve the outcome.

1. Respect Creativity in Everyone

Don't be fooled into believing designers are the only creative people in the room. Development, research, and operations teams are full of creative people as well. All of these disciplines strive to solve problems using creative solutions. You'll also find that these are all crafts to be mastered. Iteration is the common thread that runs through any creative process.

Keep this in mind when you go into project discussions: everyone has the potential to be creative. When you realize that the person you're working with is just like you, you'll have an easier time putting your ego in check. Everyone wants to be part of the creative process and work towards delivering a solution.

Focus on the shared goal. Once your ego is out of the way, you can work on establishing trust.

2. Show, Don't Tell Your Story

During the creative process, teams can get wrapped up in discussion. While communication is definitely important, discussion about nothing yields nothing. Come to the table with a deliverable and show progress. This can be a prototype, a sketch, or notes you've taken. Showing your progress will inspire and motivate the people on your team. Turns out, progress could be the most motivating thing of all.

Showing up with an asset also establishes a platform for feedback. That feedback can turn into healthy conflict if you continue to reference the first point about respecting creativity. Build trust by showing your work early and often. It’s proof of your investment in the final product.

3. Better Your Chances with Options

We’ve already established that your team is full of creative people that want to be involved. Arriving with a single solution will shut down any chance of collaboration.

Put together as many options as possible before you sit down to work with your team. You want to open the door for them to participate in iteration. You have to start somewhere, so throw out a few options and let the discussion progress from there.

The key here: avoid saying "no" in the discussion that follows. You'll want to lean on a "Yes and" mentality where you describe potential outcomes. Hopefully you’ve taken the advice in tip number two and these options are presented in the form of prototypes or sketches.

All In Together

Any relationship is difficult to maintain but keep these points in mind the next time you're working as part of a cross-functional team.

Start all of your conversations with a respectful tone. Show the other team members what you've been thinking about, and then discuss all of your options together.

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