RESEARCH HAS A ROLE IN CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT
Blog Post, Posted on January 20, 2015
Many creatives despise the idea of testing. And for good reason.
Asking a group of people to come in and judge a design or ad concept can be a recipe for disaster. How many times have we seen a great idea die because the execution was “polarizing” or “new?” Apple’s board almost killed the iconic “1984” Super Bowl ad because it was so risky. Hear the full story.
Creative research doesn’t have to be the enemy though. When designed and implemented with the correct objective in mind — creative development rather than creative judgment — it can be a great tool. In organizations with large decision-making teams or diverse stakeholders, creative research can help build consensus and provide vital insurance. And, most important, it can help make a good idea better.
I’d like to share a few truths we’ve discovered that, when adhered to, can help testing contribute to the creative process rather than detract from it.
Truth #1: Test Early to Win
Look at creative research as a way to try out early ideas on your target audience. You’ll have to take the ideas to a “finished look” in order to share them with your audience, but because you’re still early in the design process you can use the input to validate your thinking or explore new territories that address areas of confusion or concern. If you’re using qualitative research, introduce your concepts at the beginning of the interview or focus group. Ask participants to write down their reactions before you discuss. That way, you cut down on bias created by other respondents and the frame of reference developed by the interview process.
When developing a campus-wide creative campaign for Portland State University, we used qualitative testing as a way to build confidence and consensus with a large and highly diverse group of stakeholders. The core decision-making team saw first-hand how effective key ideas were with targeted participants, preparing them to address leadership concerns and build internal support for the campus-wide approach. The creative team saw how modifications in design, photography and key word choice could improve the campaign’s success with a broad range of audiences.
Three creative directions were explored with current PSU students, alumni, prospective students, parents of prospective students and college counselors via focus groups and online interviews. A print ad from the final creative campaign is shown below. Learn more about Phinney Bischoff’s work on the Portland State “Fearless” campaign.
Truth #2: A Briefed Team is a Happy Team
We like to remind clients that we’re not trying to pick a direction; we’re looking to improve our work. To accomplish this, it helps to identify what it is we’re trying to learn. Is it our ability to change perceptions? Break through clutter? Generate a response? What will we do with what we learn from this research?
Setting clear expectations with internal and client teams will help establish positive outcomes. Are we moving into a next phase of design and messaging development? Are we using the learning to help sell internal teams on a creative direction?
Truth #3: Testing is not Reality
Creative testing should not be considered a Pass/Fail test. Even when well designed, it’s a poor imitation of the real world. People can’t know how they will behave, especially in hypothetical situations where they are asked to imagine and project. Most of us are skeptical of new ideas, which can be unsettling at best and confusing at worst. People tend to avoid the unfamiliar and resist anything that requires change.
And every reaction is filtered through an established set of beliefs and emotions. What a person says in a focus group is important, but how they say it, what is behind what they say and what is not said is also just as important. Our job is to listen, learn and discern — to determine what the important stumbling blocks are and then to refine our ideas so that they will be accepted in the marketplace without diminishing the desired effect.
Creative work deserves to be developed and nurtured, not judged or flogged. But research does have a role in the creation of great design. When we approach it as a creative development tool — test early, set clear objectives and expectations, and look for the learning — we do our ideas and our clients a great service. Focus on ideas rather than design details and let what you learn take you to new and better places.