How To Motivate a Creative


If you have a bunch of creatives in the room, getting them to do what you want can be a bit like herding cats, except they (the creatives) may be even more obstinate and willful, if that’s even possible.

Fortunately, you probably won’t have to buy kitty litter.

Motivating creatives can be tricky, because creatives are often motivated by different things than other positions. But learning what motivates them can be rewarding, and will quickly help you develop great relationships and trust.

1. Always Give Clear and Decisive Direction

One major frustration that creatives often face is in clients who are unable or unwilling to offer clear and decisive direction. This leaves the creative in the position of having to basically shoot at a moving (or non-existent!) target. Creatives enjoy being a part of the creative process with you, but that means they must have a clear direction to work with. Pitching a direction that you are not clear or decided on yourself will only lead to bad feelings and missed deadlines.

Instead, be decisive about the direction you want to go, and then- whatever you do- stick with it! Unfortunately, many times the actuality of the situation is that there is a sort of lukewarm direction from the outset which is half-heartedly “approved.” Then the creative or creative team begin working on it, only to have the direction changed mid-course, often after it’s realistically too late to easily change direction.

It is important to grasp how bad of a strategy is, both for the finished product and for your creative or creative team. For there is almost no better way to de-motivate and demoralize creatives then to consistently do this. You will end up engendering a lot of ill-will, causing a lot of frustration, and completely sapping all initiative, while also causing you the stress of projects that always seem to come down to the wire.

The reason for this is that the creative will come to realize that any initiative or trying to get ahead on a project is not only fruitless, but only ends up meaning more work in the long run. You will create a situation where the creative out of necessity waits until a project deadline is looming, so that there isn’t time to make mid-course changes.

However, if you consistently offer solid direction from the outset and stick with it through the entirety of the project, you will create situations where your creative wants to pour in extra effort and demonstrate initiative, because the creative knows that the work has your support. You will also avoid frustrations (on both ends) and develop trust, which will bring greater benefits as the working relationship grows.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Consistently provide clear and decisive direction, and then back up that decision for the entirety of the project. This will help motivate your creatives because they know their work is being supported by the decision makers.[/pullquote]

2. Make the Creatives Part of the Entire Creative Process

For the creative, oftentimes there is nothing worse than getting a project request that kind of just makes you stop and ask yourself: “What are they thinking!?!?!?!” Worse is when the client assumes a direction that is either out of budget or beyond the timeframe of the project.

It is easy to compartmentalize the creative’s role. After all, from the outside it can seem like they are the ones who make things, who implement your vision. And to be sure, there is a lot of truth to that. However, if you draw hard and fast lines between the visioning and the creating, your creatives can begin to feel like you perceive them merely as Photoshop monkeys who are supposed to pound on the keys until the product spits out and they get their banana as a prize.

Let’s be clear- you are the one with the vision and the one responsible for providing direction and seeing it through. However, you will give an instant boost to your creatives if you intentionally make them a part of the creative visioning process. This doesn’t mean that you should have them sit in on lots of meetings- this will have the opposite of the desired effect. Rather, what will really begin to motivate them is to allow them to help shape and mold your vision into what you actually probably want even if you may not be able to articulate it.

This happens by allowing them to speak into the creative process and offer their insights and bring their expertise to the problem. You do not have to capitulate to everything they say by any means or agree with the direction they may be inclined to, but you do want to allow their perspective to have a hearing and for them to feel that they actually have the ability to offer input.

This means that you actually have to let their feedback and ideas influence where you are going, rather than just having them implement everything you want. I am not suggesting “throwing them a bone” every once in a while so as to manipulate their feelings. I am suggesting that you strive to incorporate their ideas when appropriate, and to have an open enough mind to see that they might be able to speak to your ideas and directions in ways that you may never have thought of.

Fair warning: this is not a fast process. It takes a lot of time to really build a good working relationship, and even longer to develop the trust that makes this process really click.

Avoid thinking that you are bringing them into the process by having them do creative-type things that really have no influence. For example, do not have brain-storming sessions where your direction is not known. The creatives will come up with lots of ideas and directions which will only be shot down, not because they aren’t good ideas but rather because they simply don’t know what you want or what you are leaning towards. If you do want to brainstorm, give them something to shoot at. Make sure it is general enough that they can have actual input, but specific enough that something concrete can be developed.

The goal is to really integrate your creatives into the creative process so that they know their insight and expertise has some meaningful impact on what they are creating. This motivates creatives because when they have a sense that what they are creating is in part flowing out of them, it is an impetus to think more creatively and often even to work harder.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Allow your creative team a voice in the visioning and creative process. Develop trust enough so their input shapes and forms the creative direction of your projects a a whole.[/pullquote]

3. Pay Your Creatives Well

Most creatives are by nature fairly self-directed and motivated. They generally do what they do not because it is the most lucrative career, but rather because they have an aptitude for their craft and love to work at it.

But of course, you cannot eat love.

The world of design is often a thankless business, and with most clients looking to get as much creative work for as little money as possible, it is easy as a creative to get de-motivated because of feeling like this field is too often a race to the bottom.

Thus, when great clients come along, they are clients worth keeping around. If you are looking for a one-off design for as little money as you can possibly pay, you will probably find someone who will do it for you. You may even be fortunate and get a design that works. But it is unlikely that you will develop a good ongoing relationship since your entire relationship is predicated on the creative being bottom dollar.

In my years of design, I have found that there is a very tight correlation between the clients who are easy to work with (e.g., give clear direction, support their decisions, include the creative in their creative process) and the clients who pay well. In fact, I’d almost go as far to say that in this correlation is proof of causation. I was always curious why this was so, but it’s really rather straightforward.

A client who really values good design understands its importance is willing to back up that understanding with a higher premium, since the client already intellectually and emotionally places a higher premium on good design. They also recognize that good design takes time and is more than just about getting something that looks good; rather, it’s about creating something that speaks to their market in a way that is relevant and engaging.

This type of client also usually recognizes that it is probably more cost-effective in the long run to develop a great working relationship with a solid designer who charges more, than to constantly have to hunt down designers or have things remade in the name of saving money. They tend to be easier to work with since- to a large extent- they are paying for the creative’s expertise and are thus usually more willing to allow the creative space to bring their own perspective and expertise to the project.

If you are one of the good clients and are willing and able to pay your creatives well, you will find that it is much easier to develop loyalty. This may seem crass, to seemingly base everything on money, but the reality is that it’s actually not really about the money.

For example, if you are contracting work and pay your creative well and on time on a regular basis, this stability is reassuring to someone who may be in the position of having to find clients and projects on a regular basis. To find a client who pays well and has consistent work is the contract or freelance designer’s dream, since it becomes at least one check that they can count on month. Most professional designers will be willing to go an extra mile or two for you.

As an example, in the last couple month’s I have had the nearly unheard of experience of having two separate clients not only pay me really well for the projects I completed (one even offering to pay me more than I quoted), but also adding a little bonus because they were especially pleased with how things turned out. Granted, the bonuses aren’t life-changing by any means, but you better believe I will do just about anything for those clients.   

If your creatives are on salary, you may not be able to offer the same financial incentives, but you can compensate them in other ways. Given that projects and schedules tend to ebb and flow, perhaps allow them the flexibility to take time off when things settle down for a day or two. Plan celebrational outings that your organization pays for. Make every first Friday a half day. Bump the salary up over cost of living next year.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The better you can compensate your creatives, the more loyal and hardworking they will be, and ultimately you will get more than your money’s worth from them. If this sounds shallow, just remember that creatives have to eat, too.[/pullquote]


Motivating creatives is key to getting the most out of them. By providing clear, decisive and consistent direction, bringing them into creating process, and paying them well, you can develop amazing long-term relationships with your creatives and motivate them to be their best.

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By deviantmonk

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