Show Your Work: How Sharing Your Process Increases Your Value

When a client is looking for a creative firm, process and procedures are not obvious priorities in evaluating performance. The prospect is going to look for the quality of the final work and its results. And he or she will be concerned about time and budget. That’s where many initial conversations between the prospect and the creative talent start and stop. But there are 2 facts about getting paid for doing creative work that we cannot ignore:

1. People don’t value what they can’t see.

2. People don’t pay for what they don’t value.

Occasionally, however, the prospect will ask about how you work — how you came up with an idea, and how you got to the final result. Good creative work is the result of a good creative process. The client who asks you how you arrived at a creative solution is asking about your process. If you hesitate in this conversation, you may lose the client.

Creative Process

No design is brought into being without going through a series of steps. Creative processes vary and are unique to the individual designer, illustrator or photographer, but there are common elements in every process. Generally, the following 5 steps will be undertaken:

Identify the purpose of the created work. Is it going to tell a story? If so, what story? Is it going to persuade? Who, and in what way? Is it going to teach? If so, what, and to whom?

Investigate This is the discovery, research and inspiration phase. If there is nothing new under the sun, we do not create out of nothing. Every creative work is influenced by the creator’s life experience, education, knowledge and world view. First, look for what is already created. Are there similar solutions out there already? If so, can they be improved upon? Then, look for what catches your eye. What makes something attractive to you?

Ideate: get things down on paper. Sketch out concepts and ideas. Evaluate and test them against the purpose of the design. Will it work? Develop ideas into a semi-finished state and look at them. Test them out.

Implement the final design. Create necessary variations. Publish and launch.

Evaluate: how well did the design achieve its purpose? What are its strengths? Where can it be improved?

Promote your process

Turn your creative process into a marketing tool. If you want to attract high-caliber, high budget clients, show how you arrive at your creative solutions. Add your process to your web site, Behance profile, Etsy shop and social media. Share your notes, sketches and thoughts on Instagram and your technique YouTube. How? Simply answer these questions as the basis for your presentation:

How did you define the problem to meet the client’s needs?
What criteria did you use to guide your discovery?
How did your insights inspire your idea development?
How did you stay on course in your design process?
How was the work implemented into the marketplace by the client?
What were the results?

Form a habit

There are 2 things you can do to form the habit of documenting your creative process so that you can easily share it:

1. Keep a process journal, whether analog, digital, or both, of your road trip for every project. Record where you began and ended your journey. Make notes, lists and sketches as you capture and reflect on ideas. Collect insights and resources discovered along the way. Document idea development, further explorations, connections and refinements. Include the final design so that you can document how it turned out.

2. Make a photographic record or video log of your process. People connect easily with visuals. They don’t do deep reading on the internet. Instead, they scan. Maintain an online portfolio or blog of entries that are photo-rich, with captions and bullet points describing your captured images.

Create a case study

It’s worthwhile to create case study PDFs or ebooks that prospective clients can download. Gather your process articles into a PDF to use for promotion and to establish expertise. A case study is simply a detailed description of the design process for a single project or “case”. Begin with a purpose or premise, share your research, your decisions and the reasons for them, and how things turned out. In short, use the basis questions in the list above. Email a link to the case study to prospective clients with a cover letter, and include a call to action.

Be selective in creating case studies. It’s not necessary to put one together for every project. Select 3-4 of your most significant projects that reflect the kind of work you want to do, and create a case study for each. Promote the series of studies on a roll-out schedule so that you are connecting with prospective clients every 3-4 months. Then, on schedule, send out an email containing the link to the case study, whether it’s a blog post, web page or PDF.

The benefit to the client

Being able to describe your process to a client raises your perceived value, and the value of your profession in general. Why? It helps you to become known as an expert by demonstrating how you arrived at your creative solutions. It adds authenticity to your work created without the aid of templates and stock elements. You become an authority when you describe how you authored a work. You become more interesting and your work more intriguing when you offer the backstory of how something came into being. In a larger sense it underscores the idea that design (or illustration or photography) is a discipline that requires strategic thought and planning to create a right solution. It changes the perception that your work is the result of a one-click, one-size-fits-all action into one that realizes the importance of methodology, critical thinking, and focused effort. Process makes your work personally relevant to the client.

The benefit to you

By showing your work in a process journal, you become aware of how ideas are birthed, and how one idea sparks many others. You become aware that inspiration is something you meet up with once you start working on something. And you become aware that trial and error are integral to your design process. As you continue to develop yourself as a creative problem-solver, you’ll collect a growing library of journals containing resources, thoughts and doodles, that you can rely on as a reference source.

3 Responses

  1. Love this article! It was exactly what I was looking for, as I recently decided that I want to document my creative process to maximize learning for myself and for others.