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Reality Check: Managing Expectations

by Taylor Slattery | August 18, 2022

Reality Check Managing Expectations

Many of us enter into creative fields lured by the exciting prospect of making a living working on fun, interesting projects for clients that will challenge us to explore and grow creatively so that we can provide unique solutions that excite audiences and further the field. In such a world, work isn’t simply a means to an end, but something more, something fulfilling. Every day is a new adventure.

The reality is though, despite what the feeds of Behance and Dribbble might lead you to believe, the majority of creative work isn’t really all that creative. Think about the amount of media you encounter on a daily basis—magazines, newspapers, and online advertisements. How much of it do you even notice, let alone remember?

All of these unremarkable things had to be made by someone—possibly someone who once had or has creative aspirations similar to your own. The reality of most creative work is that it is more utilitarian than creative. The people that are paying you have a problem to solve. Unfortunately for those of us looking to do groundbreaking work, those that are looking for something truly creative and are willing to take a chance on your unique creative vision are in the minority.

Most clients want solutions with a proven track record because it’s their money at stake. For you, the cost of taking a creative risk is no more than it is to play it safe. So long as you complete the work, your take-home is the same, with the only added benefit of the more creative solution being a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction at seeing your vision realized.

For the client, though, it’s a different story. By venturing further off the beaten path, the potential ROI of a novel creative solution increases substantially. If they try something new that lands well with audiences, they’ve placed themselves at the forefront of the industry. Some examples of this happening in advertising would be Old spice and Skittles. Both took huge risks creatively and reaped outsized rewards.

Skittles’ Touch the Rainbow and Old Spice’s The Man Your Man Could Smell Like campaigns were instant hits and set the tone of advertising for the following decade, leading to many copycats and failed attempts of recreating their viral magic. When creative gambles don’t play out in the favor of those who take them, their potential to flop is equally great—a fact that anyone who has ever seen Super Bowl commercials and knows how much they cost to produce and air will be familiar with.

The fact is, regardless of the creative field you work in, you’ve been hired to solve a problem. You can’t blame clients for wanting to take the path of least resistance in order to achieve the results they’re looking for. More often than not, most clients will choose to play it safe rather than risk it all, and understandably so.

I don’t say this to dissuade you from pursuing your passions, but rather, to provide a more pragmatic view of the life of working creative professionals. You might be one of the lucky few who land a gig at an industry-leading branding or advertising agency, in which case, every day may in fact actually be a new adventure. If that doesn’t end up being the case, well, that’s ok, too.


Taylor is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Taylor is a graphic designer, illustrator, and Design Lead at Weirdsleep.


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