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4 ways to run a better creative review process

12 min read
Katie Oberthaler


s most creatives know, the review process for new work rarely follows a linear approval path. Even straightforward design work with detailed project plans can get derailed quickly by disorganized, late, or unclear feedback when new versions are shared for reviewed.

A creative team can have amazing, innovative ideas, but without a reliable review process to facilitate creative development, those ideas often languish in delays.

Read on to learn how to structure a creative review process that keeps approvals and versions moving forward for faster delivery of work, every time. 

Get approval of reference material in writing (without using email)

In the creative world, we often think of the first version of a project as the first visual comp that is provided to a team for review. However, we’d argue that the first “true” version of a project is the creative or design brief that outlines project requirements and ensures both creative workers and stakeholders agree on those requirements before any creative work begins.

To maintain a smooth review process, it’s imperative that your design brief is properly agreed upon and approved before any creative work begins. 

At Ziflow, we recently implemented a briefing process within our own design and marketing team that significantly improved creative output and creative coordination. Our internal creative team does not begin any creative work–including copywriting, design–until our creative operations team receives a full project brief of required assets and project purpose.

At a minimum, a design brief should include:

  • A checklist of project deliverables
  • Source material, such as reference designs
  • A timeline of required versions and deadline
  • A summary of the project and it’s purpose within the business

Finally, it’s important to have a record of approval of the design brief materials before any creative work begins. This record of approval of design brief materials should live in the same environment as your design versioning–not email.

Emailing your project briefs and reference documents to stakeholders to kick off a project introduces a lack of clarity into the design process from the very start. Using email to gather feedback introduces several issues downstream in the review process. Email is easy to send, but difficult to use in order to maintain visibility into design collaboration and approvals as new design iterations develop. What often happens is a design brief is emailed, uploaded to a Google Drive or project folder somewhere, and then largely forgotten about or difficult to find to reference once creative work is underway.

Ideally, a design brief should exist and be shared in the same system your team will use to collaborate on design changes. 

What made Ziflow’s new briefing process so successful was centralizing brand, design, and projects briefs and the approval of these materials within one system. We use a combination of project management with our creative collaboration platform to set project requirements and link to design and creative proofs for review. All project assets, from planning to design to implement, live in one location.

Getting briefs out of email enables our reviewers to directly compare all future in-progress mockups and designs to the original design brief and reference initial concepts. We find this eliminates the vague “why are we doing this?” feedback or confusion at later stages of creative work. 

Ultimately, collaborating in one space instead of using email will save creative workers and reviewers hours upon hours of unnecessary comments later on during the design review process. When you enforce review outside of email, comments and feedback are easy to find and easy to reference later, and comments and questions can be made directly on the brief itself. 

Ask stakeholders for feedback in the right sequence

After the project brief has been approved and design work begins, review sequencing is one of the most critical elements to a successful review process. 

The order and combination in which stakeholders, clients or even your broader creative team review specific versions help control the visibility that comes with sending your designs for feedback. Ultimately, you want to protect the creative work from unnecessary input that can delay progress and derail projects. 

Understand who is giving feedback on design revisions, when, and why. There are so many combinations of reviewers that the sequence will look different for every creative team. The key is to only include people and decisions that are necessary to move creative work to the next stage. 

It may seem counter-intuitive, but don’t be afraid to remove or add people from the review process at varying stages. 

For example, a client may need to see a project after the creative team has created several versions, but exposing them to earlier iterations may invite feedback that delays conceptual and developing design and creative work. Similarly, you may need to involve a copywriter in the first few versions of a project, but not require them to be in the weeds with steps of creative development.

Automation of review and approval workflows help enforce and move the review process along. Initially, we suggest mapping out the ideal review process based on where delays typically occur and really assess which grouping of people (both on the creative and approval side) should be involved in each version or stage of a project.

Curate feedback and provide context

When it comes to effective feedback, context is critical. Simply sending a new version to project stakeholders may not be enough to gather useful input. As creatives, we recommend curating the kind of feedback you want to continue iterating on a new design or getting a change approved. In fact, the exact versioning method arguably you use doesn’t matter as much as the context provided on and within each version of a design.

When sending out new work for review, we recommend

  • Explaining to the review team what that version is for, link back to the creative brief if necessary, and create a checklist of things that you want them to look at.
  • Asking clarification questions on comments and respond to any questions from reviewers.
  • Highlighting areas of an asset that you’d like feedback on. If it is a new version, then highlight changes made from the previous version. Your reviewers can likely compare versions automatically, but include some commentary from the creative team on what has changed and what specific elements you would like them to pay attention to. 

You can go even further and create a mini brief for each version or stage of review. Providing more information, not just the creative assets themselves, can help accelerate review and approval. Our creative team does this within our creative collaboration platform by providing 

Curating feedback in this way also helps reduce the dreaded scope creep when reviewers begin requesting changes or providing opinions on design elements beyond the initial brief (or elements/creative direction that have already been approved.)

In a nutshell, get the most out of the feedback that you receive. See the review process as a conversation and encourage collaboration, not just commenting on assets. 

Lock your designs from any late feedback 

Creative teams know that the “final” version doesn’t often hold much water with stakeholders. That’s because creative teams rarely have a way to enforce a true end to the feedback and creative review process. Using email to facilitate review opens the door to an endless feedback cycle.

It’s critical to have a way to “lock” assets from additional input once you’ve noted the final, approved version. Creative collaboration software can help enforce this within a versioning system by preventing access to collaboration tools on assets (commenting, markup, versioning, etc.) once those assets have been approved by the right stakeholders.

If you’ve avoided using email to gather feedback, you won’t get any last-minute requests or wayward emails in your inbox. If you do, you can direct them to your review environment, which is now locked. Standardizing the creative review process in a more robust system than email helps not only the creative briefing process, but brings clarity to the end of the review process as well. 

We also recommend moving the final, approved version to the next stage in the process, which could be a digital asset management system or file storage system. This signals that assets are approved and ready for use, or later reference. 

Lastly, celebrate the creative team and the end of the project by indicating the team’s hard work directly on the approved final version! Often, creative teams are so focused on getting work out the door and moving on to the next projects, that appreciation for their process and output of creative work goes a long way for morale. It also provides a natural “end” to the review process.

To conclude, standardizing the creative review process outside of email brings clarity and ease from the start of project planning to the final approval of new assets. Creating and approving detailed project briefs, sending assets through a refined review sequence, curating feedback and locking  final assets from feedback provide a more structured and efficient environment for getting creative work done.

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