by Stefan Bohacek

How many times have you given creative direction for a project only to be dismally disappointed with what’s come back?


Whenever your vision has to come to life through the work of another, the potential for disconnect between your idea and the end product exists. It’s like a game of “telephone.” At the start, the idea is clear, but then you tell it to someone else, who delivers it to someone else, and so on. By the time the end product gets back to you, it barely resembles the original.


Luckily, there are fast and easy ways to improve how you deliver creative direction. Here are five of the most common creative direction mistakes and how to fix them, illustrated with voice-over audio files to show you what’s really happening.

<h4><strong>Mistake #1: Too vague</strong></h4>

Vague direction is not synonymous with no direction. Instead, vague direction is more aptly identified by the way it leaves the door open to interpretation.


Instructions like “I want it to pop,” or “give it a clean feel” are all subjective and this poses a problem when it comes to how the receiving party will interpret them.


Here, we’ve asked the voice actor to ‘make it pop.’





You can hear that she’s added punch to her delivery of the words, but is that what was intended? ‘Pop’ can be percussive, higher-pitched, emotional, or something else entirely. Much better to specify.


<strong>How to fix it:</strong> It’s okay to use these types of descriptions when you couple them with how creatives can bring them to life. For instance, in graphic design, a “clean; feel could be realized through light color palettes, sparse copy and airy spacing between graphic elements. Include these specifics to avoid misinterpretation.

<h4><strong>Mistake #2: Too prescriptive</strong></h4>

Direction that is too rigid leaves no room for your creative team to add value. You hired them because they’re creative, and yet the creative direction has pigeonholed the end product into unbending parameters. You can identify this problem when you’re providing examples or sketches that have to be replicated. It often lacks clear communication about what the project is setting out to achieve.


In this example, we’ve painted the voice actor into a corner with numerous restrictions, saying she must emulate Emma Stone’s voice, while also providing a bright, booming quality.









It’s clear that she’s trying to layer on a lot of drama, resulting in a very intense end product. This is not necessarily “bad’ until you realize that it’s wrong for the context.


<strong>How to fix it:</strong> Specify what elements must be to a certain spec (e.g. the pantone colors of your brand) along with where there is room for creatives to play (like how the logo is animated). Add in details about what the end product should look like and what it needs to achieve so your team can enhance, not copy, your vision.

<h4><strong>Mistake #3: Contradictory Direction</strong></h4>

Contradictory direction includes two or more instructions that cannot be carried out at the same time. This forces the creative to make an arbitrary decision over which to keep and which to let go. For example, you’re creating a commercial to communicate the seriousness of early cancer detection, but you’ve asked for voice-over that’s upbeat and friendly.


When we asked the voice actor to provide a young and vibrant performance that also sounded “wise beyond your years,” we received this in return:





The sonic qualities of youth don’t mix well with what most of us associate with wisdom, meaning that she couldn’t achieve both at once.

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