You gotta practice what you preach.

February 5, 2020

That blog title is for me. It’s so that every time I look on our website, I see it and am reminded of what happened while working on a water quality report for a local municipality. What do we preach? We preach that creativity, at its core, is about making connections in unexpected places. These connections come more easily when you collaborate with people from different backgrounds and perspectives. They help you see beyond your own perceptions.

Our creative director, Mike, has no experience working in the water industry, and it’s proven invaluable for us when producing visually engaging content — with our powers combined!
The city we’re working with gave a very specific design direction based on a very specific popular magazine. Giving a designer direction like that is like taking a kid to Sam’s Club filled with every ice cream flavor imaginable and telling them they can only have vanilla.

Sold.
We knew it and therefore felt a slight twinge of trepidation when we met with Mike to go over the cover options before we met with the client. The first three options were exactly what you would expect to see on the cover of that very specific popular magazine. True to form — Mike is kind of a badass — he busted out a surprise if-I-could-make-any-cover-I-wanted fourth option.

It was better than the other three in terms of creativity; however, Arianne and I sank in our seats. It had water on the cover — not the word, but an actual photo of water. It was a great photo, but it was still water. We’ve been in the water industry for a decade. Our entire careers were in protest of water publications with water, water drops, water ripples, a single drop dripping from a faucet, splashes, kids drinking water, etc. — it felt overdone and on-the-nose. But we took it with us, because it was our singular wisp of fresh air.

We presented all four options to the city. There were four staff members in the room, one of whom has been in water his entire 21-year career. Two of the other staff members are new to the water utility and to the water industry. The water director, with the longest run in the water utility, groaned when he saw option four, just like we had. Then one of the newbies spoke up.

That’s when the magic happened.

“If I were a resident looking through my mail, I would actually open that magazine to see what it was all about. That cover would pique my interest,” she said.

You could hear a pin drop.

“Wait, so you don’t think the obvious water imagery is overdone or too cliché?” asked Arianne.

“It may feel like that internally but not in the world outside of these walls,” she explained. The other newbie nodded in agreement.

When something is close to you, it’s personal. We get excited, and we talk about why it’s exciting to us — personally. We can forget who the end product or outcome is for. It didn’t matter if every seasoned water professional in that room loved the cover. It mattered that every resident in their city loved it. The best cover was the one that would inspire customers to open the magazine and engage with the content.

This particular city is known for its creativity. They may have eventually come to the same conclusion on their own without the newbies. I can guarantee you it wouldn’t have happened as quickly or with as much certainty. I can guarantee it would have required us all to stop, take a step back, and remember who we were creating the magazine for.

The meeting had a collaborative atmosphere where even the newbies felt comfortable sharing their input. This is the biggest takeaway. Make sure you’re not only inviting the right people to the table, but that you’re also creating an environment that truly invites ideas.

Never forget who your audience is. They don’t love water as much as you do, but you can help them get there if you make them part of the process.

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