Welcome to our interview series, Creativity Drives Business, where successful marketing and creative leaders share industry insights, how they got to where they are today, and explore the future role of creativity in business.
Rebecca Yaffe, VP of Creative Services at HomeAdvisor, discusses how the role of creative services is changing within organizations.
Q: How did you get into creative services?
I didn’t really follow a normal path into the role I am in now. I was a fine artist for most of my younger life and for 15 years, right out of college, I was a textile designer. I started as a fine art textile printer created hand dyed and silk screened fabric forclothing and the like, and then morphed into designing repeating pattern surfacedesigns (as oppose to wovens) for the commercial textile industry. It was through doing this that I taught myself Photoshop and Illustrator – they were tools I need to continue working.
Then in the mid 2000’s the nature of the industry changed and I was very suddenly outsourced, as most commercial textile design went off shore. I was faced with having to completely retool myself for a different career in my mid 30’s. So I took stock of where I was and made two calculations: The first was that I had been a designer for almost 20 years , so it made sense to capitalize on skills I already had rather than entirely reinvent myself. Second, It was clear that everything was headed to the web, so if I was going to be a designer, I better learn to design for that.
I went to the Art Institute of Colorado and they helped me piece together a kind of a hodge-podge of a degree specifically for someone who already had a college degree, but needed to fill in a number of gaps in terms of digital design and business. After the Art Institute I had a series of different jobs that each built on the one before it from freelance designer to web designer to Art Director, to Creative Director, and then got recruited by HomeAdvisor while it was still ServiceMagic, to come in and build acreative department in advance of their rebrand to HomeAdvisor. It was really the best opportunity a leader of creative professionals could ever hope to get.
Q: How do you think creative roles in business are changing?
When you are a young team (young to the organization, not necessarily young in years) the biggest challenge is to show the other departments you are working with that they can trust your vision and execution on their precious projects - and I don’t use “precious” to sound sarcastic (although I fear it came out that way!) I genuinely mean that each project, to the stakeholder involved in it, is precious to them. So it is difficult to abdicate control, even for people who know they are not designers orwriters themselves.I think now after 6 years (not everyone on my team has been with us for 6 years, but there is a core group of designers who I hired when I arrived and are still with us). The organization as a whole finds that kind of trust much easier, and so now design is much more integral to the entire process of each project. The designer will be at the initial meetings, the visual designer and the UX designer work more closely together. Everything is more collaborative than it used to be.
"Our first challenge as a team was to really prove our worth, both creatively and financially to the organization."
Q: What are the biggest challenges you face? How do you overcome them?
When I arrived at HomeAdvisor, they hadn’t really had an in-house team before. Soon after building the team, I had to show that it was worthwhile to take Creative in-house rather than farm everything out to an agency. So our first challenge as a team was to really prove our worth, both creatively and financially to the organization. I developed a tracking system that helped us to be able to show how each project we did could be accurately translated into what an agency might be charging. Through this data I was able to show that we were saving the company a lot of money over using agencies without sacrificing quality.
Now that we are no longer just trying to prove that in an-house team is worth having,the challenges are subtler. The biggest one is likely one that most creative teams face. How do you have good communication, find consensus, solve problems andunderstand expectations when most of your “customers” speak a different language from that of Creatives? I read a statistic somewhere that only about a third of designers feel that they are getting the information they need to complete projects successfully, and only about a third of stakeholders think that the designer is ultimately giving them what they asked for. That speaks to some huge communication gaps! This is not an easily overcome challenge, but we are very aware of it on my team, and we try to be that conduit so that the communication is more successful.
Q: What are you looking ahead to in 2018?
In late 2017 HomeAdvisor acquired Angie’s List. So not only did the entire organization grow, but my Creative team grew from 7 designers and writers in Denver, to 25 designers, writers photo/videographers and managers located in both Denver and Indianapolis. In addition, we inherited the Angie’s List magazine which is a monthly printed and digital publication. So, for me, 2018 is going to be the year of humility as I am faced with learning a lot of new things! There is also an inherit challenge inleading teams that have come together from two very different cultures and trying to form one cohesive group.
Q: What was your favorite campaign or project you worked on?
Since its start, my team has executed on about 1000 projects a year, some big and some small with varying importance to the overall strength of the business. So it is difficult to pinpoint one project or campaign that was my favorite. But for myself, the most gratifying projects have been those that aren’t artistic at all. They are the internal tools and systems I have created to help increase the efficiency andeffectiveness of my team, and the programs I have initiated to help make their jobsbetter and ultimately more creative.
"Creativity doesn’t usually come as some divine burst of inspiration, fully formed at its inception. It takes work…sometimes the ideas come and sometimes they don’t."
Q: How do you handle creative feedback and reviews for the work your team produces?
As with any area of a business, review of your work is always a mix over time of positive and negative, constructive and not so constructive. So, what I try to guide my team to do is to always ask, in every review of their work, “how can I add value to this conversation?” Stephen Gates, who is a Creative Director who I admire greatly, says“Creativity is a Blue Collar profession”. I think it is important to remember that unlike what the movies might tell us, creativity doesn’t usually come as some divine burst of inspiration, fully formed at its inception. It takes work…sometimes the ideas come and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the inspiration arrives and sometimes it doesn’t. And most of the time it requires working, and reworking and iteration and collaboration to get the best result. If you always keep that in mind, through every design review, it’s easier to understand that each revision is not a criticism, but a path to a better result.
Q: What tools, books, or industry resources help you in your day-to-day work?
We use the standard Adobe tools: Photoshop, Illusttrator, InDesign, etc….but my teammembers who work for the product side of the business, who do a lot of UI work areusing Sketch and Zeplin daily these days.
Q: How does creative drive business results for your organization?
I wouldn’t say that Creative drives the business results, but Creative is certainly integralto every aspect of the business, and so we are an important part of the result. It is gratifying when a previous interface, or email or piece of collateral performed badly and when redesigned performs well. But I try and lead my team to always think in terms of the collaborative aspect of any project. Projects don’t initiate with us, so when we get a better result due to creative changes, we try to always remember therewas a project owner, a UX Designer, a developer, and others who also contributed to the overall performance success.
" I think the best advice I have for dealing with that is to enter every conversation with the assumption that the person sitting across from you is giving their absolute best."
Q: Tell us about some brands you admire. What makes them stand out?
From a design perspective, it is hard not to appreciate beautifully designed products like a Nest thermostat, Or a TUMI bag, or an Eames chair. But the companies that I admire the most are the ones that have taken a deceivingly simple idea or need andcreated an elegant solution for it. Like AirBNB, DropBox , ZocDoc or Square. The companies I really admire are the ones where I find myself saying “why didn’t I think ofthat !”
Q: What’s one piece of advice you want to give to other creatives?
There is a type of disagreement that seem to face creative departments more than others: Sitting there with your client, knowing that you have provided a great solution and they just don’t like it. That conversation is aimed at convincing others to go with your idea when there is a big disconnect in understanding why it is a good solution. I think the best advice I have for dealing with that is to enter every conversation with the assumption that the person sitting across from you is giving their absolute best. They are bringing 100% to the table. So if the result is great, then you can admire and respect them for that, but if it is not, then the question to ask yourself is “Where is the misunderstanding and what can I do to bridge that gap? What questions can I ask toget us on the same page? What do I need to do to meet them?” All too often we leavethese conversations criticizing the other person or team for just not “getting it”. But i fwe start with the belief that they are truly giving it all they’ve got, then the person whoneeds to budge is not them, but you.
A huge thank you to Rebecca for taking the time to share her thoughts. Stay tuned for the next interview soon.