The #1 worst question you’re asking about your creative work

worst question creative work

I saw someone asking it on twitter just the other day. I got a Linkedin message about it over the weekend.

And I’ve realized it’s the absolute worst question you can ask about any sort of creative work.

The scariest part is, most of us think it’s a very helpful question–one that can help us make quick progress on our work.

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But it’s simply not.

If we’re not careful, asking this question (or any version of it) can actually point us in the wrong direction or really hurt our chances for success.

So what’s the worst question you’re asking about your creative work?

“Which one is your favorite?”

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At first, it seems harmless. You’re trying to get a feel for what resonates with people, right? You’ve worked hard on a new logo, a headline, or a portrait.

And, because you’ve fallen in love with your work, it’s a miracle you’ve even been able to narrow all your options down to just a few.

So what do you do next? You post it on twitter, facebook, or dribbble and ask your peers:

“Which one is your favorite?”

Then, because people are generally kind and want to be helpful, they start opining.

“I like option A,” says one person.

“I like option B,” another chimes in.

And by the end of the informal comment-polling, 60% of your friends like option A over 40% of option B.

So what does this tell you? Well, nothing really.

Here are a few reasons why:

Why asking “Which one is your favorite?” is a bad idea

1. You’re asking a random group of people. Not the target audience.

If you haven’t learned this by now, a lot of the creative work you’ll do as a designer, photographer, illustrator, copywriter, etc. comes with a purpose.

While it’s fun to mess around all day learning new techniques and practice them on personal projects, for most of us that kind of work doesn’t pay the bills.

So the majority of creative professionals like us find a happy medium–work we enjoy that also provides some sort of financial upside for us or our clients.

And anytime there’s a business purpose involved, there’s a target audience.

When you’re asking your peers on Dribbble which social media icons are their favorite, you’re missing the mark. Instead, ask a group from the target audience similar questions.

But it’s not just about getting the audience right, you also have to ask the right questions.

Which leads me to this:

2. “Favorite” is relative & subjective. Instead, ask questions around key results you’re trying to achieve.

Back to the social media icons example above.

Maybe you’ve got the audience right. But are you asking them the right questions?

Instead of asking members of the target audience “which one is their favorite,” ask them questions around the key results you’re trying to achieve.

Can you picture how the questions and the designs in question might change if your key results change? Here are a few key goals of social media icons that could impact which questions you’re asking and to whom:

  • Increase social sharing on videos
  • Increase social sharing on all content for users ages 50-65
  • Provide social proof by displaying social share counts
  • Increase social sharing on mobile devices and tablets

Can you picture different questions you might ask depending on the results you’re trying to achieve?

So if you’re not asking “which is you’re favorite?,” what should you be asking?

Here are a few ideas:

What to ask instead

Again, it all comes back to the end result you’re trying to achieve. Here are a few sample questions you could ask. These are meant to be used as starting places and examples–not complete replacements for the question “which one is your favorite?”

  • Which headline makes you want to click more?
  • Which photo tells a better story?
  • Which logo do you think speaks better to 40-50 year-old males who are going through a mid-life crisis?

See how specific it can get? And the more specific, the more likely you are to move in the right direction. No longer are people picking their “favorite.” They’re picking the option that best conveys what you’re trying to achieve.

Agree? Disagree?

I’m curious what you think about this whole thing. Will you leave a comment and tell me whether you agree or disagree? I’m excited to chat with you below.

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  1. This is so true!

    I had an interesting experience related to this recently. I’d created some design concepts for a primary school website and was slightly alarmed when the head teacher asked if I could show them to the school ‘council’, made up of a dozen children ranging from 5 – 11 years old. I wasn’t quite sure how I’d get any constructive feedback from that! But I gave it a go.

    I explained to the children what we were trying to achieve with the new design e.g. making topical information more prominent, making it mobile friendly, and adding some branding (which was conspicuously absent from the old design!), then asked them to think about which of the designs they thought did these things best, and why.

    They completely got it.

    They were able to pick out elements of each design that they ‘liked’ but could also explain why it would accomplish what we needed. In many ways it was a far more useful discussion than many I’ve had with adult clients!

    It’s definitely made me think more about how I present my designs. The question is hugely important, and so is the context.

  2. I completely agree. Over the years, a problem I’ve found is the ‘design by committee’ scenario when proposing to several people or a marketing department group. There will always be subjectivity, but when a few people are coming back with suggestions and tweaks, the strong and reasoned original concept is watered down and often lost. Trust the creative and the reasons behind it. Trust one’s own design beliefs and convictions for a harder working response to a brief. So I agree, ‘which is your favourite’ is a question which begs a lesser answer. I prefer to present one, well thought out and confidently executed solution to a brief. Of course, there will be changes and adaptations, I’m not arrogant to think I know everything by any means, but inviting changes and solutions from people who perhaps don’t see what you see may be best for a project, is simply asking for a long and hair-pulling experience.

    1. @relishcreating:disqus,
      Thanks for adding your thoughts. I agree. This fosters the absolute worst kind of design (creation) by committee because it’s a committee of non-target-audience on top of it all. Thanks for sharing!

  3. For me the worst question i’m asked is “did you mean to do that?” I mean really!?!

    On a similar note – If you show a client 4 logo mock-ups make sure they are all equal in quality and that you (as a designer) can live with any version they pick. 8 times out of 10 time the client WILL pick the weakest one. Be prepared for that. It’s happened so many times that I have really focused on self critique and editing process. There is a lot more to this but I’ll leave it at that.

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