Roadblock: Creative Resistance

By Edward Cone Print this article Print

The people who create the images and designs that are turned into digital assets tend to be creative types. Are their work preferences merely habits, or should you listen more closely?


Artists and designers "work different." The people who create the images and designs that are turned into digital assets tend to be creative types, unused to following the conventions of the rest of the enterprise and using such nonstandard tools as Apple computers. "Mac people don't use file extensions, and UNIX and PC people do," says AOL Time Warner Book Group's Director of Publishing Information, Phil Madans, referring to the portion of a file name that specifies the type of data the file contains. "Having to change file names is a change in culture. So is changing the workflow to get people to enter assets as they are created. It took a while for us to change our culture," he adds. For the Book Group, getting the art department on board was largely a matter of communicating with key people early and often.


Understand the process before you change it.
The project team at AOL Time Warner Book Group interviewed creative people to find out how they did their jobs—which assets they used, and why. "As we went about the change in process, we had to make sure the systems we were putting in place did not impede our creative people from doing what they do best," says Paul Gore, the project's technology director. Because of their deep understanding of the process, the Book Group was able to ensure that the new system didn't hinder the production of assets such as book jackets and author photos, by overwhelming their creators with new tasks.

Explain the gain from the pain.
Mike McGinniss, a consultant from Accenture, met with an art director at the Book Group to sell the idea that putting assets into the Artesia software would make things easier for her and her staff. "People don't have confidence in the beginning on the creative side," he says. "She said, 'it's more work; our lives get harder and everyone else's gets easier.'" The art department would have to change its habits by entering assets into the system as they were created, meeting a corporate schedule rather than keeping their familiar pace, and to help enter the backlog of assets from previous years. McGinniss told her that the payoff would come when users served themselves from the system and no longer bugged the art director and her staff for photographs and other assets—a constant irritant. "She asked if we could promise that. She was a cynic up to the end," he says. With the system working as promised, the art director is now a fan, he says.

Set up some quick wins.
On the other hand, AOL Time Warner Book Group project managers knew that users on the sales and marketing side would only quit asking creative workers for material when they knew they could find what they needed on the system. "People won't come to an empty shell," says McGinniss. "You have to put your highest-value, most-important content in there first." A key is deciding what assets are the most valuable, a process that has to be driven by the business users, who can say which items are used most often and to the greatest effect. At the Book Group, that included cover images and author bios. Steering the art department to put this material on the system first, and then convincing sales and marketing people to tap into the system when they wanted that material, gave staff a reason to believe the project was worth pursuing.

—Edward Cone

This article was originally published on 2003-02-12
Senior Writer and author of the Know It All blog

Ed Cone has worked as a contributing editor at Wired, a staff writer at Forbes, a senior writer for Ziff Davis with Baseline and Interactive Week, and as a freelancer based in Paris and then North Carolina for a wide variety of magazines and papers including the International Herald Tribune, Texas Monthly, and Playboy. He writes an opinion column in his hometown paper, the Greensboro News & Record, and publishes the semi-popular EdCone.com weblog. He lives in North Carolina with his wife, Lisa, two kids, and a dog.
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