Creativity is often deeply personal.

It’s our subjective experiences that provide the driving force behind our creative ideas.

When creating work for an audience, though, a little objectivity is essential. Seeing creative work from a technical standpoint and trying to predict the effect it will have on people requires a step back.

Being objective about creative work is far easier said than done. How can you evaluate ideas without being influenced by your own opinions or feelings?

Why Objectivity in Creativity Is So Hard

Can one be completely objective about one’s own creativity? Almost certainly not.

Even if you try to view your own creative idea or piece of work as dispassionately as possible, your close relationship with it will still influence your thinking. A few of the challenges you could face:

  • Your confirmation biases may lead you to assume that your work successfully communicates what you want when it doesn’t.
  • A negativity bias means you’ll give greater weight to the flaws than the strengths.
  • Inattentional blindness might cause you to tunnel in on the parts you find most crucial, overlooking critical faults.
  • And there’s always the Ikea Effect, where we value the product of our own labor more than if done by someone else.

While these factors are less of a problem for curating passion projects, they can be major challenges when executing a brief.

Creativity and the Audience

There’s also the broader question of whether it’s possible to be objective about any creative work.

Objectivity relies on brute facts which exist independently of perception. The effect of a piece of creative work is dependent on the perception of the person experiencing it.

While there are some criteria many of us can agree on, there’s still no empirical system for measuring the success (or quality) of creative work. Do sales matter? How about reviews? Ratings? Awards? Many of the greatest creatives died in abject poverty.

It’s also incredibly difficult to know how each individual (let alone a broad audience) will interact with or interpret a work. Experience can help us make more accurate predictions, but only if we incorporate it in a constructive way.

Any attempt to bring objectivity into your creative process will, therefore, never be entirely successful. However, the goal of pushing for objectivity in the creative process is to get as close as possible. By adding a more systematic approach, both your creativity and output will benefit.

rows of empty auditorium chairs

The Importance of Objectivity in the Creative Process

Trying to be objective can be incredibly useful at various points of the creative process. This pursuit applies to picking which ideas to pursue, making creative decisions throughout the project, and how you react post-delivery.

While there’s a lot to be said for acting on the ideas that bring you joy, this isn’t always practical if you’re working in a creative role. A good strategy is to separate ideation and evaluation. Concentrate on coming up with as many ideas or solutions as you can without self-censoring, then look at them more critically.

The same is true when making decisions during the project itself. You may want to follow your creative instincts in one direction when in fact, a different course would better serve the aims of the team or overall project. Having an evaluative system is a necessary safeguard.

Objectivity is also key when you encounter failure. Being able to examine why an idea didn’t pan out without blaming yourself or feeling disheartened will help you recover far more quickly.

Then there’s evaluating the work you’ve done. You might absolutely love it, but does it do the job?

Alternatively, you might feel unsure about a work. You might insist that it needs another round of amendments before you can call it done (and then another and another). But is that an optimal use of your time? Or could imposter syndrome and/or perfectionism be holding you back?

By aiming to be objective, you make sure you’re focusing on the right things and that the choices you make are justified. It will also give you a way to reconcile the fact that while a piece of work might not be perfect, it may be objectively good (enough).

artist doodles cartoon drawings on a wall

How to Be More objective About Creative Work

Here are 6 practical tactics to help you evaluate your creative ideas and projects more objectively.

1.  Aim for Balance

One problem with our biases is that we can be too critical and also not critical enough (sometimes simultaneously!).

A good way to overcome this is to use a strategy that forces you to acknowledge both the positives and negatives. There are many different exercises you can try, with two popular ones being SWOT analysis which identifies Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, and the PMI (Plus, Minus, Interesting) method. These will enable you to evaluate ideas more objectively and suspend (or at least identify) biases.

2.  Get Distance

If you’ve been working on something for a while, you inevitably become familiar with it, setting off your tunnel vision. This intimacy might make it difficult for you to spot where changes are needed. It can also cause you to get emotionally attached to the piece in its current form.

A good way around this is to take a break: leave it for a while and give yourself a chance to partially forget about it before resuming work.

If you’re working on a deadline, though, giving it time isn’t always practical. Find yourself some hacks for creating distance or changing your view. Something as simple as changing the font or switching up the format could be enough. Why not try your word processor’s “read aloud” function? Or read it backward? Why not print it out?

3.  Think About Your Audience

Focusing on the fact that you’re not creating for yourself can be a useful reality check.

As much as is possible, immerse yourself in your potential audience’s way of thinking, speaking, and acting. Keep asking yourself how they would react to what you’ve created.

Simulate how people might encounter the work through methods like wireframing. Digitally impose your ad on a billboard in Times Square. Or try a focus group or user testing. This will give you invaluable contextual insight and help you think about the project in concrete terms.

If it’s freelance work, ask the client directly if the work speaks to the intended audience. They may suggest edits or ideas you wouldn’t have thought of. As a creator, if it’s not harming your reputation or credibility, go with their suggestions (or whoever knows the audience best).

Remember that an idea or project might be creatively brilliant and still not connect with an intended audience. Keeping them in mind should make it easier to sacrifice parts you’re personally attached to, what many writers have called “killing your darlings.”

4.  Use Guidelines and Checklists

Having a set of criteria (either created yourself or provided by a manager or client) is a helpful framework for self-evaluation. It will make the process less daunting and prompt you to ask difficult questions.

If you have a detailed brief, you already have an ideal benchmark to compare the work against. Personal checklists are important to create outside the brief. Remember that checklists and briefs are only meant to help guide your thinking – creativity still involves taking risks and, often, thinking outside the box.

To get you started, D&AD has a list for critiquing ideas. ModernB2B suggests 7 questions for evaluating creative marketing work. And lastly, 99Designs provides advice on judging the quality of designs.

5.  Use the Right Tools

Digital tools are conduits for feedback. While this is of limited use for evaluating how your creative output will measure up, it will still help increase the objective quality of the work.

It can also force you to be more pragmatic and less emotional when making decisions.

Some creativity tools for obtaining input in your work:

  • Grammarly for catching grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors.
  • Hemingway App for bolder and clearer writing.
  • WebAim’s Tool to test the color contrasts in a design.
  • UserTesting for gathering feedback on how people interact with your ideas.
  • ReviewStudio for online proofing, clearer feedback, and approval of creative work.

Like any tool, it’s not what they can do but how you use them.

6.  Collaborate and Ask For Feedback

When the time is right, you should ask other people to collaborate and provide feedback. Their unique insights will help you consider different angles, and they will keep you accountable when it comes to making decisions for the right reasons.

For both solo and team projects, the input of others is immensely valuable, whether you ask a colleague, a mentor, or a professional. These experiences will give you different insights to work with, ranging from technical advice to emotional responses. The feedback process will also help you to view the project as something that needs to stand alone without you explaining your intentions to the audience.

In all cases, building a creative support network will inevitably boost your creativity – and objectivity.

Moving Towards More Objective Creativity

Approaching your creative work with a greater degree of objectivity is a challenge, but by doing so, you’ll be able to ensure it fulfills its purpose. Being more objective will also help you overcome the biases and perfectionism that can cloud your judgment and slow down your process.

While it’s important to accept that you can never be entirely objective about your creative work, there are ways to bring you closer to it. Striving for objectivity rather than perfection can help you achieve better results and to feel more confident about what you create.