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6 steps to build a creative approval workflow
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6 steps to build a creative approval workflow

Discover what a creative workflow is and why you need one–plus the steps to go about setting it up.

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Picture the scene: You’re neck deep in your creative project and work is going well. At least it is until you get a call from your client asking to see the latest version of the designs. You set up a meeting and review the work together, only to find it’s miles away from what they want. So it’s back to the drawing board and a waste of a lot of time and effort. Worse still, you didn’t budget for major revisions like this, so the project is now at risk of becoming unprofitable. 

All this could have been avoided with a creative approval workflow designed to get feedback from the client at key points before you went too far down the line in any direction.

With that in mind, in this post, we’ll look at what a creative approval workflow is and how it benefits your teams and projects. We’ll also cover how to create one for your company, including which tools to use. You see, creative approvals create a lot of files and versions, so you need to stay organized and be intentional about how you create your approval workflow. That includes picking the right tools so you can stay organized across multiple review rounds from multiple stakeholders.

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What is a creative approval workflow?  

A creative approval workflow is a collaborative process that involves a series of steps and checks to approve creative content so it can be finalized or moved to the next stage. For example, in product design, you might use a creative approval workflow as part of an iterative design process to get client sign off on a website design before handing it off to developers. 

Creative workflows will vary by project, but they typically involve some of the following stages:

  • Developing the concept: This stage involves brainstorming ideas and creating initial sketches or wireframes, as well as researching for inspiration and drafting ideas to see if they work.
  • Creating the design: Now, the creative team refines the initial concepts and develops detailed designs, like logos, branding, visual elements, etc. 
  • Review and feedback: Either asynchronously or during a design critique session, the client or stakeholders review the design and provide feedback. Depending on the project, you might share moodboards, sketches, or prototypes, and ask for input on visual direction, tone, brand personality, and more.
  • Revisions and refinement: Based on the feedback received, the creative team will make the necessary adjustments to designs, which could involve tweaking colors, fonts, or layouts, before going back to stakeholders for more feedback. Depending on the scope and complexity of the project, this stage may be repeated several times until user or client requirements are met. 
  • Finalization and approval: Once the designs are refined to the client's satisfaction, the creative team will create the final version and get written approval from the client. 

What are the benefits of a well-defined creative approval process? 

The benefits of using digital workflow solutions include:

  • Greater efficiency: Collaborative design and workflows streamline the approval process by automating certain tasks, such as sending reminders or notifications. This reduces delays and the need to chase people down to get their input. Workflows also reduce the amount of time and effort it takes to manage and share new versions, as well as keep track of who’s provided input and who still needs to. More efficient, streamlined project management based on uniform processes can also lead to accelerated delivery timelines and greater client satisfaction. 
  • Consistency: Standardized processes like creative approval workflows help maintain consistency across clients, team members, and projects. This is particularly important if you have multiple creative teams working on different projects. 
  • Improved quality: A well-defined workflow with multiple rounds of feedback helps catch errors, inconsistencies, and missteps early, reducing the chances of having to rework things later. 
  • Better communication: Platforms for automated workflows often include built-in communication features like comments or annotations, as well as triggers for automatic notifications. This removes the need to manually chase or update people, facilitates better communication between team members and stakeholders, and ensures all comments are saved in one place. 
  • Transparency: A well-documented workflow provides a clear record of the approval process, which helps avoid misunderstandings and makes it easier to resolve conflicts. 
  • Improved compliance: Workflow checklists help ensure your project complies with relevant regulations or standards like data privacy or accessibility. This can help reduce the risk of problems further down the line. 

6 steps to create your creative approval workflow 

Each company and project will need a slightly different creative approval workflow, but here’s a framework to follow. 

1. Identify stakeholders and define roles

First up, determine which key stakeholders need to be involved in the approval process. For example, designers, creative team members, clients, managers, or external collaborators. Clearly define their roles and responsibilities, as well as a clear chain of command and who has the final say in cases of conflicting feedback.

Next, assign specific people as reviewers and approvers at each stage of the workflow. Note that these roles aren’t the same thing: Reviewers provide feedback and suggestions, while approvers have the authority to give final approval or request revisions. Knowing this in advance helps prevent delays and bottlenecks and makes for more efficient decision making. 

2. Determine approval phases and criteria

You can do this by breaking the approval process down into distinct phases or stages. These might be things like initial concept review, design development, review and feedback, revisions, final approval, handover, etc. 

Then, define the specific criteria that need to be met at each stage for the project to progress smoothly. For example, for website design, these might be ensuring accessibility standards like sufficient color contrast and font sizes. Or it might be the need for responsive design, so the website looks good on different devices and screen sizes.

3. Establish feedback processes and guidelines 

Next, you need to decide how you’ll gather feedback. For example, comments on a Google Doc, annotations on a design in Figma, etc. This ensures all comments are captured and addressed promptly. Clearly communicate the feedback procedure and format to reviewers, approvers, and team members so everyone knows what to do and expect. 

At this point, you should also establish the number of review rounds at each stage, especially when working with external stakeholders or clients. Designating specific rounds or iterations helps avoid an overwhelming number of revisions, preventing delays, scope creep, and projects becoming unprofitable due to endless rounds of unplanned client revisions.

Pro tip: Document your workflow and review guidelines and share them in your dedicated Switchboard room so everyone can always find them and refer back. Don’t forget to include them in onboarding materials for new team members too, so they can quickly get up to speed.
Switchboard room with people and apps.
Switchboard lets you share materials for creative reviews async, as well as set up meetings to discuss them in real time. Source: Switchboard

4. Establish procedures for resolving conflicting feedback 

Ideally, you’ll have established who has the final sign off on things at each stage. However, conflicting feedback can still occur, much of which may be valuable. To deal with this, you need to establish procedures for resolving conflicts. For example, filtering feedback through a designated person in your, or your client’s, company. It’s their job to consolidate it all, resolve conflicts internally, and decide what to pass on to you. Having one person as the main point of contact is also more efficient all around. 

If you can’t do that, rather than trying to figure out what to do with conflicting feedback, go back to the people who provided it with clarifying questions to try and figure out what they want and how you can keep everyone aligned. 

5. Choose the right tools 

Next, you need to select the right tools to manage the workflow. For example:

  • Project management tools like Asana, ClickUp, etc. that allow you to set tasks and notifications and track progress 
  • Project collaboration tools for creative agencies that allow for teamwork, documentation, and knowledge sharing. For example, Google Docs, Figma, or Notion all allow you to work together on the same files and add comments. 
  • Communication channels like Gmail, Slack, etc. for on-the-fly conversations 
  • An online collaboration platform like Switchboard that lets you create permanent rooms for creative approvals where you can share materials and leave comments on anything
Pro tip: Use Sections in your Switchboard room to organize content. Place work to be reviewed in one section and approved work in another section—along with all the notes you create during the session. That way, you’ll always be able to find the right version to work on—and understand feedback in context.  
Switchboard comment thread on a PDF.
Switchboard sticky notes stay right where you left them in the room, so you’re always communicating in context. Source: Switchboard

6. Set up the workflow 

Once you’ve selected your tools, you can create projects and assign team members to tasks at each stage. For example, members of the creative team will be assigned to tasks during production stages, while editors and other stakeholders are responsible for completing feedback tasks.

At this point, you also want to automate review deadlines and notifications to make sure each person completes their task on time. This ensures good digital workflow management and helps avoid bottlenecks so work keeps moving along smoothly. 

Once everything is set up, it’s a good idea to test the workflow on a small project and gather feedback from team members. This lets you refine it and make improvements as needed before you roll it out to more high-stakes projects. Once you’re happy with it, you can provide training to the wider team on how to use the tools and follow the workflow. This way, everyone will be using the same processes and working to the same guidelines. 

Pro tip: All your favorite apps work in Switchboard, so you can track progress on tasks or adjust your workflow right in the room—without constantly switching between tools and tabs.
Switchboard room with Asana app and others.
Switchboard lets you communicate through chat, sticky notes, or audio and video. Source: Switchboard

Creative approval workflows: Move forward, faster 

Creative approval workflows can make the difference between a successful project delivered on time and within scope and budget. They let you get actionable feedback at crucial points in the design process so you can improve it and get approval to proceed to the next stage. Using a well defined workflow also makes you more efficient and allows you to work to consistent standards. 

To set up your creative approval workflow, first you need to determine who’s involved in the process and when and how they should provide feedback. Be clear on how to do this so it’s constructive and actionable. You’ll also want to think about how you’ll resolve conflicting feedback from stakeholders, if necessary. Then, once you’re clear on all that you can choose your workflow tools and set up the process. 

With Switchboard, you can do all this in a shared space. Just pull up all the tools and materials you need and explore them side by side, making changes and leaving comments in real time. If necessary you can switch on video and audio when you need to talk things out. Or you can set it up for asynchronous reviews so people can hop in and leave feedback on their own schedule. 

Stay organized with everything in one place. 
Save everything for your project in dedicated Switchboard rooms that let you work together in real time or on your own time.  
Sign up free

Frequently asked questions about creative approval workflows 

What is the creative content approval process? 

The creative content approval process typically involves creating content and getting feedback from clients, team members, or other stakeholders. Then, the creative person will make adjustments in line with their input before either finalizing the work or sending it back for another round of input. Using a creative approval process helps ensure work progresses in line with client or project needs without going over scope or deadline.

What is required for creative approval? 

For creative approval, you need a clear approval process with defined stages and responsibilities. For example, you might set up a workflow in Asana to track content creation and approval, assigning creative and feedback tasks to the appropriate people. You also need clear guidelines on how to give and receive feedback, what format to provide it in, the deadlines, and how many feedback rounds are involved in each stage. 

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Stay organized with everything in one place.

Save everything for your project in dedicated Switchboard rooms that let you work together in real time or on your own time.