What is creative collaboration?

Creative collaboration is a term used to broadly describe the act of content production teams working openly together with co-workers and stakeholders on creative projects to achieve creative goals. In a software context though, it can be easily misunderstood and gets confused with more conventional collaboration systems. Read on to discover more about creative collaboration and how you can introduce it into your creative business.

Creative collaboration for 2023 and beyond

In recent years, creative collaboration workflows have become essential in helping global productivity advance in an age where working remotely has grown exponentially. Creative ideas can be passed between multiple team members, regardless of their location and time zone, and projects are managed from multiple devices, such as desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. And this accessibility and communication are must-haves for a creative team to flourish and succeed.

Due to this increasing emphasis on creative teams working on collaborative projects, design collaboration tools have emerged to manage this creative process. These software solutions have evolved radically over the past few years into a fundamental staple of the MarTech (marketing technology) stack of products that creative agencies, marketing teams, and freelance designers utilise for managing projects and sharing new ideas.

These project management software solutions are only going to get slicker and slicker, be more feature-rich, and provide better creative collaboration, as the benefits of using these tools continue to have a positive impact on the design process.

Every business needs creativity and the best kind is creativity that is collaborative.

What drives effective collaboration?

Collaboration is an essential part of any successful team and there are a few key factors that make it effective, the first is communication. Every team member needs to be on the same page in order to collaborate successfully, so open lines of communication are absolutely essential. Everyone needs to be aware of their goals, objectives, and expectations so that they can come together and work towards a common goal.

The second factor is trust. Trust among team members allows for productive collaboration since individuals feel comfortable expressing their ideas and contributing to the team effort without worrying about being judged or undermined by others.

Finally, having shared goals helps build a sense of purpose and commitment among those involved in the collaboration process. When everyone is invested in achieving the same outcome it encourages better cooperation, leading to better results.

Expanding on these points, if you ask the Institute for Collaborative Working in London and they’ll tell you that collaboration is an overarching framework of Support, Teamwork, Communication, Trust, Motivation, Inspiration, and Success. Similarly, Dr. J. Ibeh Agbanyim Ph.D. suggests in one of his best-selling books The Five Principles of Collaboration that the following five core principles need to be applied to human relationships to improve working life and productivity:

Effective Communication

So collaboration in general is induced by proactive human behaviour. We know that. But creative collaboration is different. It’s a context within the sphere of collaboration and this is where specialist collaboration software can make it super-effective.

Why is collaboration important for creative teams?

Why is collaboration important for creative teams?

Collaboration is extremely important for creative teams as it allows them to create innovative solutions to problems, create powerful strategies, and produce higher-quality work. Collaboration encourages brainstorming and the free exchange of ideas which can yield great results. It also allows team members to benefit from different perspectives and experiences so they can develop more diverse solutions. Collaboration also promotes interaction and working relationships that can help foster creativity and inspire individuals in their work. Ultimately, working in teams helps bring out the best in any creative endeavour.

The creative process at its core is the development and creation of new ideas or the expansion and moving forward of existing ones. Collaboration and brainstorming are required to ensure any vision or approach for a creative project can be realised and the deadlines met. Team members may need to work remotely to allow them to work together and work smarter.

And this is all before any client/stakeholder has seen any creative work or provided any feedback.

The initial process of creating designs is collaborative but that team working approach underpins the entire creative project workflow. Here is a typical workflow for a creative project, simplified over three stages. (We cover the creative workflow in more depth further down in this article.)

Project development

Creative teams work with their clients/stakeholders to hone the creative brief.

Project management

Creative teams work with internal and external departments to fulfil the brief. They monitor progress and provide feedback, share files, and manage all tasks before they gather feedback from clients/stakeholders.

Project delivery

Creative teams action feedback and deliver creative work to clients/stakeholders. Without good collaboration, during any of these stages, the creative project will suffer.

How do I know if I need creative collaboration software?

Without consciously realising it, you could already be sensing the signs and feeling the triggers for implementing creative collaboration software.

There are a number of factors that may be low-key individually but combine them together and there’s a powerful case for return on investment.

Your team and external stakeholders may not be engaging well enough, with roles and responsibilities within review projects not clearly understood. Similarly, creative workflows are sparsely defined and documented with no central place to easily view, talk and brainstorm ideas. Feedback is fragmented across email and disconnected platforms.

Ultimately, diversity and inclusion of opinions is a big problem, which means your creative output could be way better if you got it right.

If this sounds like you, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The signals are there.

Understanding the difference between conventional and creative collaboration software

Software is the conductor of effective collaboration in both conventional and creative contexts. There are a number of categories and subcategories that span these contexts and it’s absolutely essential to understand them, otherwise, you may invest in the wrong solutions for your team. 

For example, umbrella systems such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Dropbox - even Google Docs - are often referred to as creative collaboration software when they are technically not because they don’t have the depth of functionality where it matters.

Conventional collaborations tools

Conventional collaboration tools

General context collaboration tools are about helping people communicate and work together on conventional tasks more easily. The things that employees do every day to talk to each other and share work progress Here’s a top-level idea of how that looks, without going too deep on each one.

By connecting teams into channels and workspaces online in one software system, communication barriers are removed through non-email messaging and video calls, cooperation is delimited and open culture is encouraged.

Ideas can be brainstormed openly and visually using whiteboard software such as Miro and projects that also contain non-creative elements are managed at the source.

The playing field is levelled and more ideas and information can be willingly offered out with an instant wide and threaded reach, leading to better business outcomes.

Creative collaboration tools

Creative collaboration tools

Collaboration tools in a creative context have different usage intentions. The software is more tailored to creative-centric workflows, so the functionality is more niche than conventional tools

Take review and approval. It’s great to comment on an image and mention others. That’s conventional collaboration. 

Creatives and content owners need more than this. For example, they might want automated workflows that can direct their content traffic from assignment to designer and then through departments and teams. 

They may need to flow new edits right into design software apps like Adobe InDesign or Adobe Illustrator without copying and pasting, and also be able to continue working on design documents at the same time as co-workers. This saves a bunch of time and effort in getting feedback from collaborators and reproducing new versions of content to re-share for review.

This is creative collaboration.

Getting started with creative collaboration tools

Getting started with creative collaboration tools

Once you understand what creative collaboration is, you can start mapping out your ideal workflows.

Here’s a standard creative project workflow to get started with. It’s a classic creative workflow that most creative agencies and marketing teams use to manage and assign their work, share it openly for feedback and editing, and repeat the process through version rounds until it’s ready for publishing.

Top-level project creation

The client or stakeholder approaches the design team or marketing agency with a creative project.

Creative brief and job assignment

A creative brief is compiled and work is assigned to the relevant creative teams.

Design and creation

Referencing the brief the creative work is produced.

Send for review

This work is sent out for feedback. This can be sent on to internal or external teams, or directly to the client.


A new version of the creative work is produced, based on the feedback from the client/stakeholder. (Creative work can pass between 'Send for review' and 'Amendments' several times before progressing to the next stage. A typical creative project will allow for three rounds of amends.)

Sign-off and approval

The creative work is approved by the client or stakeholder.

Design completion

Creative work is packaged up and passed to printers/publishers as required.

Marketing delivery

The completed project is handed over.

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