Building a winning creative team

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Building a winning creative team

Intermediate | 7 minutes

More and more studios are bringing creative production in house. To do that, you need a strong creative team that collaborates well with the rest of the studio. Get Adam’s tips for qualities to look for when you’re hiring creative designers and analysts plus his approach for structuring the team.

Hi everyone, I’m Adam Stevens,VP Product @ ironSource. I also co-founded Luna Labs, which is now ironSource’s creative management suite. We provide technology to help game studios and app developers create, manage and optimize their creatives efficiently.

Ad creatives are one of the core pillars of game growth, and can make or break your business. With the right creatives, you can run a solid UA strategy and get people downloading your game at scale. That’s why putting together a top creative team is massively important, with talent in research and development, creativity, and data analysis. Getting all these disciplines to work in harmony is an art – but when done right can lead to huge success.

In my journey at Luna Labs, I’ve learnt how the work environment, operations, and types of people in the team can foster the production of winning creatives. By the end of this video, you’ll know too.

Non-negotiable #1: curiosity

We work in a fast-moving and ever evolving market, and it can be hard to find a competitive edge. Quick and constant ideation is particularly important for a gaming creative team that wants to stay ahead.

In other words, the more ideas you can test, the higher the chance of finding a winning creative and unlocking new growth for your game.

Your creative team needs to be a sponge – researching creatives and absorbing concepts from other games, fueling an ever-ticking ‘ideas radar’. At the end of the day, it all comes down to hiring curious people.

Within the team, curiosity means always asking “why”: why did this creative succeed, and why did this one fail?

When hiring, a good measure of the candidate’s curiosity is the number of questions they ask about your creative operation. If they simply accept everything you say and focus only on questions to do with their position, like, “what will my day look like?” and not things like, “so why do playables perform better for casual games?”, then it’s a decent sign that they lack the curiosity needed to thrive in a creative team.

Non-negotiable #2: Data driven

Most creative teams have a lot of designers and animators, who often aren’t interested in data, or don’t have access to the tools needed for data analysis, which are usually owned by UA teams.

But, in a market where tiny changes can bring huge results in performance, paying close attention to the data is crucial, and should drive every thinking process — and that includes the designers and animators.

Data offers crucial insights for the ideation process…Basically… for a creative team to be successful it needs to be made of people with a love and understanding of numbers – no matter what their job is.

Make sure you partner with a creative solution that provides easy access to everything from standard high-level metrics like click-through rates and conversion rates, to in-ad data for interactive creatives. With this information, you can begin to understand what levels your users like, which audiences preferred what, and what part of the ad needs to be optimized.

By switching from a “LUCK” based process to a data driven and analytical process, your chances of success are massively increased.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t hire a designer who doesn’t live and breathe numbers.
But you should look for someone who can appreciate numbers (or learn to appreciate them), and other sides of the business, which brings us to our next non-negotiable.

Non-negotiable #3: Multi-disciplinary

It’s important to hire people who have the potential to learn different skills on top of their existing area of expertise.

They don’t need to be experts in multiple fields, but having at least a solid grasp of their colleagues’ roles and being able to put themselves in the shoes of others can be super useful.

There are a few key reasons why this is a critical part of a creative team today.

First, it increases the pace of production: each person can do more without relying on their colleagues for everything outside of their immediate area. For example, if a team member can do creative design in addition to coding, they won’t need to do one thing and then hand it over to someone else to complete. This means less handovers between team members, which saves time.

Second, it fosters empathy. Team members will be more understanding of the challenges faced by each other. Not only does this help teams bond – but it leads to a culture of collaboration — after all, once a team member understands what obstacles a colleague is up against, they can begin to think of ways to help out.

Most importantly, hiring multi-disciplinary people helps create better products: team members are able to craft richer, more well-rounded experiences as they have a more holistic understanding of the process.

For example, maybe all of your creative developers learn game design so they aren’t just writing code, but also thinking about how to make the product as exciting an experience as possible for the end user.

Instill creativity at every level

Hiring the right people with the right skillsets on its own isn’t enough – you also need to create an environment that encourages this mix of talent to thrive. A big aspect of this is instilling creativity at every level…

Creativity is a mindset, not a tool or profession, and it must be practiced everywhere.

From quirky team building activities to funny photoshops for team birthdays, there are lots of small things you can do to get the creative juices flowing.

Challenge each other, respectfully.

I said earlier that ideas are the lifeblood of a creative team, and equally important is building an environment in which team members aren’t afraid to critique each others ideas.

It all comes down to creating trust and mutual respect within the team, which encourages everyone to avoid beating around the bush and always provide their peers with constructive criticism.

An important part of this is creating a sense of personal responsibility and leadership: if someone thinks something can be done better, they need to actually help execute this idea rather than just dumping it on the colleague in question.

Professional feedback should always come from a place of caring and desire to help others succeed.

Based on what I’ve learned from creative studios, this environment lays the foundations for a “creative ping pong”. Basically…a constant and free-flowing back and forth — and optimization — of ideas.

Build squads, not teams

So, you’ve assembled a group of superstars. Now, how do you organize them to make sure your creative output is as productive and efficient as possible?

Since joining the ironSource family, I’ve been able to see how the in-house creative team goes about its business.

In its first year, the team was arranged into groups based on profession: developers, QA, game designers, analysts and so on. But now, they work as small and multi-functional squads as a way to scale and attack multiple projects at the same time efficiently.

Each squad consists of a squad leader, a game designer, two developers, and one graphic designer. Each squad is independent — organizing and managing itself as it sees fit, in order to reach solutions efficiently.

Going back to my earlier point, having multi-disciplinary employees in squads is important to ensure strong collaboration, creativity, and support among its members.

And that’s it for now! While there’s no one size fits all approach, use these tips to help your game company crack the challenge of building a dream team that makes high performing creatives.