Episode 4

How to build a high-performing creative team

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Listen to Leda's holistic approach to creativity that has led her to develop processes that increase the efficiency of creative work while building a creative landscape across creative teams. She spills the beans on her sources of inspiration. She talks a lot more about how her journey as a designer led her to transition to managing a team of talented designers and delivering compelling design solutions in the B2B marketing world.

  • How creative teams in B2B agencies need a team with various skills to produce high-quality creatives that meet clients' needs.
  • AI and its potential to augment designers' work and help them focus on more creative aspects rather than mundane tasks. 
  • Why it's essential to develop systems and compliances to stop AI tools from using professional work.
Leda Necheva
Chief Creative Officer
Arjita K
Director, Growth and Business
Development, Artwork Flow


Arjita: Hello, Leda. Thank you for taking the time out to be on the Creative Operations Podcast by Artwork Flow. Why don't you give our listeners a quick introduction about where you are from, what you've worked on, and just generally what you've been up to.

Leda: Sure, that's my favorite part. Hi, thank you for having me on your wonderful podcast. I'm Leda, I'm Leda Necheva, I'm head of design or chief creative officer at Hunter and Bard. We are a US based ABM agency. And well, I do all of it, I handle all creative things and sometimes not only.

Arjita: Great.

Leda: We're working generally in B2B marketing. We've worked with a lot of enterprises, a lot of startups too. So it's kind of quite a big range of our portfolio. So yeah, basically that's it. I'm also based in Bulgaria and work remotely and we have an office here.

Arjita: That's it.

Leda: Yeah. And what I really like to say about myself right now is that I am not only a designer, I also love K-dramas and I study Korean.

Arjita: Oh, very interesting. Interesting. I have been trying to get my head around K-pop, but I have asked my younger cousin who is 20 years old to give me some recommendations and it's an interesting upcoming genre.

Leda: Yeah, I will give you recommendations. I'm not really into K-pop that much, but I know a few, you know, like K-pop groups.

Arjita: Oh, I would love that.

Arjita: Okay, nice, interesting. So, you know, I've been, I was trying to contact you and you mentioned that you're going to be on a trip to the Mediterranean. Tell us a little bit about that before we dive right into, you know, all things work and creative operations.

Leda: Yeah, well, you know, like any busy professional, sometimes we really need to recharge to be better at our work. I strongly believe that. I do not believe in this grind mindset. I really feel like you are performing the best when you're relaxed and when you're focused and when you're happy, because, you know.

Besides that, none of it would make sense anyhow if you're not happy and you're not fulfilled. So it was really... I was really looking forward to going to Greece. It was amazing. I met a lot of people there. It was really nice.

Arjita: That's lovely. That's really good. Great. So let's get started and get right into it. So Leda, you know, what does a, so you are a creative director at an agency. What does a typical day look like for you?

Leda: Well, it's no secret that design is kind of regarded as the last top of everything. So when you don't have love, when you have a really kind of loose management. Sometimes we get into the situations where we were just, you know, this is your day now. Like you imagined something different yesterday, but now this is your day. But usually to avoid that, I try to kind of prioritize the tasks for the week, to plan ahead for the rest of the week. So nobody is kind of frustrated or just really unpleasantly surprised by something that came up at the last moment. Of course, things like that happen, as I'm sure every designer out there in the world knows. But yeah, I think that's really the most important thing, is to organize my team's work, to let them know what they need to expect by the end of the week, and day-to-day tasks, and what is priority, what is not, what can wait, what is super urgent.

Arjita: Interesting.

Leda: Yeah, and then reviewing emails and into that if I could try and squeeze creative work That would be great

Arjita: Interesting. So did you start your career being creative yourself?

Leda: Yeah, yeah, I started being a designer and like I've been working for the past, I don't know how many years, like 12, 13 years and I started being a designer of course. I have graduated from the Soviet Technical University and basically I have graduated industrial design, so I'm also an engineer. Yeah.

Arjita: Interesting.

Leda: So that helps me a lot, basically, to stay organized.

Arjita: I am also an engineer by qualifications as such but I have like for my entire career I have been pursuing business but it does really help to have an analytical mind whichever that you are in for sure. So you know you mentioned that you have to manage the entire work for your team so any particular tools that you look and that you use and anything that you recommend you know for creative professionals.

Leda: Yes.

Arjita: In terms of what kind of tools to use, how to manage your stack, how to organize your teams, anything around that.

Leda: Yeah, well for a software management tool, we use Monday. We also use the entire platform of Microsoft, which is, well, they have a lot to do on user experience, but it is what it is, so we're using that. And I think it's really important, like, I don't think there is a specific tool that is better.

It's just kind of making the entire organization adopted. I think that's the most important thing in any kind of team, because some people might use it. Often, some people might just wanna be staring at it and just, what is this? What am I supposed to do here? Why is this happening, right? So yeah, we use a lot of tools.

Arjita: Hehehehe

Leda: For the design side, we are constantly kind of in different meetings, we talk a lot, we discuss a lot. I give feedback on different Adobe tools like Acrobat, like they have online things, but it's not really the best. I mean, it could be better.

Arjita: Interesting. So any particular, so, you know, all of these tools coming up in AI, which is mid-journey, generative AI, have you maybe dabbled with any of these with your teams or any of your workflows yet?

Leda: Yeah, of course. The minute it came out, I was actually waiting for Adobe Firefly to come out to see, so I can test it and figure out what's happening. I've tried most of them. I'm happy with some of the results for simpler things. But well.

I really like this to become more of a useful tool for replacing repetitive tasks and things like retouching, cutting out objects and things like that, instead of being the designer itself, because I don't think it's right now, it's definitely not there. It needs a lot of work. But I mean, I think as any other thought tool it will be useful, right? 

Arjita: Okay, interesting. So repetitive tasks, that is interesting. So you mean say if someone has created say one version and one design and they want to publish it in say 100 different languages, something like that would be automated by some of these.

Absolutely, absolutely. Or even trying to guide with the sizes for different platforms, for different social medias. I mean, all of these could work and even like, again, I was really expecting this, like to just cut out objects instantaneously without the right cut out object.

Leda: But it could do a lot more, right?  I'm actually looking forward to it.

Arjita: That's good. It's better to be ahead of the technology than resisting it. Yeah.

Leda: Yeah, yeah, I really don't. I really don't like how some of the AI tools are using artwork of professionals that they're not paying for. I really don't like that. I think it's, yeah, it's theft in a way and at the same time they ask for money from the people who are here, right? That's really insane.

Arjita: Yeah, I think that systems and compliances will speed up, will come up to speed to stop, you know, that kind of terrorism from happening for sure. But I found the thought interesting that, you know, as long as it is to augment the work that the designers are doing and some of the repetitive tasks so that designers can focus more on the creative aspect of things rather than, you know, mundane tasks like production and stuff.

Leda: Yeah, absolutely. That will be much more helpful probably for, from what I'm, from my experience, that will be much more helpful for 3D artists than to graphic designers, like 2D artists, because in 3D, in animation, there is a lot of, a lot of time and effort is put into something that might be done faster, right, with the help of AI.

Arjita: Right. So, you know, you had mentioned that you liked some of these tools and you probably go forward. So in terms of your team, you know, what is the I want to know about two aspects like being in a B2B agency, what are the nature of creatives that are produced by your team? Like is it? more on the social media side? Is it more like sales documentation? I'm just curious in terms of what you call creative, what makes most of your assets? And secondly, what does your team look like? Like typically what does your organization look like?

Leda: Well, for B2B, it's more of a little bit of kind of really well defined lines of what is appropriate and what is not appropriate, what is kind of aligning with the brand guidelines and what is not. You probably have, well, if I can say so, you have less creative freedom, right? You cannot deviate because it's, I mean really doesn't make sense sometimes because you're trying to explain really complex solutions to other engineers or, you know, like, so it's kind of why would you bring something that has that has. No, I mean, yeah. I mean, you can do that. But like, yeah. So it's sometimes it's a little bit more on the dry side, but

Arjita: Yeah. I'm going to go ahead and turn it off. You can put memes and emojis. You just make things fun.

Leda But corporate and a little bit, but that's also fine and you can also find creativeness in that and It's more of a practical creativeness than any other crazy You know, like I don't know like art thing so Yeah, I mean most of the work there is yes it is ads social media, but also video different types of landing pages, websites, all of this marketing materials like eBooks, case studies, white papers and all of that, that's really important to be clearly, clear and really nice layout so people don't be like, oh my God, what am I supposed to do with that? You're trying to make it easy for people.

Arjita: Interesting. And you know, it sounds a lot like what we do here because we are also a SaaS company and our creatives are also all of that case studies, blogs, websites. But you know, once in a while, we just give ourselves freedom and say, okay, you know, why don't we do something that's, that's more of like a meme on LinkedIn. And sometimes you actually get good eyeballs on that because at the end of the day, people want entertainment from marketing teams.

Leda: I think I completely agree as long as it's kind of, as long as it's not cringe, it's I approve.

Arjita: That's the right word, as long as it's not cringe. Okay.

Leda: But yeah, and the team, the design team is based in Bulgaria. Most of the design team is based in Bulgaria. The other teams are in the US. We're a small agency, so we're not that big, but yeah, and sometimes it's like we keep up somehow a flexible team structure. Like if I'm mean, I can do all of the feedback and I can do all of the organization, but sometimes if I need to, I will just sit and create something. I will act as a designer. And I really like that. And I miss that sometimes. Well, most of the time.

Arjita: Yeah. Interesting. So Leda, you mentioned that you have teams here in Bulgaria and then also in the US. So any insights into how to manage teams if they are across time zones, like any processes that you've implemented to make sure your deliveries are on time. Any insights for creative leaders who have? Professionals working across time zones on how to set up processes for such teams to work more efficiently.

Leda: Yes, well, as I'm telling to my team and the entire company team, I really like this saying, like, proper planning prevents poor performance. So, for me, it's really, really important to be clear on what needs to be done. I really like to have it somewhere written out and you know like on black and white or white and black doesn't matter you know the UI side but I really want it somewhere I really want to have a kind of written diary of where each task and project. 

Project management tools are really, really important. I think an organization nowadays, it cannot exist without them. It cannot be efficient enough and it cannot be competitive enough, right? Because everything takes time and sometimes you need to do something really quick, but there's a lot of resources that you don't have at this moment. And maybe the people in the different times will...

have to adjust and have to contact someone. So everything needs to be written out somewhere where everyone has access. So everyone knows what's happening with each project or with each task and they're not like calling in the middle of the night someone. And just what is happening with this? Well, I mean, it's there, right? 

Arjita: Absolutely. Yeah.

Leda: You can sleep tight.

Arjita: Yeah, so did you do all of this documentation process on monday.com? Okay

Leda: Yeah, we use Monday, but I mean, for me, it's really not for me, it's all about Monday has some lags and it's really not probably the best thing. Yeah. I mean, I have a lot of feedback for them, but yes.

Arjita: Yeah.

Arjita: I am in touch with one of the team members. Maybe I'll ask them to get in with you. It's a platform that we also have used in the past and we also really like it except for some use cases, but yeah, nothing against them, but yes.

Leda: Yes, exactly. Yeah, yeah, no, of course not. But I really like, I mean, I can use everything. I can use Word documents as long as people, as long as it's guaranteed that people will read it, right? For me, it really doesn't matter. But I really, really insist on definitely on all of the projects that I'm working on, so we have a diary and we have a log, like what is happening.

Arjita: Right.

Leda: When someone does something, I know it's kind of for some people it's like, oh, but you know, I have to do this and then I have to log it in. Well, yes, but this will save you time and money and effort and everything. So you need to learn it now.

Arjita: Right. Nice, interesting. And so we talked about AI a little bit and repetitive tasks. So if you had to maybe pick one task that you do on an everyday that could be automated for you, what would that be?

Leda: Mm-hmm. Well, I passionately hate emails like back-and-forth emails With long threads. I really sometimes I cannot even find what I'm looking for in the thread because someone else replied And then I cannot like see the information from the other person that I'm interested in so I would love You know like if there is some kind of state if

Arjita: Mm-hmm.

Leda: There is a way to automate and gather every stakeholder feedback into one place. So I don't have to be like, what is happening? Did this person reply? Like this is where we're going to give the feedback and we're going to write it there. We're not going to use emails, Slack, whatever. Like because it's sometimes so chaotic that you're like, I really don't know what is the channel of communication anymore. So, and it takes a lot of time, right? It takes a lot of...

Arjita: Yeah, I mean, I don't want to pluck out workflow at this point, but that's exactly what our suite is built for. I did not want to do that. But yeah, I mean, you know, on the platform.

Leda: Well, we can, yeah. Well, I think that's really important. And I think that the biggest amount of frustration is to just constantly go after someone and be like, but please give me the feedback, or please give me that photo, or something like that. And I'm like, it's been a week. We need to launch a campaign tomorrow. What is happening?

Arjita: That's interesting. Yeah, I mean, I'm gonna pass that on to my product team that also gives them some validation that they're doing important work.

Leda: They are. Keep the good work.

Arjita:Great. So Leda, this is a fun one. So what is one piece of advice that you would give yourself if you were to restart your journey as a creative professional?

Leda: Don't. No, I'm just kidding. Yeah, yeah, like just don't do that. No, I'm kidding. I'm kidding I really well I'm thinking about it and it's for me as a professional designer and Even as a creative because I think most creative professions are like that they're always doubtful and they're kind of always self criticizing and Kind of unsecure insecure and you know, like, but that's helpful, right? This is good. This helps you grow. But at the same time, I would really like it if someone gave me the advice that you can also kind of trust your instincts and intuition and just kind of, you need to trust, you need to believe in yourself. It's a cliche. It's a really bad cliche. It's a little bit cringey. I'm sorry about that.

But it helps a lot, right? Because it helps a lot to kind of rely on yourself and your judgment for any kind of work that you do. I mean, of course you can say it's really, no, that's really bad and probably it is, right? But when it's good, you need to be able to acknowledge it. And I think that also kind of gives you strength and helps you move forward.

Arjita: Right, interesting. So just going back to the process bit that you talked about, do you also have any kind of a briefing process set up in your workflow? Do you use, like, how do you go about that? Because as someone who's worked with creatives myself, I feel that it is very important to get people to what your vision is. What are your thoughts on that?

Leda: Yes. Well, it is important. Yesterday, actually, we had a discussion with our content writer and he's great and all of that, but he needs to do something for us, for the design team, and we need it really, really urgently. But I'm not sure, I need to know more. Yes, I think the most important thing, briefing, is about like, most people rely on. I mean, let's be honest, most people rely on meetings. Again, most people forget what happened in those meetings. So it's meeting after meeting to just kind of, you know, kind of go back and remember what happened in the first meeting. And if what happened in the first meeting was kind of written somewhere and like everyone could just go to it and there would be less meetings in this world. I'm definitely sure about

Arjita: Interesting. Yeah.

Leda: So yeah, I really, really try to give a proper brief, especially for the design team, because I mean, I really kind of value writing, but in writing you can edit something relatively quickly, but in design it's like, oh my god, I have to start all over again and this will take me another two, five, I don't know how many hours. So I'm kind of really cautious and be like, so this is the objective, this is the business goal, this is what we're after. Yes, we can deviate a little bit from the brand guidelines or something like that, but just a little bit, or maybe we can make it better somehow. And, you know, but yeah, again.

Arjita: Absolutely. Right. Great.

Leda: Proper planning prevents poor performance.

Arjita: I think we should have our audience remember that proper planning prevents poor performance. It's an alliteration. It's like five P's. Okay, five P's for creatives.

Leda: Yes, they are.

Leda: 5 Ps for creatives.

Leda: One author or creator? Well, oh my god. So I really like it, because right now I'm not even thinking about becoming a designer. Like because design is, I mean I can say Steve Jobs but I mean yeah sure everyone admires Steve Jobs. But I think um...

Leda: I think design jobs or any kind of job like that involves creativeness. It's just kind of, it's more, it has a more holistic learning and inspiration to it than any other thing. Like you don't have a kind of, you don't have a textbook, you know the basics, but the inspiration should come from somewhere. So it's, I think it's more important to what a lot of movies. Kind of listen to a lot of new music, to experiment and all of that, but right now I mean I'm really into Sadguru. I really like him and I really kind of like his thinking and the advice and all of that and it's really weird in a way that this helps me as a professional, right? To just kind of distinguish what is, I mean, what is... Well, what to worry about and what not to worry about. And when you figure out what you need to not worry about, then you kind of excel in what you do. And

Arjita: That's very interesting and it's as you mentioned it's an intriguing place to derive your inspiration from as a creative professional.

Leda: It is, it is. Even in K-dramas and like in different languages, of course, like you can just, and of course, I think you have to understand different cultures, right? You cannot just rely on, I don't know, like what you're used to, because different cultures put different meanings into, even colors, like even the color theory, I mean, it's kind of okay for us, like for us, I mean, for Europeans and Bulgarians, we have a completely different sets of cultural norms that are related with colors. So yeah, I think that you need to be aware of a lot of things, if I may say, not only designers.

Arjita: Absolutely.

Arjita: If you were to, this is the next question, so if you were to pick one overused word in the design world, what would that be?

Leda: Oh, I have like, well, the first one is user experience. I mean, I really understand user experience is really user experience. It's kind of important, but user experience is design. And then the other thing is design thinking. Like design thinking when, yes, design thinking. Like when people say design thinking, I'm just kind of, okay, what is that? I mean.

Arjita: Okay.

Leda: No, I mean what exactly is design thinking? Like most, no, I know what they, like, what is the meaning they put into it, but I mean, it's really, you're either thinking or you're not thinking. Like for me, it's not a matter of design. I'm not a designer.

Arjita: Interesting, big. That is actually interesting so you are either thinking or you are not thinking, design has nothing to do with it. Actually all kinds of thinking is design thinking. If you do any kind of creative thinking you have to do design thinking right.

Leda: Exactly, I think so. Yes, exactly.

Leda (30:07.631)

Of course, of course. So it's just called thinking. It's fine. Everyone will understand you.

Arjita: Right, so pen and paper or digital notes, what would you pick?

Leda: Digital notes.

Arjita: Oh yeah. And if your content strategy for recordings, yeah, helpful. You are pretty much ahead in the technology curve, Leda. Okay.

Leda: Thank you.

Arjita: If your design strategy was a movie, what genre would it be?

Leda: Mmm. Well, K-drama. It will be a K-drama. With a lot of ups and downs. Oh, sorry. Because, for example, you are set... When you kind of start a new K-drama and you're just thinking, you know, it will be... It will be fun, it will be a romantic comedy and then something really dramatic happens. Like in episode 4 or 5 and you're like, oh my god, I thought that it would be fun and it's really not.

Arjita: Okay. What is that?

Leda: So it's kind of, yes, I definitely recommend them because it's kind of, I think the design process is also kind of really, you're trying to make this something really, like something additional and something that needs to be perfect and kind of really presentable and all of that. But also it kind of, at some point you realize it serves a purpose. Like it needs to actually help someone read something or understand something or, you know, kind of utilize it in a real life manner, not just kind of sit there pretty and all of that. So I think in this way, we might like, I can, yeah, I can make it a K-drama.

Arjita: Great. Interesting. Great. Thank you, Leda, so much that brings us to the end of the conversation. I really enjoyed it. Thank you for taking out the time. And I think the CreativeOps community we have at Artwork Flow would really enjoy it, hopefully you would enjoy this conversation as well. Thank you so much. And we will see you again.

Leda: Thank you, Arjita 

Arjita: Awesome. Thank you, Leda. Awesome. Lovely episode. We're looking forward to it.

Leda: Thank you.

Arjita: Awesome. So that brings us to the end of this. We just have like a few rapid fire fun questions for you. You know, we've talked a lot about work and processes or maybe just, you know, something fun to bring to this. So what, who's that one author or creator that you admire the most?

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