October 25, 2016 - No Comments!

Part 1: Rethinking Our Client Workflow Process

Our industry has changed quite a bit since we first began. Turn-around-times, deliverables, ideas, have all shifted the way we approach our work. This evolution has forced us to adapt, and in turn has revealed pain-points in our process. The following is an ode to how we used to approach problem-solving, a discourse of our old workflow.

A solution that worked for a big brand may not necessarily work for a smaller one.

More often than not, a client has a problem they need solved; often, they do not turn to designers to help them solve it. Instead, they attempt to develop the solution internally, be it through a committee or even as a solo venture. This tends to lead them to a very linear way of thinking, adding little value to their brand, and is where the problem begins.

Stakeholders on projects are often layered; the highest level stakeholders only get eyes on the project near completion, and the lower-level stakeholders are driven by time, budget, and quality – all of which are typically in short supply. This situation leaves little room for a designer to provide strategic thinking and execution. Projects are instead turned into production jobs, with quality and time taking a back-seat, and driven up costs.

With creative work, it is very easy and very common for a client to notice something a team has done and seek them out for a similar solution. This is not an ideal situation. Unlike production jobs, these kinds of projects cannot be quickly and easily churned out. The artists have fostered a specific way of expressing an idea, and have crafted it to perfection. For creative problem solving there are different values for each and every project, created specifically for the client, not as a general solve. A solution that worked bigger brands may not necessarily work for smaller brands, which is where company hierarchy comes into play. A marketing team may come up with a new campaign, but the marketing team is driven by sales and not brand values. If they notice a solution working really well for another company they may adopt it and put a little twist on the idea. This ‘new’ package is then pushed onto a design team. The solution presented from the client may at first look completely different, but by the time the final round comes to fruition it has become an ugly step-sister of the original solution. We have typically been involved as the production side of these ‘new’ ideas.

“What do you think of this so far?”

If we have done our due-diligence to make a slick comp, the client will typically approve and we can get started on the production of the project. Again, none of this is design. We are simply using the tools of the trade to pass a project through as quickly as possible, without really thinking about it. The other side of this coin is that the things that reach the client’s hands and eyes, are typically also passed around quickly. Stakeholders may give the project a quick glance through email and approve it, without even thinking about it (this is a sweeping generalization, some clients genuinely care about process and the end result). This is where the trouble really starts. The marketing team is motivated to get this done as soon as possible, and leadership is busy with other things.

The phase of production begins with understanding the end result and defining scalability for changes. This is the easy part, it's a typical workflow between internal departments. The client is not involved greatly during this time, as since they already know the end result, they are just looking to us for production. As long as we meet milestones set and preliminary progress shots, the project proceeds on with little friction. Once a milestone has been met, a progress shot is sent to the client along with a chain of emails, beginning with “What do you think of this so far?”. This tends to halt the whole process, putting a hold on production, while we are forced to wait for a response. This is a problem and reveals a huge lack of confidence, to both the client and the team.

In a partnership, there is an established set of expectations for both parties to meet certain objectives. If either fails, then the project is not moving accordingly. This inadequacy goes all the way back to the marketing team coming up with the solution. Their expectation is that we supply visuals, yet time and time again we don’t set client expectations. No matter the scale of the project, expectations are an important part. It keeps all parties held accountable.

Once the final round of changes have been sent to the client, it is our responsibility to create mechanical files. This process is usually a mess as mechanical files and initial comps tend to be scattered in different programs, sizes, and other non-print/digital ready forms. During this time we scramble to go back to the original guidelines for the project to make sure bleeds and other print elements are correct, that PANTONE colors have been chosen, and that type is outlined.

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This next part is where it gets extremely harrowing. Despite the fact that the files are now mechanically print-ready, the client may sometimes spot something at the last minute that they want to alter, or have a headline change due to legal requirements. This usually tends to happen on a Sunday, right before dinner is served. We don’t want to start Monday off on a sour note, we don’t want to soil our relationship with the client, so we comply. This is on us because we didn’t establish expectations and a process that allows for flexibility in situations like this, in the first place.

Worst of all, mechanicals aren’t the only thing a client may request and receive from us. More often than not, working files are also handed over. Some may say, “That’s a good practice, it allows them to make corrections on their own.” It is not a good practice, and should definitely not be allowed. Once a client has their hands on the files you painstakingly crafted, you no longer have control over what they do to them, and your name is still on the line. Your files may get passed from the head of marketing to the intern, to produce a version of your beautiful design for their Instagram. The tightly honed composition and well adjusted kerning, are all thrown out the window to appeal to 20-somethings who will pass over the content without batting a lash. Expectations are so important. This Instagram post should have been outlined in the brief as a deliverable. It is up to the studio to foresee potential needs from the clients, it is not always up to the client to think through what they might need for their brand. We have to be responsible in setting expectations and anticipating their needs.

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Now that the client has the deliverables: logos, billboards, flyers, etc., it is usually left up to them to activate. More than likely, they will take the cheap route to do this, without thinking of their own customers. Cheap, fast, and good enough are always the tenants of a sales team, and they will take that route every time if you let them. However, these virtues are relative; what is cheap to a larger product team may not be to a small brewery. When consulting the client, if they’ve come to you with an end result they like, always ask them how they arrived at that solution as their example. Designers have to take the due-diligence of stepping outside their comfort zones, accepting the passed down end-result, and asking why. We need to challenge the client, help educate them and guide them in the right direction, and lead them to a successful activation. Too often the client passes over the little details, like paper-stock, booth lighting, etc., to get the project out the door. In the end, even if the client is happy with their product, we are typically left with a shell of the vision we created for the project. While this small cog may have been produced, it will underperform because we didn’t bother to make sure it was the best it could be. Maybe we didn’t fight for the right solution, maybe the client was stubborn. All of this does not matter, what matter is is that you’ve lost and have now been put into the bucket of a mediocre production house, in the client’s mind. It is not the client’s fault, it’s ours.

Published by: admin in DESIGN

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