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Getting the Most from Your Design Investment

There are as many ways to develop good creative as there are people in this world. When it comes to getting good work done under the pressures of business, budgets and ever-tighter deadlines, however, it’s good to know how to get the most from your design investment.

After working professionally in the creative field for 35 years now, I’ve found what works and what doesn’t, at least from a designer’s perspective. Assuming that most of you work on the other side, I thought this list would be helpful.

Let me know what you think in the comments and please don’t hesitate to elaborate on any nuances I may have left out. Business can be complicated, and I am sure that much more can be said!

1. Hire someone good
Obvious, I know. But hiring a good designer or creative agency is truly the single most important decision you will make. If you don’t know any designers or agencies, recommendations from other people you trust is always a good bet. Review their experience, portfolio and clients. Social proof is another great gauge — social media provides a great way to see firsthand how people interact, follow through on their commitments and how trustworthy they are.

Design gets you from logic to magic -- let good design pull a rabbit out of YOUR hat.2. Define objectives/determine strategy
Too often companies and clients like to jump right into the “fun stuff” without doing the due diligence required upfront to set the roadmap for everything else that will follow. Design is not about just making something look pretty — creativity directed towards business goals is serious work, and it will only be effective if time is spent defining what actually needs to be accomplished first. I’ve even seen big marketing departments miss this crucial step, as ancillary interests come into play and take on a life of their own, or the pressure of just “getting it done” takes precedence.

Bear in mind, your design investment will only be as good as what fed the design in the first place.

3. Communicate
Be clear on all requirements and needs upfront. Of course, not every single thing can be foreseen, but the basics should be established: budget, schedule/timing/deadlines, context, size, any other potential broader uses or repurposing, and any other special considerations that come to mind.

4. Trust your designer
If you adhered to number one on this list, this step should be easy and is why that first point is so important. Once you hire a person or agency whose work, experience and reputation you like — let them do their jobs. You know your business like no one else, and they know theirs. It’s incumbent upon both parties to partner on nailing down the specifics and then getting to it — establishing the processes that will result in the best work with the most efficient execution for your design investment.

5. Don’t ask what other people think of the design
What is that, you say? I knew this one would get your attention, but… engaging in this all-too-common behavior reduces design to nothing more than a beauty competition which flies directly in the face of what branding design, marketing design and communications design is all about.

Soliciting a million opinions from people who weren’t privy to the project objectives, don’t know the backstory on the market, data, strategy, budget, timeframe or anything else that needs to be accomplished, will only confuse and obfuscate the process, often derailing it. If you think an entirely unscientific survey has value and simply can’t resist asking people what they think, tread carefully and take the feedback with a grain of salt. Only then may it have some value, but everybody brings their own biases to a subjective question about what they like, including you — the person asking the question. So even if there is a definite consensus after taking such a poll, the exercise is largely misleading and therefore, also largely useless.

Another thing to keep in mind is that there is no “one way” of doing something. There are often several different, equally legitimate and viable solutions to any visual communications challenge. Go with the person’s opinion whom you hired to trust. (See why hiring the right person is so important to your design investment?)

6. Bring all decision-makers into the process at the earliest phases
It really doesn’t make too much sense if the people who will ultimately make the final calls aren’t present when the marching orders are decided for all the work that will follow. No matter how much authority you may have in the decision-making process, everybody needs to be on board for an efficient process and a successful outcome, devoid of any late inning surprises. Nobody likes redoing weeks or even months of work and the associated costs, not to mention the stress and pressure of a deadline that suddenly became yesterday.

7. Provide timely input/feedback
All those project schedules that are drawn up will have forever sliding timelines if prompt feedback isn’t given as things progress. Creative projects, even the “smaller” ones, are made up of a series of phases that require input along the way. Designers don’t leave the first meeting and then work in a vacuum only to resurface at the end with work that magically satisfies every desire. The process is more of a collaboration between designer and client — and each has their own responsibilities to see that the process is a successful one. Good designers will seek the answers they need.

8. Show you care
Return emails, pick up the phone, respond to voicemails — the designer and/or creative agency are doing their best to do the work you asked to be done by a certain date. Oftentimes, questions arise that need to be answered before the designer can proceed. Ignoring messages and communications from your creative person sends the signal that the work is not that important — not good when you want others to give their best and get the most for your design investment.

9. Be respectful of the expertise they bring to the table
Creative professionals not only have talent but the training and experience to apply it. Provide input, but don’t dictate design — big difference!

Now, this is not to say that designers are infallible. Of course, they aren’t. And good designers are good listeners, especially when it comes to client opinions and input. Everyone has opinions — but isn’t your best bet to trust the expert who studies, practices, eats, sleeps and breathes this stuff? They also may bring a certain amount of business objectivity which can be really helpful, so they are in a strong position to know what works and what is best from an “outsider’s” point-of-view as well.

10. Provide content and feedback in organized chunks
Sending separate emails for every little change is highly inefficient and error-prone. This places the client’s own project management responsibilities upon the designer, which will likely lead to missed items, endless back and forth follow-ups, and friction on both sides — possibly even costly mistakes. Instead, gather changes and organize content in a way that will be clear to the person you are sending them too. This is less time-consuming in the long run and better for you, better for your creative partner, and better for the project and design investment as a whole.

11. Be decisive
Changing your mind once in awhile is one thing — we all do it and we’re all human — but when it becomes a habit then it can become a major issue. Constantly shifting input can cause serious problems for the client/designer relationship and ambush the process, turning an otherwise successful project into a time-consuming, expensive nightmare. Not a good design investment.

12. Navigate political hierarchies
Bringing the ultimate decision-makers into the process early is important, but so is knowing who needs to know what and when, or what sensitivities need to be addressed. But be careful, because raising too many unnecessary questions can also lead to project paralysis as competing opinions lead to more questions and so on. The best clients get the input they need but take charge, and know how to shepherd the project through the multiple layers of approval necessary to get the job done, and get it done well.

And here’s a bonus tip: refer your designer to others. Most designers rely on referrals as a way to get new business. So, if you like the results your agency provided and refer others to them — you’ll be helping out your colleagues get the most from their own design investment, and your designer will likely treat you “extra special” on that next big job!

I hope this post is helpful for maximizing your investment in good design and leads to many more creative successes! Perhaps it also helped you recollect some of your own experiences. What’s worked for you when working with a designer or creative agency?

Share your tips below because we can all learn from each other and how design can be a major catalyst in helping your branding, marketing communications and social engagement ROI. If you’re a fellow creative person, what did I miss? (And if anyone has any nightmare scenarios they’d like to share, share those too!)

And of course, please don’t hesitate to contact me for that next great project so we can get the most for your design investment!

This post first appeared on 12 Most, the best list site on the web.
Featured image courtesy of kevin dooley licensed via Creative Commons.
Photo illustration work: Paul Biedermann, re:DESIGN
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