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13 Lucky Steps on How to Manage a Design Project (for Designers)

Published by Val Sopi on January 12th, 2017

13 Lucky Steps on How to Manage a Design Project (for Designers)

Photo by Maroquotidien+

There are many ways to get a project completed and delivered on time. To accomplish such a thing, it’s best to have a flexible system in place that easily allows you to navigate a project and deliver it successfully.

Having a system in place gives you the power to get past boring parts — at times when you’re overworked and all you want to do is procrastinate.

A system allows you to get from point A to point B.

Below, I will describe such a system that I’ve developed over the 17-years in business. A system with a linear approach that has proven useful for me time and again.

1. How to end your first meeting

The point of a kick-off meeting is, obviously, to start the project. After the meeting, it’s crucial to agree on what’s being expected by each party involved and what needs to be achieved (business wise).

In other words: What results will your client foresee with what you’re creating for them?

During this meeting you must take as many notes as you can, mentally and in writing. Ask key questions without overwhelming the client. Let the client speak for themselves. Be an active listener with a helping hand. Ask open-ended questions and take cues from what you’re client is saying.

The magic is to keep the conversation focused & loose at the same time

The meeting is a brain exercise based on the impulses you are receiving from your client.

At the end, do not be inundated with the amount of information you’ve collected. Take it all in as a whole and let your brain do the magic.

2. After the meeting

Right after the meeting, write down quick inspirational thoughts that are rushing through your head: what was said, images, sketches, words, snippets.

Sometimes these may be illogical and random, but you have to trust it!

Commit a full-on brain dump without prejudice. There must be no filters at this stage, just pure inspirational “in-the moment” outbursts.

Jot them all down.

3. Let it marinate (Passive step)

The initial 2 steps produced tons of information that will be your launchpad for the way forward. Some of it will make sense. Some of it won’t.

It is important that you push it all aside and let it sleep for a day. Your brain is still in creative gear and cannot sift through the important stuff.

Let your brain do its own thinking, without your forceful input.

After a day or so, notice what sticks and what doesn’t. It’s important that your solutions “pop-up” from the page on their own. Effortlessly.

Watch how each dot may connect to another. Confidently and without remorse discard things that “may” remotely work. Trust your intuition.

For the project: Quickly consult with the client about your understanding of the project and roughly show what your thoughts are. Get their approval in writing (Email will suffice).

For your team: Brief your team about the project and develop the creative brief that will guide the rest of the process.

4. Research your client’s industry (business wise)

Since we’re designers, it’s always easier to look away at other functions of a business.

Besides the creative part, you must take a hard look at your client’s competition. See what they’re doing and how they’re doing “it”. Read articles. Share with your findings with the client.

What this will do is tell your client that you are dedicated to help them achieve their business goals. Most importantly, you will tackle the problem from your client’s shoes, as if it were your company. You will embody your client’s vision to push forward and discover things that even your client might have missed.

...tackle the problem from your client’s shoes, as if it were your company.

5. Research creative directions in your client’s industry (and outside as well)

Being a designer doesn’t mean designing with the latest fads & trends. It means creatively solving a problem that will help achieve tangible goals.

Let’s say your client manufactures glue. Stop right there for a sec! Glue can be fun

When looking at your client’s competition you must look for these 5 things

  1. What clichés are being repeated the most
  2. What are the leaders in your client’s industry doing
  3. What has worked for whom
  4. What are some outliers that are crossing the line and succeeding
  5. Find real-data that will backup your proposed solution

Note: Update your client about your findings. Ask questions. Refine your way forward.

6. Sketching, Initial ideas

Believe it or not, this is the first time you start designing. It is the part when things start to take shape from collected notes, thoughts, visuals, moodboards, talks, and research.

During this stage it’s important to loosely come up with various things. The way you do that is to let your hand and your mind play. Enjoy!

There’s a great saying in theater that “bad actors act, good actors play”. Hence, the reason they call it a “play” — So go ahead, play, let loose, enjoy, win! Not just for the sake of making tons of things, but allow yourself to explore visually of what might be. Sketch and create as many things as you can.

So go ahead, play, let loose, enjoy, win!

If you noticed, I’m not calling them “ideas” just yet. They will stick their little heads up on their own. You’re just an enabled vehicle to channel these things though.

An “idea” is something that conveys a meaning. A symbol or a visual that stands for something and speaks out coherently. Look for these things when choosing the winner.

Note: You can share this Step with your client if you want, but beware if your client lacks imagination*. They might take your sketches as final solutions and lose their confidence in you. Pick your fights accordingly.

* “Imagination” as in looking at a scribble and seeing colors & full-blown productions.

An “idea” is something that conveys a meaning

7. Do the actual work (draw, photoshop, illustrator)

Taking on from the previous step, here you must start to finalize what you’ve come up with during the Sketching phase. Ideas will take shape and start to resemble something concrete.

It’s good to consider (at least for yourself) two or three directions, so you can compare and strengthen the winner.

Although, during this stage almost every designer starts believing in one direction, you must beware from a trap of your own procrastination.

Your client will feel exactly the way you feel about your creations. Let the process be raw and look for things that might be out of the ordinary. Pick something not just for the sake of it being “different”, but because it tells the same story in a new way.

Look for the confident solution.

Pick something not just for the sake of it being “different”, but because it tells the same story in a new way.

8. Let it sleep again (Passive step)

Just as after the initial client meeting, this passive step calls for letting your creations sleep-in and take their very own shape.

Again, push everything aside and let it go. If you can afford a full 2 days, that’s even better, because after those 48-hours your eyes will be fully refreshed and look at your designs objectively from a completely new perspective.

Chances are that you will take things less personally & more critically. It’s where you want to be emotionally before project delivery.

9. Finish up and select one presentable direction

Congratulations, if you’ve been able to let everything sit for a day or so. Great Job! I mean it. Because it’s super hard to let go of something, especially when you’re inspired and foreseeing the finish line.

This is the stage where you must pick one direction that works best for the problem you’re solving.

If in case your client has asked for more than one design, you must prepare alternatives and back up your solution with concise facts. Again, not just for the sake of defending your position, but because of your client’s success.

Remember: After all the great work you’ve put in, you can be wrong, and that’s Ok! Our clients always understand their business much better than we do.

If you present a design that’s chosen by your client, always present it with dignity and explain why that design may or may not work.

10. Present to the client

This stage represents a full circle.

Always, rehearse and prepare before the presentation, because it could lead to new discoveries and increase your confidence as you present in front of your client. You want to discover mishaps early on and seem prepared when in the meeting. Nothing can ever fake that.

Even though you are an expert in what you do, it’s always best to let the client make the final decision. Any persuasion must be done subtly by always benefiting the client and never our our ego to fulfill an award show.

This is not because they are paying your bills, but because they are much closer to their business that we’ll ever be.

Moreso, it’s always best to let them sleep on it for a day or so and encourage them to share it with their team before making their final decision.

11. Finalize based on feedback

During the meeting you’ve received tons of feedback.

The more prepared you were with your presentation and in love with your what you presented — the more likely your client will respond positively to your solution.

If what you’ve done is approved (with minor suggestions & changes) — Congratulations!

Sometimes even if you feel you’ve done a great job, the client might not be aligned with your thoughts. A simple hack to avoid this is to involve your client carefully from the get-go. Though, again, you must be careful. Sometimes, an inexperienced client might feel that your “oversharing” during the initial stages may be an alarm for your “lack of experience”. Pick your battles carefully!

However, if your client has previously worked with a designer, they will get what you’re trying to do and be super helpful in the process — even appreciate you for it.

Hat tip: You must be very subtle in this approach and check you client’s pulse before proceeding with a certain method.

The rule of thumb is this: If you want to get your designs approved, try to get as much info as possible during the initial stages and evolve your thinking as the process progresses.

12. Send email/message your client (usually no presentation on premise)

This is the step where you start finalizing based on your client’s feedback. It’s usually done quickly just to show what you’re finalizing.

Depending on the size of the project, this step can become a full-blown presentation (just as in Step 10). However, be firm with your client that you’re going for the final design — a delivery of sorts. You don’t want your “presentation process” to be going on forever. If your client is inexperienced, they might think this is the way it works and you’ll end up endlessly visiting your client as your client directs you from afar.

13. Deliver the final version

This is a meeting where you launch the project or deliver it in a physical form — if that’s the case (depending on the project).

It’s time to crack open the champagne with your client or bury the hatchet — if the process has been anything but fun.

There you have it.

Final notes

  1. Always leave your communication channel open and be there for your client. No matter what the personality of your client, they will always be more open to your suggestions if you’re there for them from the get-go.
  2. Actively listen and understand what is being said. Never assume (Ass = u + me).
  3. Be ruthless with your “many” ideas. More-or-less there’s always one proper solution for the given context.
  4. If possible, financially, always work with clients you like.

Would love to hear from you in the comments below how you implement your steps and if any of this rings a bell.

Learn more about Vavingo

About the Author

Val Sopi is the founder and chief everything at Vavingo. You can find him coding, designing, writing, and even answering customer-care questions without ever complaining one bit.

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