Recently a new client asked, “What can we do as your client to help ensure the success of this design project?” It was a great question. Obviously, a prerequisite is to start with a great design team! But in four decades of being a designer and advisor to clients I’ve learned that the success of a project is not only about the complexity of the problem, or the skill applied to its solution, but also about the relationship between the client and the design team. With that in mind, these eight “do’s and don’ts” will help you get the best results—excellent work, meeting your objectives, on time, and on budget.
1. Write a Project Brief
A written description of your needs is key. Some clients prefer to describe their project in extemporaneous verbal downloads, but I’ve found that when clients take time to think through their needs enough to write them down, we all do better. Your description should include as much detail as you can provide about your business goals, specific project objectives, and any criteria you have for the design work. If written design briefs are not your thing just let our team know and we’ll help.
2. Don’t Hold Back Information
I often hear clients say they’re reluctant to provide too much detail in their initial project description for fear of limiting our creativity. Things like preferences in aesthetics, general points of view, and previous concepts created by other teams—these things tend to be held back. But that’s a big mistake. Designers are creative professionals trained to deal with all known project goals, criteria, and constraints. But they can’t do so without the information. Holding back information slows the design process, especially when that information spills out later after the design team presents their concepts.
3. Bring Your Whole Team to the Party
Another hindrance to project success is when client teams lack executive input at key milestones. Our design project managers work hard to make sure all client stakeholders are included at key points in the process. Nevertheless, sometimes client teams move forward without buy-in from a key executive—and that inevitably comes back to haunt the project. Make sure to identify your internal decision-making process and key stakeholders at the project kick-off and include those stakeholders in key decisions (or delay the decision). If you don’t have a decision-making process in place let us know—we’ll help you formulate one.
4. Build Trust Through Communication and Dependability
Like actors in a stage play, trust is built through repeated dialogue, and through everyone hitting their marks. Give your design team regular, thoughtful feedback, and embrace the ideas and feedback they provide. Expect your design team to deliver on schedule and make sure your team does the same. Our most valued relationships are with clients who—through good communication and dependability—see us as a “trusted advisor” and continually leverage our skills to grow their businesses.
5. Expect Strong Project Management—and Hiccups
Seasoned design groups have strong project management to maintain schedules, budgets, and communication, and to make sure all project objectives are met. But innovative design and development inherently contains a bit of the unknown. So, hiccups happen. Be flexible and understanding. The design team is committed to achieving your goals, but sometimes the road to get there has unexpected potholes and curves.
6. Pay Attention to the Scope of Work and the Design Criteria
These documents are the guide rails of every design project. However, client teams sometimes fail to fully read and internalize them. Make sure to work with your design partner to craft and adopt the Scope and Criteria. A good Scope of Work will clearly explain the project objectives, costs, and deliverables while illustrating a thoughtful and rigorous design process. A Design Criteria defines the specifications of the design output—things like specific design features (both aesthetic and functional), existing standards to maintain, technologies to incorporate, testing and certifications required, quantities, production cost parameters, etc. A well written Design Criteria keeps the development teams focused and aligned, ensuring design outcomes match or exceed expectations. Make sure to update the design criteria after each development phase to address any changes requirements or specifications.
7. Stay on Schedule
Good design professionals pride themselves on meeting deadlines. The success of the project and the maintenance of the budget depends on it. In my experience, most cases of delay are due to the client. It might be a rescheduled meeting, a delay in feedback to concepts, or slowness in providing information critical to the design. Minimizing delays and changes in schedule will maximize your project’s success
8. Learn From the Design Process—and Internalize Best Practices
Ask your design partner to teach you their process as they go. Don’t just look for the what, but the why behind the various steps and deliverables of the process. By engaging in the process with your design partner, you will be equipped to give better, more useful feedback without stifling the creativity and innovation you sought out in the first place. And you will be empowered to implement design thinking tools in other areas of your business—to unlock the hidden creative potential in your own staff.
There are many factors that impact project success. But things like relationships, communication, and time management tend to float to the top. So, start each project with these eight points in mind. And for more, ask your design group, “what can we do to help this project succeed?”