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Chalkboards, Cupcakes, and the Soul of Design – Part II

While HOW Design Live conferences certainly inspire, they also teach. Featuring some of the best minds in the business, HOW learning sessions provide attendees with knowledge and information they can actually take home and apply – practical application stuff, which benefits attendees’ businesses and improves their individual performance. That’s certainly what I’m counting on, anyway.

What follows is a summary of the sessions I attended, the cumulative effect of which, serves as a list of the ingredients that comprise an effective design process. Specifically, things that any company having anything to do with creative design would do well to employ. Implementing, and adhering to, the principles below can mean the difference between good and great results. Not to mention, significantly reduce the screaming and hair pulling.

Hamish Campbell, Creative Director at Pearlfisher, and David Hartman, Associate Creative Director at Target, provided a glimpse into the design process of top-tier firms, starting at the very beginning of the process – long before any creating ordesigning has begun. In their opinion, an effective process begins with trust; without it, you’re in trouble. Sharing a meal together, they told the audience, is a great way to kick-off a project, as it breaks down the “professional” barriers and facilitates personal connections, thus sowing seeds of trust.

They discussed at length the collaboration between Target and Pearlfisher, and how human beings engaging one another is at the heart of effective design. Which I was delighted to hear, as their emphasis on human engagement not only validated what I’d been taught way back when, but also confirmed that it’s a belief shared by some of the best companies in America. By traveling to farmers markets together, conversing intimately, and sharing lots of meals together, Pearlfisher was able to create an engaging and relevant brand that connects with Target consumers: Simply Balanced.

Trust, however, is just the essential first ingredient of an effective design process. It’s the aggregate of ingredients that determines whether your design process is truly effective. In a session led by AtTask’s, David Lesue, I was reminded that the mere word process, seriously conflicts with most creative folks’ DNA; instinctually, we despise it.  As such, David encouraged us to think of process as our frienemy – part friend, part enemy – who helps eliminate unnecessary work, which degrades quality and elongates design cycles, as well as enables us to focus on the design work at hand.  An effective design process, as David explained it, includes the following ingredients.

1.) A formal/standardized work-request process. Require design briefs for everyproject. If there is no brief, there is no work request. This reduces whim, random one-off, and rogue project requests, as it requires requesters to think through what it is they’re requesting, and whether they really need it.

2.) A projects dashboard. Projects should be displayed publically, either electronically or physically – both is preferable. Build a backlog, slot the work on a weekly basis, and display the schedule for all to see. This creates accountability, indicates priorities, and helps keep folks on task.

3.) Central repositories. When designers have to corral all of the information required to complete a job, they lose creative time and their flow is impeded – interruptions kill flow. A good creative brief is crucial, but keeping everything together – research, notes, communications, sketches, files, etc. – is equally important, as it significantly reduces interruptions and enables designers to focus on their design work.

4.) Templates. Create templates for job types that occur on a regular basis, and update them over time. Doing this will greatly improve efficiency, and also lead to consistent, quality output. It will also enable new hires, or those who are new to the process, to get up and running faster.

5.) Collaborate in a consistent fashion. Standard creative briefs is one example, but brainstorming sessions, project kick-off meetings, delivery of assets, and the manner in which they’re conducted and communicated, should also be standardized. Operating in this manner will further reduce misunderstandings and unnecessary work, improve efficiency, and also enable newcomers to get up and running faster.

Quality creative work takes time, and lots of it – something many executives don’t want to hear. In a culture obsessed with speed and “turn-around times,” design work often suffers. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to great creative work. The best way to improve creative work is to spend more time on it, and by incorporating the ingredients listed above, your designers will be able to do just that – spend more time creating.

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