Developing Powerful Workflows for Design
Design is the practical application of creativity, and practical application requires process. I first started to understand this as a sophomore in high school. I signed up for Journalism, which, at the time, I fully expected to be a filler course. (Just being honest!) However, among other things, it introduced me to publication layout, my first foray into the world of design.
I learned pretty fast that if I didn’t have a plan, I was going to spend a lot of time heading back to square one. I needed to know what the Editor-in-Chief envisioned for the theme, which news articles were in the pipeline, and whether or not our adviser approved of it all. And, most importantly, I needed to know if both the expected and the unexpected were doable by the deadline. It was daunting to say the least, especially for a filler course.
But I also learned pretty fast that process was crucial. You work with the writers to create an editorial calendar; you seek calendar approval from the adviser; you create a quick mockup to make sure it all fits where you want; and then you lay it out. (This is the practical application part!)
At EnVeritas Group, our workflow follows a similar course. It seems simple enough—don’t do anything without a plan—but adhering to the plan is sometimes easier said than done. That’s why I recommend drafting a powerful workflow with your collaborators, making sure everyone agrees on its specifics, and then referencing the workflow before embarking on every project. And at every step of the way.
The Basics of a Design Workflow
Each design workflow is different, but whether your business is local or international, small or large, print or web, somewhere in between or everywhere in between, your workflow will likely follow a similar process. Below, I outline a six-step process you can use as a roadmap.
Learn your client’s challenges, and set up a hierarchy of communication.
As with most relationships, a workflow starts with a conversation. A designated team member should set up a date and time to introduce your team to the client. It’s critically important that both the project manager and the designer are on the call. Although the designer should’ve already done research on the client’s individual needs and industry, they will want to ask some specific questions, such as, “Do you have an official visual style guide?” and “What are the delivery specifications of the product?”
TIP: Create and share a content calendar that includes the deadlines and delivery status for each part of the project so the designer knows who’s responsible for providing what (copy, approval, etc.) and when.
Do your research and conceptualize a custom solution—or solutions.
Now that the designer knows what the client’s challenges are, they can start to create solutions. This part of the process is entirely on the designer’s shoulders. It’s the “creativity” that comes before the “practical application.” Whether the designer sketches, paints, plays around in a design program or waits for a vision to come to them in a dream, the point is to imagine what a satisfactory solution would look like.
TIP: Design to fit the content, don’t write content to fit the design. The designer needs the final written and edited content by the end of this step to avoid unnecessary revisions later. (Please!)
Create a few client-facing options with feedback from your internal team.
It’s practical application time. In the creation stage, “what if” becomes “here’s how” as the designer creates concepts and mockups that implement their imagination. The designer may have several solutions up their sleeve, but the number of options they pursue depends on the contract and/or the clients’ expectations. However many you create, each option should offer a different approach to the problem. The project manager, and any other internal stakeholders, should offer feedback on the preliminary designs to help the designer refine each option.
TIP: A deadline is a deadline, but do what you can to give the designer time to create. Sometimes the difference between a good design and a bad design is two solid nights of sleep.
Present the client with your options and talk them through your strategy.
If they haven’t already, the project manager should set up a meeting with the client to explore the possible options. Include the designer on the call. Oftentimes, the designer is the only one who understands and can clearly articulate each design decision and how it solves the client’s issue(s). If the designer isn’t able to attend, or if the client isn’t sure how to offer feedback, prompt them with pointed questions. Excellent examples include, “Will this resonate with your target audience?” and, “Is the call to action clear and correct?” Be sure to designate a representative to take detailed notes on the client’s responses—both spoken and unspoken.
Occasionally, understandably, clients want time to ruminate. If possible, offer the client a few days to think and coordinate a deadline for feedback. Also, it’s always a good idea to request that the client submit their feedback all at once. When multiple representatives submit multiple revisions separately, it’s nearly impossible to keep track, and revisions can fall through the cracks.
TIP: Presenting strategy is as important as presenting the design. The client is relying on your expertise, so share it. Show them you aren’t simply artists; you’re problem solvers.
Amend a design (or designs) and prepare to present the updated options again.
Compile the client’s feedback, think about what it truly means, and return to practical application. Sometimes, in order to understand how to implement the client’s requests, the designer needs to read between the lines. “I don’t like the blue,” and, “I think it’s boring,” can actually mean, “I want warmer colors that incite a call to action.” The designer should listen to the entire team’s thoughts and opinions, but the team should ultimately lean on the designer’s expertise.
Before the project manager sends back the refined file(s), be sure everyone is on the same page. Oftentimes, the designer implements a recommendation in a different or more strategic way that better aligns with client’s goals. Be ready to tell the client why you chose to handle something differently than they expected.
TIP: Clearly communicate the repercussions of exceeding the allowable limit on revisions. The client may not care about additional charges but can’t afford to miss a deadline.
Present the client with the finished product and communicate any next steps.
Once all rounds of revisions are complete and the client is happy with your work, the designer will wrap up any final updates and prepare for delivery. For print projects, this may entail packaging the files for the printer or sharing a single file with the client. For web projects, this may entail sending the approved mockup to a programmer or, if the designer is serving both roles, deploying the live product online.
While delivery may be the last step in this process, the process isn’t always over. If you establish a lasting relationship with the client, focus on continuity. Ask how you can continue to collaborate. Suggest what else can be done and why you can create the best solutions. Go back to discovery mode.
TIP: Keep your promises. If you said you’d deliver a file in a specific format during the kick-off call, deliver that file format. It’s an easy way to show you are always listening to their needs.
Customize the Workflow for You
Will the specifics of this workflow work for everyone? Maybe, maybe not. But it outlines the basics and serves as a wireframe for organizing your team and setting yourself up for success. The point isn’t to follow this to a T but to set up a process that everyone agrees upon. Each person on the project needs to know their role and responsibilities.
If you aren’t sure where to start, contact us and one of our content strategy and content management experts can talk through the possibilities. Plus, we can even take care of the design work for you. Whether you need a website, an infographic, an email HTML mockup or a print publication, we’re here to help.
Cody Owens – Account Manager & Lead Designer