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Design, Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Startup
Think of all the great creative work we see on a daily basis. How the right image paired with the right words evoked reactions. How a new interface felt like a friendly piece of software that you were able to use with ease. Or a new product that came in such precise packaging that you wonder if you should keep the box as well. 
 
All of these pieces, products, and designs came to life from a creative brief. A creative brief is the foundation of any design project, UX product, marketing campaign and really anything produced by a creative team. In essence, a brief is a roadmap outlining the journey that the creative team is about to embark upon. The brief shows the team where to start driving to discover ideas but also how to evolve those ideas into fully formed concepts that complete the journey. 
 
One of the biggest challenges multidisciplinary teams face is getting, and keeping everyone on the same page. The creative brief is the proverbial shepherd herding all the stakeholders together. It provides a central point of reference to clarify the project goals, details, mandatory elements, timelines and budgets for creatives and clients to reference throughout a project. It also has the added bonus of acting as a cover for scope creep for creatives and a deliverable list for clients. A creative brief also provides a way to navigate the messier parts of collaboration on big, complex projects with multiple moving parts and people.
 
In the blog, 5 Ways to Keep Revision Costs Down, one of the key elements for cost control is a detailed creative brief. By capturing all the project elements in one place, both client and agency teams can be held accountable allowing for a more accurate quote and fewer revisions in the final stages.
 
A 2017 survey of over 1,200 international advertising executives by Ad Age asked them to rank clients on topics including integration, procurement, compensation, and consolidation.
 
Specifically, regarding creative briefs, their response was, “Agency assignment briefs were a major problem area, highlighting the old ‘garbage in, garbage out’ mentality. Most agencies reported some level of frustration regarding the quality of assignment briefings: 53% found briefs complete but lacking in focus; 27% found them incomplete and inconsistent; 20% found them complete and focused most of the time, and zero respondents found them complete and focused all the time.”
 
Now, more than ever, teams need to orchestrate and distribute brand campaigns that include multiple media options, timed deliverables, and collaboration efforts with creatives located all over the globe.
 
At the start of a creative project, it is important to answer some essential questions from the key stakeholders.  
 
      • What problem needs to be solved?
      • Who is the target audience?
      • What product, service or solution will solve the core problem?
 
Clarity around these aspects is at the heart of any project success. These questions work for any project type and help get everyone on the project aligned with the main objectives.
 
At its purest, a creative brief is like building a house; a strong foundation will ensure everything else stays together. So, how do you want to build your house? Here are some tips.
 
1. What Are Your Goals?
Before diving into the details of the project, try focusing on a few details. This will allow you to keep the project manageable and your brief focused. However your project is structured, it is important to lay out individual goals that will comprise the steps required to complete the project. 
 
Having a clear vision of who you are is critical when communicating your goals to the team, so they can amplify your amazing qualities. If you have a brand guide, you’ll need to attach it to the creative brief to reinforce who you are and give the creative team a reference they can look to when questions arise. If you do not have a brand guide, now is the time to get one (warning: self-promo ahead) from Method Creative Studios; user experiences driven by simplicity. 
 
2. Who Are The Key Stakeholders?
Ownership drives accountability, on both the client and agency side. Having someone, or team, listed as the decision makers for the client and main point of contact for the creative team allows each group to identify the project leaders. The brief should clearly outline who’s driving the car and who is the senior leadership that can provide guidance if problems arise.
 
Selecting stakeholders who will play an active role in the process will leave the teams with a clear understanding of who they need to turn too when questions arise. However, be sure to not overload already busy staff who might overlook important details. Realistically, this isn’t always possible, but it’s nice to dream, right?
 
3. Who Are We Talking To?
This should be self-explanatory. If you don’t know who you’re talking to this project is far too embryonic for a creative brief. At this point, you should know who your audience is and what their customer person looks like. This needs to be clearly communicated to the creative team. If you have research and detailed persona outlines, put this in an appendix. The agency teams love having a detailed understanding of who they’re talking to.
 
4. What’s The Deal With Your Competition?
Who’s the competition? What are they doing? Where are they finding success? When are the right market conditions? Tell us your ‘why’ statement. This information will help inform the direction that your product, service or brand will go to stand out and help focus both client and creative teams towards a clearer picture of the destination on the roadmap that is our creative brief.
 
5. What Is Our Key Message?
This is the biggie of the project, everything created is in service of this message. To help point the creative team in the right direction try to position the tone and style around the brand’s voice, mission and/or values. 
 
Thinking about the overall goal, try to distill it down to one sentence, or even a few words if possible. If this is presenting itself as a challenge, try using the Golden Circle approach to simplify your message to its core elements. From there, both teams will be able to focus on the best way to communicate it with your audience. 
 
6. How Are We Communicating Your Message?
Let’s get into the specifics now. What channels are you using to push your message? On a screen in a conference hall is a far different screen than your phone playing on Instagram. By narrowing down where your message will be placed, the creative team can design it to cater directly to your audience.
 
7. What Are The Deliverable Details?
Now it’s time to dive into the details. This is where you document exactly what needs to be developed, what mandatory elements are needed, what size the final product needs to be, how it will be produced, who’s responsible for completing a phase and who is it being passed onto. 
 
Let’s get a laundry list of what MUST appear on your piece. Things like logos, selling lines, legal copy, phone numbers, web address, etc. You can also help us out by identifying any possible legal pitfalls or regulatory issues. Do you have a branding guide? What are your corporate colours and fonts? Does it need to be bilingual?
 
This is also your chance to have some fun and join us in the creative process. Please share with us the idea you have in the back of your head, let’s call it a ‘bad ad’ or a ‘jumping off’ point. We know you have an idea of how you see things ending up, it’s time to share. Pull out the crayons and get started. If you have samples of images, brands, ads, apps, websites, or anything else that inspires, this is the time to share it. By knowing what styles, UX’s, tones, etc. that you like, the creative team and focus in on delivering your vision.
 
Don’t be afraid to get really into it here, the more details on the final deliverables, the more focused the creative team can be thus saving you revision costs in the long run.
 
8. How Is Success Measured?
Before the creative team goes nuts building the next great app, do we have tangible metrics to track that will determine growth and success? Do the current analytics account for multiple campaigns and outbound sales activities so this project can be isolated and measured on its own? 
 
Establishing metrics in advance for reporting data helps facilitate stronger client-agency relationships in the long run. It builds trust upon everyone delivering their tasks, and allows for insight into problem areas as they arise. Just make sure there are agreed-upon metrics so everyone knows whether goals have been reached.
 
9. What Are The Timelines?
Let’s face it, some projects are far simpler than others and some are multi-agency, multi-disciplinary complex projects that require a lot of detailed specs. Understanding where this project falls within the marketing mix, content calendar or marketing strategy can help outline the appropriate timeline for completion. 
 
Timelines are the backbone of your project and should be laid out plainly in the creative brief. Try to focus on time windows and then narrow them down to specific days after working with your creative team to fit your project into the production schedule if possible. Ultimately, each deliverable needs to have a due date, as well as a sign-off date. These timelines let the teams know what needs to be done to hit the deadline and how things may be delayed if something is not completed for the next phase.
 
Remember, if every job is a priority, then none of them are a priority. 
 
10. What Is The Budget?
Let’s talk money. What is your budget? We can tailor the job to your budget? Does your budget include hosting, media buys, delivery, and/or printing and production costs? Have you factored in translation costs, audio production, stock image/video purchases, transportation, location fees, licensing, permits, etc.?
 
In most cases, you’re working with a set budget based on the complexity of the project – a 15 second motion graphic ad for Facebook has a smaller budget than a live action 30 second on-location spot that includes digital and print ads to accompany it – this needs to be included in the brief and part of the discussion with the agency team. They will want to know where the flex points are to see if new ideas or techniques could be applied. 
 
If the agency’s quote is above your budget, talk it over with them. Quite often we’re willing to tailor a job based upon budget and needs. Through this dialogue, we can figure out realistic expectations and deliverables before jumping into the project and discovering that the budget has been burned two-thirds of the way through. 
 
Final Thought
Taking the time at the start of the project to think through these 10 tips, and reviewing the brief your agency sent, you’ll be able to build a creative brief that is not only thorough but effective and focused. Now armed with your creative brief, you and your agency team can build the right project for your business. 
 
If you would like a sample of our thorough creative brief here is a copy of Method’s that you can use as a starting point (here is our additional website brief to compliment the main brief). Now go out there and create something beautiful.
 
 
 
Want to learn more about how your company can benefit from an experienced creative professional? Click below to set up your 30-minute consultation. We’ll sit down and work through your branding, marketing, or creative materials to find where you need some work, and offer our suggestions.
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Design, Startup
Nothing kills the good feeling of deploying a great looking product to your audience than receiving a bill far higher than you had anticipated. Sure, there were some revisions but the back and fourth for those final little changes didn’t seem like it took too much time. If you’re not mindful of it, revision costs can cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Most studios, agencies and freelancers bill by the hour – every little colour change, type movement, image swap – is logged on a timesheet, and those little tweaks can add up fast. It doesn’t have to be this way, here are some tactics to help keep your revision costs in check, and also streamline communication with your creative team.
 
General practice is to provide a couple rounds of revisions – two to three – included in a quote, with anything beyond those being billed on the clock. A good account manager or freelancer will alert you when the clock starts ticking, however it’s never a bad idea to ask. A revision round is considered any change made to a file and is generally present in the file name of any creative work being sent for review (PDF’s, JPGs, PNGs, etc…) with a filename looking similar to this, sample_card_v4 (or sometimes r3). So when you see ‘4’ showing up, the clock is probably running. A good practice when working with a new studio, agency or freelancer is to understand how their billing time works; by the minute, quarter, half or full hour and when the clock starts ticking, like when a file is opened for example.
 
Looking for tactics to keep your company’s revision costs down? Here are five tips to help you and your team avoid extra rounds of revisions.
 
1. Define project goals
Although this article is about how to keep revisions under control, like most things in life, setting a project up for success at the very start always proves to be invaluable when it comes time for changes. Before any research is conducted or concepts explored, the major stakeholders of the creative project need to clearly and specifically define what the expectations are. 
 
For example, if a new brand is required, what are the expectations around it? What is a logo to you and your team? Is it an icon? A shape? A word mark? A combination? What does that logo stand for? What is its mission? And these are just the start of the questions on the business side of a brand, there’s a whole other world of questions around your customers and audience, but we’ll get to that in the next point.
 

Solution:
The major stakeholders need to conduct internal research on what the project goals are, who they are serving, who will be involved in the approvals process (so they can help define the goals) and who will be the single point of contact between the company and the creative team. Knowing who is responsible for what, and who everything will funnel through can catch errors sooner and save valuable time over the course of the project.
 
2. Start with the brief
The brief is really where everything comes together in advance of project kickoff. It’s your opportunity to capture everything that you require from the creative team. A good creative brief will not only ask what pieces are required – Five sizes of google ads, Facebook and Instagram ready videos, business cards, and letterhead, etc – but will also explore your customer and audience personas. This is your opportunity to take the creative team on a deep dive into your request. Creative briefs should be detailed enough to give the team a clear focus on what is required while leaving them with enough leeway to do what they do best – design incredible pieces for your company. To see what should be included in a brief, here is a copy of Method’s that you can use as a starting point (here is our additional website brief to compliment the main brief).
 
Solution: Don’t be afraid of the details. Take the opportunity to provide visual samples (or links) to designs and work that inspires you and influenced this project. Describe the user experience you’re aiming to achieve and show some other companies that have achieved this. Before you submit the brief, be sure to get buy-in from all the stakeholders involved as this will ensure that the project it completely clear on your end helping minimize revisions in the long run. 
 
3. Assign one point of contact to communicate with the creative team
Studios and agencies have built their client facing department – account managers – around the proven practice of having one manager overseeing an account; being the sole point of contact between the bustling bodies of the studio and the client. This process not only eliminates broken telephone between creative departments but puts accountability for all communications through one funnel. The same practice should be applied on the client side. Consider this; there are four stakeholders on a web design project all wanting to communicate with the design team. Throughout a day, four different emails are sent, saying four different things. This not only takes time to untangle the requests, it often increases the margin of error and ultimately the number of revisions.
 
Solution: To avoid the phenomenon of ’too many cooks in the kitchen’, establish a single point of contact to speak with the creative team. This individual will be tasked with sorting out questions and opinions internally before connecting passing them on for execution. Sometimes it’s necessary to have a few people involved. In these cases employing the use of project management software like Asana or Airtable which will ensure that everything is logged and minimize miscommunication internally.
 
4. Consolidate rounds of revisions
Receiving the first version of any design project is exciting! It’s the first time you get to interact with your vision and really see what your creative team is capable of, and how well your team was able to communicate requirements. While you might be tempted to share immediate feedback (praise is always appreciated) it is inevitable that you’ll have additional ideas in a few hours, after sleeping on it and especially when other stakeholders get involved. Rapid fire revisions are not a good use of time, and pretty much instantly eat up your revision rounds. 
 
Solution: Book a meeting of all stakeholders to review, discuss and consolidate all revisions. Sometimes a project needs to be shared internally (even with the board) for a week or so to properly collect everyone’s feedback. This is also a situation where project management software can help keep track of requests. The added benefit of consolidating feedback is that the creative team will know the timeline of when to expect the revisions and can schedule them into the workflow keeping your project humming along on time.
 
5. Ensure feedback is specific and exact
When the time comes to send feedback and revisions to the creative team, specific requests that avoid vague or buzz terms ensure a clearer understanding of what you’re looking for. Nothing is worse than requests like, “make it cooler’, or “there’s something here that isn’t working”. Feedback containing really subjective terms such as ‘cool’, ‘modern’, ‘techy’, ‘relaxed’, etc… are catnip for extra rounds of revisions as the creative team is left to decipher just what ‘cool’ really is. The reason is that everyone has a different interpretation of what ‘cool’ means, and looks like. 
 
Solution: Don’t be afraid of the details. Avoid subjective terms altogether. Similar to the briefing stage, this is another chance to go into more detail by using visual references to explain what ‘cool’ is to you and your team. Having visual references allows the creative team to focus in on what your expectations are, without being mind readers. Don’t worry about limiting designers by getting too specific, we actually love it – it allows us to focus our energy and produce the right solution faster because we’re not guessing or lost down the wrong road. 
 
At the end of the day, we all want to see a successful project completion, and that includes presenting a final bill that is within the agreed upon quote. Following the tips above you’ll be able to contain overage costs and keep everything on a smooth timeline. The added bonus is that your creative team will love you! While we love billing for every little change, the reality is that doing 25 rounds of revisions is not helping anyone and is only demoralizing both teams. Happy teams produce great work and in the end builds a strong relationship that should serve you well into the future.
 
This blog is dedicated to my Marketing Director fiancée, who has dealt with more than her share of runaway revisions over the years. Since she has put these principals in place her team has seen great success on projects spanning the print and digital design universe.



Want to learn more about how your company can benefit from an experienced creative professional? Click below to set up your 30-minute consultation. We’ll sit down and work through your branding, marketing, or creative materials to find where you need some work, and offer our suggestions.
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Design, Startup
Being a designer is a dream for many. Full days creating beautiful pieces and stunning interactions. This is great for members of a design team, but it’s only the beginning for a design leader.
 
We’ve all seen agencies and studios promoting their skills and why they ‘know brands’. But once you look a little deeper, it becomes clear that most don’t really walk the walk – and worse, are posers copying designs and reselling them as their own original creations. While businesses are in the midst of a tectonic shift towards user experience and good design, understanding and finding the right type of design leadership for your company is critical. 
 
Design Thinking is here and with it comes the need for design leadership. With this, the question arises; what makes a great design leader? Here is my take on the qualities that shine through.
 
1. They see simplicity
Great design leaders can see problems stripped down to their bare essentials, understanding what matters and what is superfluous. They find simplicity in everything from experiences, packages, products, collateral, interfaces and methodologies. Ultimately, design leaders establish simple processes and encourage their teams towards the solutions. 
 
2. They know process wins arguments
Having the vision to establish creative methodologies, then developing the processes to support them is critical in separating great design leaders from everyday designers. They understand the differences between processes like Waterfall, Agile, Sprint, Scrum, etc… and have the ability to switch between them based on the project. Ultimately this will help elevate your company’s Design Thinking approach as a whole. 
 
3. They actually know what makes up a brand
Lots of people talk about how they know branding, yet only a fraction of them actually know what they’re talking about without the use of buzzwords. A great design leader sweats the small stuff to understand things like: 
• How a service is delivered
• How a technical product works
• How a user interacts with an interface
• How a brand becomes relevant to its buyers
• How to use innovation to solve a problem or when to innovate a new solution.

Great design leaders know brands, and more importantly, they know how to give a brand meaning. They know how to create experiences, how to be relevant and how to execute on these to bring the whole brand package together.
 
In every company, every touch-point has been designed. It is the responsibility of the design leader to connect the dots – to create a seamless experience that stretches from the products a company puts out into the world right down to the employee onboarding process.
 
4. They get empathy
Listening is a lost art, but one that great design leaders have honed in on and have learned to perfect. They ask questions, inquire and inspect. They know how to assemble great teams to compliment their strengths and those of the company at large. With the right team in place, they’re able to inspire and guide them to success. 
 
They laugh and cry with their team, and get their hands dirty all the time. One of the most important aspects is their ability to critique the work and not the creator. Being able to provide clear, constructive feedback enables the team to create even better work, while avoiding the built-in sinkholes of critiquing someone’s art.
 
5. They are futurists
Great design leaders are thinkers, always dreaming and creating solutions to today’s, tomorrow’s and next generation’s problems. While they are solving today’s problems, they are thinking four steps ahead to how their solution will impact future iterations and making necessary adjustments to minimize impacts to come.

Design Thinking drives innovation, as we discussed last week in a similar post. Design solves problems, and strategic design connects the right problems with the right solutions. Great design leaders know how to make this happen, they are probably sitting in your office right now. Maybe it’s time to tap their shoulder to learn how they would solve your product problems. 



Want to learn more about how your company can benefit from an experienced creative professional? Click below to set up your 30-minute consultation. We’ll sit down and work through your branding, marketing, or creative materials to find where you need some work, and offer our suggestions.

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Design, Growth Hacking
Design is in the C-Suite. So what happens now?
 
The cheers can be heard from art school classrooms, from behind drawing tablets in design studios and in long forgotten cubicles occupied by internal creative teams living in corporate purgatory. Design has won, it is now at the boardroom table. What will smart executives do with this opportunity? Design leaders are ready to introduce the world to Design Thinking. You know, that inherent, natural, gut-driven process that creatives ‘just get’ and take for granted? This process has finally been plotted out, studied, reviewed, processed and found to be one of the magical markers of success. 
 
So what do you do with it? How can companies get that critical advantage when design is no longer their competitive advantage, but another barrier to entry? Today, I’ve tackled five key ways companies can adopt Design Thinking, and offered possible solutions to get the most out of them.
 
1. Innovation is driven by Design Thinking
Over the past decade, we have witnessed the vast majority of consumer-focused companies embrace design thinking to not only improve their user experience but to also drive innovation. It has become so critical that Fortune 500 companies are now reporting that it is one of their top three priorities. By adopting the processes pioneered in the creative industry companies can reap the benefits of iterative rounds of ideation, stripping an idea, concept or process down to its purest form and analyzing and modifying it.
 
Steve Jobs infamously sent his designers back to the drawing board after designing and prototyping the first iPod – a design that any other company would have launched on the spot – Jobs knew that this design was what the world was expecting, so the team stripped it down further, to what we now know as one of the greatest industrial design pieces of modern time.
 
Innovation is born from a strong, data-informed cycle; user experience informs design, that drives innovation which responds to user experience.
 
Solution: If you have not embraced Design Thinking, start today. If you have but it has failed to take hold, it’s time to re-evaluate your processes to find the right implementation.
 
2. User experience is at the core of Design Thinking
Historically, there have been clear distinctions between design disciplines; industrial = 3D, graphic = 2D, interior = inside spaces, and so on. With the advent of digital design, industrial and graphic have blurred. Throw experiential marketing into the mix and now architecture, interior design, industrial, graphic and UI design have become one large melting pot all focused on delivering exceptional user experience. 
 
Smart companies are investing heavily in building design-driven customer experiences, and we’re just getting started. Consumers can expect UX designers to work their magic into all facets of the consumer and the corporate world in the years and decades to come. 
 
Speaking on why design matters is Daan Roosegaarde, Founder of Studio Roosegaarde, “design matters because it is about triggering curiosity, it’s about thinking about the future.” With so much focus and attention on user experience, it’s clear that design will slowly eclipse more traditional marketing efforts. Roosegaard continues, “design has never been about a chair, a lamp, a table. So how can we use design to improve technology, to improve life? For me, this is the essence of design” 
 
Solution: Start filling your teams with UX designers, even if they don’t seem applicable to your product or service. The value they’ll add in their thinking could change the entire narrative.
 
3. Design Thinking isn’t a trend, it’s a driving business principle
Business is built on best practices, trial and error, risk taking and above all, innovating to stay relevant. At the core of this is Design Thinking. “I think the need for design is something more and more executives are starting to understand,” says Derrick Kiker, Partner, McKinsey & Company. “It became something that wasn’t around the art of creating beautiful things, but around developing something more fact-based, around what the people like, what do they need. What is going to complete experiences for them”
 
While the C-Suite has always (sometimes begrudgingly) understood that their customers are at the core of their business, the focus has only recently come around to understanding the customer’s experience with their product or service. “Depending on how you place a device, the instructions, and how the thing unboxes and presents all the information; if it’s not done the right way, you get people who fail to use the product correctly” states Ernesto Quinteros, Chief Design Officer at Johnson & Johnson. By giving customers a complete experience from the moment they open the box, through the lifecycle of the product, understanding how people use and experience the product is paramount in building brand evangelists. 
 
Solution: Weigh different Design Thinking methodologies and apply the right one for your business.
 
4. The demand for design leadership will continue to grow – hire now
There is no question that with the business world adopting Design Thinking and design leadership as part of its core ethos, that the demand for Design Leadership will only continue to grow. Consistently, hiring managers report that finding candidates in high-demand talent pools is their top challenge. Design thinkers, user experience gurus, design leaders, and design strategists count among the most in-demand roles today. 
 
Using Design Thinking to parse all the data is also a major factor in the success of design leaders, as is witnessed by a recent LinkedIn global recruiting trend study. The role data plays in Design Thinking cannot be overlooked. It is critical for any company to develop, SME or enterprise, data-driven design leadership to continue to innovate and stay relevant to their customers. In the past companies could compete in the ‘burger wars’ – selling near-identical products, mediocre design, and a fight over price and territory – but the future will be owned by companies differentiating themselves with good design and fighting other companies through great design. The competitive advantage will be won through internal design leadership, not just user experience alone.
 
Solution: Give designers positions of power.
 
5. Real design leaders are hard to find
The best design leaders are already out there. Senior designers who cut their teeth in advertising agencies and design studios alike who toil over client briefs day in and out. Others have moved over to the corporate side and are leading internal creative teams. The reality is that the talent is here, and probably sitting in your office now. The question is, have you as a leader, harnessed them yet?
 
The best design leaders tend to keep their heads down and create astonishing things. Those that are most boastful tend to be juniors (design leaders are senior, directors, executives with decades of experience) or simply posers looking to talk their way into a ‘cool’ job.
 
True design leaders understand that “this is an opportunity for you to demonstrate to people on the ground that you care about them, the way that you create gives them dignity, “ says Mokena Makeka, Founder, Makeka Design Lab. “You’re already beginning to elevate people’s conscientious and helping them to get out of their circumstances, encouraging them and showing that you believe in them. This is why I believe good design is a human right.”
 
Taking that understanding further, the quiet, focused design leader knows that “a large part of design is just the ordinary grunt of making the burden of being a human being on this planet a little bit more pleasurable.” With ideas like this, and a passion to unleash their creative way of thinking upon the world at large, it’s no wonder true design leaders are sought after far and wide. 
 
Solution: When contracting a recruiter, ensure that they have creative recruitment abilities. Better yet, grab one of your internal creatives, or someone from your agency to sit in on interviews and meetings to get their professional opinion.
 
Closing Thought
While we’re in the early stages of Design Thinking, agile companies have already started to reap the rewards of enhanced, data-driven user experiences. As every designer knows, great design starts with the user, not the sketch pad. 


Want to learn more about how your company can benefit from an experienced creative professional? Click below to set up your 30-minute consultation. We’ll sit down and work through your branding, marketing, or creative materials to find where you need some work, and offer our suggestions.
 
1

Design
As all designers know, great design doesn’t start with specs, but with the user. How will they interact with their creation? What type of look, feel, emotion, response should the design evoke? While the final products that designers create ultimately become the consumer face of a company, design has always lived its life in middle management, rarely straying into the C-Suite. As all designers have experienced before, when it does finally make it to the executives, decisions are informed by gut versus user data and design leadership (or worse yet every designer’s nightmare, when the CEO says, “My daughter likes red. Can we make it red?” …for a clean water campaign logo). 
 
For the long-suffering design community, validation on what we’ve known all along has come in the form of a McKinsey & Company study into The Business Value Of Design. You can read the whole report here
 
Others have studied the business case for design in the past, but as senior business leaders know, when McKinsey says something, the global titans listen. The authors of the study (Benedict SheppardHugo Sarrazin, Garen Kouyoumjian, and Fabricio Dore) analyzed more than 2 million pieces of financial data. 100,000 design actions – which they describe as focused tests to make design a central pillar of a business – for 300 publicly listed companies over a five-year period. The team uncovered that the companies who believed in design and had embedded design processes and principals generated 32% more revenue and 56% more total returns to shareholders. This was evidenced across three global industries: Consumer Packaged Goods, Banking and MedTech. 
 
The paper consolidates design into four key themes that showed the strongest correlation with financial performance. They are:
1. Analytical leadership
2. Cross-Functional Talent
3. Continuous Iterations
4. User Experience

 

Image courtesy of McKinsey & Company 
 
The companies that focused on each of these themes in unison scored high in the rankings. The businesses that found themselves in the top quarter realized increasing revenues and returns when compared to the bottom three quarters, more amazing yet is that the differences between the bottoms three quarters was negligible. Basically, for design to effect the bottom line, the business must commit and excel across all four themes.
 
Amazingly, over 40% of the companies involved in the study did not talk to their customers at all while developing products and prototypes. Which is really mind blowing considering the time designers spend researching their users, talking to them and understanding how their designs will be utilized. Additionally, a little over 50% of the companies involved admitted that they have no objective way to assess or set targets for the output of their design teams.
 
While I fully agree with the four themes identified, I want to provide some additional colour from the mind of a designer.
 
1. Analytical Leadership:
Lately I’ve noticed a marked increase in design that is based on “looking cool” versus built on a rationale, or quantitative proof and analytical approach of a business. In art college, our professors continuously hammered home that if we couldn’t rationalize our work, then it wasn’t ready to pitch. However they also admitted that designing something great and shoehorning a rationale after was perfectly acceptable when presenting to clients. I feel they have been doing the design community a major disservice with this advice.
 
As we’ve all heard, and what EVERY senior executive knows, “what gets measured gets done“. I truly hope that the voice of McKinsey starts to move the metrics that matter in the C-Suite from being shareholder-centric to more user-centric. For design to flourish, the C-Suite requires a more balanced combination of bold and humble, analytical and creative, empathic, explorative and methodological people. It requires a leadership team that is appreciative of all these differences and knows how to leverage them.
 
2. Cross-Functional Talent (and Collaboration):
Collaboration with the many stakeholders within and around client organizations is fundamental to a successful design approach. I couldn’t be happier to see that the team at McKinsey, their readers, clients and the hundreds of business leaders who filled out their questionnaire, recognize this as well.
 
Cross-functional collaboration is growth, cross-functional collaboration with a shared user-centric vision and integrated design methodology is hockeystick growth.
 
3. Continuous Iterations:
Incredibly, McKinsey discovered that over 40% of companies don’t involve customers in the early stages of development (I really can’t let this one go, it’s so baffling). Clearly, these companies are missing out in a major way. It actually slows down product development, increases revisions and misses early opportunities for identifying the right solution for unmet customer needs. We all know of startups that failed because the focused on what they want versus what the user wants.


The authors also turn their focus to the Lean Startup methodology which emphasizes that companies, “invest their time into iteratively building products or services to meet the needs of early customers, they can reduce the market risks and sidestep the need for large amounts of initial project funding and expensive product launches and failures.

 
In my experience, many startup businesses struggle with the tsunami of ideas generated in brainstorm sessions. The issue is: people are working hard to do a lot of right things fast, but fail to understand and align on what are the right things to work on.
 
4. User Experience:
As designers, we have a passion for tinkering with our tools, playing in our minds and our particular methods of production. Just like designers, companies are proud of what they produce and do, and these are all good things. What happens though is that we both lose sight of the user while we play with our tools and products. As such, the focus needs to shift toward the user experience across channels and vertical. However a focus on the user experience alone will not create impact.
 
The user is a person, one of many who will interact with your piece. They are a human, a customer who over the lifecycle of your product is as much a co-creator of value as you are when designing it. When all these perspectives come together, the complete saturated picture comes into focus. It is at this point where the full idea of the user is ready for its place in the light, informing strategy, vision, implementation and delivery of value.
 
Ultimately, user-centric design is this: If you’re focusing on designing for looks only – the superficial – then you are approaching it incorrectly, and your design will fail to realize its full potential.
 
Wrapping It All Up:
At the end of the day, McKinsey does the design community a huge favor with this research. Demand for design will increase with the promise of a positive impact on the way people live and work, and the accompanying competitive edge and growth that companies strive for.
 
I’m excited to see how companies digest this data and hope to start seeing more Jony Ive’s popping up at SMEs, Fortune 500 and startups alike. Apple (and Jony) really helped pave the way, but so many companies were afraid to take the leap as so much of Apple’s winning design was attributed to Saint Jobs. With real data on how design can drive business, there’s no excuse for companies to overlook its fundamental place in the C-Suite any longer.
 

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Design
We’ve all had that client. The one with a huge, last minute, complicated project and then try to play the role of ‘worst client ever’. They do things like neglecting to answer their phone or email, love to change their minds about details in the brief, all the while demanding that you do the impossible in a matter of minutes. Of course, they forgot to mention they expect you to do these things free of charge.
 
Clients like these are ubiquitous in the world of freelancing. Most freelancers will work with at least one crazy client at some point in their career. They’re the fun vampires, sucking the joy and creativity out of a job that can leave you wondering why you didn’t go to law school or go work in a bank.
 
However, to keep the lights on, you need to listen and work with your clients. Here are some tips to keep projects on track, and some sanity in your mind.
 
1. You Are Clear About Out-of-Scope Work
There’s an easy way you can mitigate the problems caused by bad communication in a project. One of the most frequent complaints have to do with time. Designers rightfully take issue with their clients expecting them to be time wizards, completing an impossible amount of work in the space of a day, or hours that they don’t want to pay for the extra time.
 
So, what do you do? In your project contract (there should always be a contract between you and the client), include a clause which breaks down your expected compensation in the event of a rush job or any overtime work. Better yet, include a line on your rate card highlighting rush job pricing, this way there is no ambiguity on what the price is for rush jobs.
 
Make it very clear to them what they’re asking for and how difficult it is to accomplish, when they want you to redo the web page layout of the site to a two-column layout from a three-column layout, for example. If you’d rather not be stuck doing revision after revision, include a set number that you’ll allow each client to have.
 
Be specific about the project’s deliverables and outcomes, and protect yourself by having solid terms and conditions agreed to in the event of out-of-scope work arises. When the guidelines and parameters for what you will and won’t do are set in stone, it does wonders for your peace of mind.
 
2. Your Quote Contains A Contract
If your quotes don’t currently contain a contract, don’t take on another job without one. You can find free quote and contract templates all over the Web that cover a wide scope of freelancing needs. Here’s a good starting point from LawDepot that you can use for free.
 
The best solution, however, is to simply consult with a contract attorney and let them draft your company’s business contracts. If you’re intimidated at the thought of going to a lawyer, don’t be. I promise you, it’s not nearly as scary (or expensive) as being faced with a mountain of revisions from a client who isn’t legally obligated to pay you for your extra hard work. You can find great lawyers that know small business by searching Click Lawyer.
 
3. You Win The Presentation
Give the client what they’re asking for (for the most part). You’d be surprised by how much clients will allow you to get away with creatively, as long as you’re able to sell and rationalize it to them. The key is how you present your work and your ideas.
 
A mediocre idea that is presented well can outperform a great idea that’s presented poorly. So naturally, a great idea that’s presented well is the winning combination. Spend a few minutes to get inside your client’s head. Talk to them, listen carefully, figure out exactly how you need to package your ideas so that they will choose the option that’s best for their needs.
 
Do your research and present your case clearly. Support your design decisions with data. You could, for example, use usability research results to back up your choices. Yes, this takes a bit of extra effort, but it’s almost always worth it.
 
4. Your Portfolio Represents Your Business
You want to make sure that every single piece of work in your portfolio is tailored to the needs of your ideal client. This helps to make sure that you work with client’s who best match your work, acting as a sort of filter against clients that you might not be the best idea.
 
If you’re trying to attract small businesses or startup companies as opposed to Fortune 500 companies, build a portfolio that is attractive and focused on the needs and wants of these businesses. If you work well with a high-end client, you’ll need to adjust your portfolio so caters to this market. If you don’t have any work that represents the market you’re looking to attract, then take the time to create some fun spec work that showcases your ability to work within that market.
 
5. You are an Educator
Another important hat for designers to wear is that of the educator. We’ve all heard of the clueless design client who has no idea how to download an email attachment, much less understand the ins and outs of what’s required to complete their project.
 
I’ve found that having patience with people and taking care to explain in detail what is expected from them has helped me avoid quite a few catastrophes in the past.
 
If you struggle with being able to communicate difficult concepts to your clients, consider making overview presentations and inviting your client to join you for a lunch and learn. This not only helps build trust between the two of you, but it allows the client to have a no-pressure atmosphere to ask questions without distractions to learn about the creative process, your role as a designer and their role as the client. This is also a great opportunity to teach them about the importance of the brief and how the two of you can work together to define the scope before jumping into a new project.
 
Being able to communicate clearly can help defuse a situation that might otherwise get out of hand and end in frustration for both you and the client.
 
6. You are the Underdog
Here’s a personal antidote from my days as an in-house designer. I’m one of those people who can produce a large amount of quality work in a relatively short amount of time. Because of this tendency, I’ve found that freelancing suits me far better than in-house work.
 
Why?
 
Firstly, it allows me to have near complete control of my own time. I’m no longer chained to a desk, droning away with lame busy work that has nothing to do with anything creative – or more accurately, looking busy to burn the hours when there’s nothing to do.
 
Secondly, and more importantly, it allows me to keep my speed and creative process a carefully-guarded secret.
 
When you produce a lot of work in a short amount of time, you tend to assume you’ll be rewarded handsomely for it. Unfortunately, most people figure out pretty quickly that that’s almost never what actually happens. Most likely, you’ll just be loaded down with more work. Once people find out how fast you are, they’ll get spoiled and will start expecting the same level of output from you in the future.
 
As many designers can confirm, it’s almost never the actual work that takes the most time. You’re a designer – you know what you’re doing and how to use your tools. The biggest time drain is usually getting the client to be on the same page as you are in terms of the idea.
 
As a Creative Director friend likes to say, “When a client asks how long it took to come up with the idea I like to say ten years and five minutes. Ten years to gain the experience to learn how to create quickly”. 
 
If you’re a freelancer, my crazy suggestion to you would be to slow down. Not “slacker” slow, but try not to let your clients in on your amazing superpowers. Impress your clients by under-promising and over-delivering.



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Design, Startup
We’ve all dealt with difficult clients — every studio has them. You know the one, the client who frustrates you to no end, who seems to have no respect for your craft/business, monopolizes your time and makes continuous unreasonable demands.
 
Sometimes you might have more than one, and you probably spend your weekends in the studio putting out their fires. It’s the classic 80:20 principle; you spend 80% of your resources on 20% of your clients. Which makes the remaining clients seem like the greatest ever (and they usually are!).
 
 
Two things are important to understand before jumping in:
  1. If 20% of your clients take 80% of your time, your revenues will not keep up, and your resources will become depleted when they’re not focusing on the right clients who are keeping the lights on. This post isn’t for you; you need to focus on finding new clients!
     
  2. If the painful clients are also your top revenue drivers, the tips below should help you identify and manage them more effectively.
 
 
The, “I Don’t Know What I Want” Client
Characteristics: Says one thing on a call, something completely different in a meeting, and totally different over email. They’re all over the place!
Management: Get everything in writing at the start – like a detailed project brief – and reject any major change of scope after the fact if it is not negotiated, quoted and signed off before starting.


The, “I Thought This Was Included” Client
Characteristics: They insist on getting a little more out of the scope of work, but don’t want to pay an hourly cost. The scope is always expanding without compensation.
Management: Agree to any additional out of scope work, as long as it is billed by the hour. Even better is to quote the additions and take an additional retainer on it.
 
 
The, “I Need This Done Yesterday” Client
Characteristics: Our work looks simple, so it doesn’t take long. If they have the idea, the work is 90% complete.
Management: Don’t sugar coat it – if they expect the impossible it’s your job to educate them on the realities of the job.
 
 
The, “Everything Is An Emergency” Client
Characteristics: They believe that you don’t have any other clients, meetings or a life, so they deserve 100% of your time and attention.
Management: Similar to the, “I Need This Done Yesterday” Client, stand firm and establish clear timelines for the project that you both agree upon. Employing a project management system that has client updates (such as Asana or Monday) allows them to see where progress is without getting in your hair.
 
 
The, “I Don’t Care, Do What You Like” Client
Characteristics: Total hands-off approach – you’re the designer so make something ‘cool’.
Management: This is your chance to have some fun. Chances are you were hired by referral, or from your portfolio so they know what you can do and want something unique. However, that is not a license to go wild, establish your milestones and always get client approval at critical steps along the way so you’re not left with a beautiful product that you need to start over (and won’t be able to bill for).
 
 
The, “I Don’t Know What I Want, But It Isn’t This” Client
Characteristics: This client may not know what they want, but theyreallyknow what they don’t want. They’re evasive in meetings and send back one sentence briefs.
Management: This one is a major flag before starting anything. If it’s not a big account, consider finding another client as the potential for wasted time, headache and frustration is massive.
 
 
The, “Will This Cost Extra?” Client
Characteristics: Probably an accountant lol. The penny pinching, deal-making, client is looking at one thing only, the cost. They worry about every element in the quote and turn white when the discussion turns to hourly billed revisions that fall outside of the two rounds included in the quote.
Management: This is where your quoting and scoping abilities come out strong. Agree on the scope and quote before the retainer is paid (which you’re doing anyway, right?) and if they can’t pay for any additional revisions outside of the scope, then the project is finished at that point. As long as the understanding is established and written out in advance, you should be okay.
 
 
The, “I Work On Weekends, You Should Too” Client
Characteristics: You’re receiving emails at 4:30am, daily. Meetings are asked for outside business hours, calls come in to review the work on Saturday morning.
Management: Don’t be afraid to say NO! If what they’re asking for is pulling you away from your life, or other clients, let them know that they cannot monopolize your time.
 
 
The, “My Cat Likes This Colour” Client
Characteristics: They have a habit of latching onto one small thing; colour, font, word and then use it to drive the project well outside of the plan or slam the breaks until the minor issue can meet their satisfaction.
Management: Don’t ask what their cat’s favourite colour is. Ask questions that lead them to discovering what they want to accomplish from this project. This is your chance to showcase your expertise by recommending options to achieve their goals.
 
 
The, “I Thought This Would Take Five Minutes” Client
Characteristics: They’re the greatest at everything and they can do your job much faster than you, they’re just too busy/important to do it themselves.
Management: Wow, they are way, way to detached from reality. You’ll need to become an educator here, taking less than five minutes to explain why their request won’t take five minutes, but more like five days. Then launch into your milestone and timeline planning, getting sign off on the timeline so you can hold them to it.
 
 
The “Design By Committee” Client
Characteristics: Usually found in large/enterprise level corporations. Your point of contact is just one of the many heads at the table, and might not even be a stakeholder in the project. Everything is done via committee, from colours, images down to line breaks and words. They usually get caught up in irrelevant issues while missing the big picture.
Management: Force agreement! Really, you’ll need to herd them towards decisions and approvals. Use your one point of contact as your ally, getting them on board with your work and plans so bringing everyone together is an easier process. If you don’t have one point of contact and have to work with the committee, do whatever you can to get them to decide on one point of contact. And as always, remind them you bill by the hour.
 
 
The, “I Love It, But We Need Something Completely Different” Client
Characteristics: Seems like a dream client, until the final product is delivered. Then they want you to go in a completely different direction (whether it’s their fault or not).
Management: Make it clear, right out of the gate, that additional costs WILL apply to major changes that fall outside of the scope of work, that you’ll happily quote on the change and that revisions will be billed by the hour.
 
 
With all clients, best practices are to get a detailed brief in writing, defined timeline with major milestones established, approved quote with two rounds of revisions included in the cost, understanding that additional revisions will be billed hourly and then client sign-off on all of the above. Then get your 50% retainer paid up front and kick off the project!
 
 
Lastly, with all the above problem clients, you have the option of saying ’no’, and/or terminating the relationship. No client is worth damage to your mental health, so take care of yourself and your clients will continue to see you deliver successful products.

Here are 6 tips for effectively dealing with client demands.


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Design
In an era of consolidating type foundry’s, digital design and Google Fonts, we’re seeing eroding emphasis on the importance of type. More and more, design is taking a ‘good enough’ approach versus taking the time to craft graphical arts, and the first casualty is type. Now I’ll admit, type was never my favorite as a junior designer – it’s complex, there are hundreds of thousands of typefaces, it requires patience and skill to really typeset. As my career evolved, type became my favorite element, because it is hard, and choosing the right type for the right job helped elevate my art direction into new heights of style and quality. 

Type is where the viewer’s eyes immediately go to on a design. It is the information that they want to know and look to learn. With the wrong type, your message can be thrown off. Just like the lack of emotion, tone emphasis, intonation, etc… in text messages, the wrong type can send the wrong message in a design. 

For example:

The right type makes the message. 

With Google Fonts consolidating the selection of type, and designers choosing to stick with what is known versus experimenting with type, we might see a future where Lato, Roboto, Raleway and Oswald are the only typefaces we need. As creative leaders, let’s not let that happen, let’s remember why type matters and give it it’s time to shine in all of our work.



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