The heart of the design profession is communication. Whether you’re designing graphics or software systems, you’re communicating a message or helping facilitate a story.
But as a designer, you also need to communicate to gather insights, present understandings, confirm needs, and explain your design decisions. This is where I think designers have an undervalued opportunity to shine. Design comes in many forms, and you can use your skills to ensure everyone is consistently on the same page. This is an overview of many of those opportunities. I’ve also included tips on tools or techniques I might use to deliver on them.
Planning and Expectations
Long before pencil is put to paper, there should be a shared understanding of the partnership and process ahead. This is more than just a design brief. For one situation, this might mean that you were hired based on the way you work. But in many others, this is an education process. Either one creates a need to communicate expectations at some point. This can be done in a variety of ways, and often has to be broken down into steps.
What you do and why it matters
Often, this is through a series of communications. Typically, it’s on your website, your position on related matters, or your work itself. The way you present yourself and your work is sending this message whether you are aware of it or not. So, don’t overlook this opportunity while you’re posting publicly.
What problem needs to be solved with the design project? Just because a client or stakeholder outlines what they think they need, doesn’t necessarily mean they know exactly what the best solution is. This is where clearly communicating your role and how you can help is crucial to following an effective process. Likewise, this is where it helps to outline their role specifically and how you plan to work together. I’ll dig deeper into this next week.
How you will apply your process to a specific problem to solve?
How and when do you work? Often, these are addressed in a project proposal because they can vary over time, but not always. Sometimes these values are posted on your website or in early communications but it can help to outline again in paperwork once you enter into the partnership.
Important Things to Consider:
What is the order of steps? Who is responsible for what?
How will your process help to solve the problem?
How are you different - how might you go about this project that builds another layer of confidence and enthusiasm?
How will you use resources they are providing you with to solve their problems?
How does the way you work benefit your client? For example, if your studio runs on a 4 day work week with a day to learn and grow, you must clearly draw the line between these days where you are unavailable and how that helps their business grow. Making it clear that it is not a one-sided decision is key and will gain you respect.
How will the goals of the project be met? What are the goals?
What happens after that?
Remember to use your design skills. Don’t overlook opportunities to present your ideas and process in easy-to-digest ways. While many pieces will be project specific, there is re-usable content too.
I outline many of these in a project proposal for freelance, with a summary in the email itself. For In-House work, I think it's fine to communicate some of these verbally after you have established relationships. Before that, be creative and pass on some deliverables to build trust.
Design a ‘Zine to go along with your website and materials that outlines what you’re about. This can be a fun take away and reference for later if it’s helpful enough and has great stickiness for your brand.
Design an Infographic to use for explaining your process. Make this flexible enough for project-by-project customization, but it’s a great way to distill your process into something memorable.
Tell stories! If you want to promote how awesome it is that your studio “only works” for 4 days a week, explain why it’s good for them that your developer Erin takes that last day of the week to get even better at her job. Often, stories can be a fantastic way to create a picture of your way of scheduling projects. Be creative on this medium.
Record a video if you can’t be there. For example, perhaps you sent off your last email with the final files the client has paid for. You want to leave a touch of personalization behind to top off the outstanding customer experience they just had with you. Skype seems too forward and immediate. So, consider recording a video just for them that thanks them for their business and highlights the ways in which their project helped you to learn and how you will be there for them in the future.
No Powerpoint. Use Keynote if you must use presentation software. It is way easier to use, beautiful, and shows you thought about a proper tool instead of using what others might expect. It has clean and easy infographic generation, which it sometimes a better tool than custom illustration (though not always). It also has some great animation features which could really come in handy for user flows, software design, and showcasing work if used suitably.
Next week I detail more
Look forward to more tips about using your design skills to communicate, educate, and advocate throughout more of the design process.
Research and design
Ownership and buy-in
Prepping for critique