Good design doesn’t have to break the bank. But whether you’re budgeting a little or a lot, there are proven ways to get the most from your investment. Here’s a quick rundown of the most effective strategies:
KNOW THE DESIGN CHALLENGE BEFORE YOU BEGIN
This may seem like a no-brainer, but a surprising number of design projects begin without knowing exactly what they need to accomplish. Start by defining a specific goal, preferably in measurable terms, and say it out loud. For example, you might say “we want to attract several hundred people to our fund-raising 5K.”
Next, set yourself up for success by doing a little prep work. You should know as much as you can about who your audience is, what they want or need, and which media channels they prefer (print, websites, broadcast, social media, or what have you).
Just as important is knowing what specific response you want. What’s the next step in their “customer journey” (an over-used buzzword, but still critical to consider).
For best results, focus on just one thing. If you have multiple audiences or messages, it’s best to split them up into multiple projects. The more focused the design, the more effective its potential will be.
KNOW WHO YOU ARE
A coherent sense of your own identity is a strong foundation for any design project. If you don’t have brand standards yet, simply aim for consistency. You don’t need to spend a lot of time and money building an entire set of standards before you begin. More complete brand standards can evolve gradually over time. A good designer can help guide you through this process as you go.
SET A CLEAR SCOPE
The question here is essentially “How big is the sandbox?” Start by spelling out the budget, timeline, and any other limitations you need to deal with. These parameters will affect how the designer approaches the project.
Next, define the specific deliverables of the current project. Do you need branding elements? A brochure? A poster? Will the design be used in print, online, or both?
Consider documenting all your decisions and assumptions in a creative brief, especially if you’re working with a particular designer for the first time. And if something comes up that changes that scope, be sure to share the changes with your designer as soon as possible to minimize the costs of changing course.
UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPT PROCESS
If deliverables are the end product of the design process, concepts are the steps of the journey that get you there. This is a working period where ideas and inspirations are generated. Some of these may end up in the final design, others may point the way, and others may end up in the round file, especially if your designer prepares multiple concepts.
The designer may begin by creating an image board or mood board to help to clarify or visualize the personality of your company or project. This can be a valuable exercise that leads to great ideas or insights about the design challenge at hand.
It’s also important to know that when concepts are presented, it’s not a multiple-choice test. If you like one aspect of concept A and another part of concept B, you can ask your designer if it’s possible to develop a hybrid that combines the strong points of both ideas.
Don’t get discouraged if none of the initial concepts are working. Ruling out concepts that aren’t a good fit can be a vital step on the road to finding the right one. Consult with the designer to re-think the approach and try new ideas.
The goal of this step, which may involve multiple rounds of revision, is to get everyone in alignment on a design direction. While the job isn’t done at the end of this stage, your designer will be working toward the final, polished version from this point forward.
Ask to see the various pieces of the project at regular stages as the design is coming together. This is important for both you and the designer, because your insights and feedback are essential to make sure everyone stays aligned.
Whether or not you have design expertise yourself, you know your business and your buyers best. Your feedback allows the designer to check assumptions and make changes as you go, before too much time and budget are used up. A good designer will encourage and value your contribution to the process.
This tip goes for everyone involved, including the client and designer. Approach the project with an open mind.
For example, you may not personally like the color orange, but if you’re promoting the Bengals, there are compelling reasons to set your personal opinions aside. Seek to understand why design choices are being made, even if they differ from your personal taste. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. A good designer will be able to give you clear answers.
MANAGE FEEDBACK WISELY
While feedback is essential to the process, too much wrangling will slow things down and potentially diminish the result. To find the right balance, define who all of the key internal stakeholders are, when it will be most efficient to bring them in to review the project, and when they need to step back and let the process unfold.
Plan how you’ll solve differences of opinion ahead of time, whether it’s voting, giving a key decision maker final say, or some other approach. At some point you’ll have to move forward, and it will be easier if you have a process in place from the beginning.
It also pays to be objective about people outside your team whom you might ask for comment, (e.g. focus groups, friends, or the boss’s spouse or partner). These outside opinions may have value — especially if the people consulted fit the profile of your target audience — but they may also be less informed about goals and best practices.
Enjoying the exploration process makes great business sense, and will help to inspire your designer. Be supportive as ideas are tested and the review cycle repeats. Understand that design is a process — a journey and an exploration. Enjoy that journey, get excited and have fun!