Design processes are comprised of a substantial amount of moving pieces. Whether it be client communication, budget issues, stakeholder misalignment, or staying on the timeline -- they are nearly impossible to perfect.
With varying types of design projects and clients, it’s also incredibly challenging to have just one process to stick to. I often find myself tweaking my process, depending on the project goals, timelines, budget constraints, etc.
But even then, there are always problems that are faced, steps that get skipped, sub-par products that are released as a result.
More often than not, I find that there are several aspects of a design project that must be followed for it to not take a drastic turn for the worse, and I want to share those experiences with you.
In this article, I review the 5 components I believe are the most important to follow when going through the design process and how you can prevent them from derailing your next project.
1) Joint Accountability
During the discovery phase of a design project, you typically take the time to talk to your client and understand what needs to happen to make the project a complete success. There is a substantial amount of dissecting that’s done so you are able to piece together the goal of the project, how necessary it truly is, the long-term and short-term expectations, etc.
But before you even enter a discovery meeting and start figuring out what's on you or your team to get done, you need to come ready to discuss what your client needs to do to keep the project on time and help you succeed too.
This could be communicating to them the importance of design feedback, team alignment on which parties have sign-off on deliverables, making sure they use appropriate channels that are necessary to complete a project, etc.
For instance, say you and another team member are designing a few web pages, but one of the critical pieces to get it going is receiving content, which the client is in charge of delivering.
If the client finds themselves unable to deliver the content on time, either because they forgot or were too busy, it ultimately condenses the time you have to get your parts done. In most of these scenarios, it's hard to push the deadline.
If you allow this to happen and continue to communicate that you should still be able to hit the deadline, but inevitably realize you can’t, you now have no one to blame but yourself.
When issues like this start to manifest, draw attention to them and highlight the consequences of X not being done. But, be conscious not to present these issues from a place of anger or frustration. Make sure your client knows that you hold them accountable because you want them to succeed, stay on track of the timeline, and ultimately get the best version of the final product they can.
If you're able to successfully keep this up throughout a project, your clients will ultimately build that much more trust in you, because they’ll understand you have their best interests in mind.
2) Limited Revisions
Getting sign-off on the wireframe is one of the first few design hurdles you really need to crush. But then there is the next major hurdle: approving the actual mockup.
In a perfect world, every design we show to a client would be approved instantly, no questions asked, because you just did that good of a job.
But man is that far from what happens.
More often than not, there are changes we have to make, some of which we might not always agree with personally, yet understand it may visually be a better representation of what the client wants.
Unfortunately, we often allow the client to continuously ask for revisions. Sometimes a section is good the first week, but not the next. Then you redesign that section only to find another section is now missing the mark. You soon find yourself in this perpetual state of redesigning over sections.
Once you're on the third round of revisions and you find the client still wants to push for more, you need to stop, and really start critically asking your client why. Is this because they keep finding themselves inspired by different layouts they see online when yours still accomplishes the same goal? Are they trying to strive for perfection? You need to have these tough conversations with them and make sure you communicate how this inevitably results in you having to push the deadline.
One tactic I also like using is showcasing the importance of getting what we have up, with the intention of refining and improving on the design later. Or better yet, testing to see the performance of that design vs. a different one you may try a month or two down the line. This gives the client time to revisit the design and see if one of the revision ideas is still something they want to attempt, or if what you have really is the best option to stick with.
If you don’t know something, research or ask someone who does. It’s scary to let someone know we don’t know the answer to something. So, when we find ourselves in situations where a question is asked and we are unsure of what’s correct, we try to answer it in the most positive way we can to keep the client happy.
For example, say a client asks if some functionality for a web development project is possible with a design you just presented. If you answer “yes” when you are lacking knowledge of the true answer, you now risk having to come back to the client and tell them you were wrong.
You should never feel like you need to answer every question a client asks, especially if you run the risk of it being incorrect and affecting something in the long run. A client would much rather you tell them, “I’m not sure I have all the knowledge to answer that now. Let me do some research/ask someone I know who would, and get back to you in the next couple of days.”
I promise they would much rather you come back with a more formulated answer later, rather than find you misled them. Just make sure you get back to them in an appropriate amount of time and have an alternative recommendation if something isn’t entirely possible.
One of the characteristics I notice some designers don’t think about is how their design will evolve into a functioning prototype.
I’m not talking about you having to understand the code that’s going into the development of your project (you can leave that to the developers), but rather how you envision the objects moving and behaving.
This ends up resulting in not only a lack of understanding of how a design should function when translating into development, but how the clients can even expect it to behave.
If this is something you are not fully comfortable with, I recommend designers do a couple of things.
One is to take some time to really observe the environments you are designing for. For example, as a web developer, I’m obsessed with simply looking and websites, resizing the size of my browser, and looking at how a website transforms from larger to smaller screens. I’ll also take time to open them in different devices and interact with them, taking notes and recording what functionality may be useful to revisit for my own projects.
After you hand your project to a team to build it (if applicable), you might think your part of the project ends there when in reality, you still have one critical step left. Reviewing the final build.
Before a client is sent a functioning prototype of a design, you need to make sure your designer is reviewing it one last time to align on anything that might not be completely accurate.
This is a quick activity that can save you a potential future headache if a client notices a thing or two that wasn’t done in the build, that might have been caught otherwise in a review.
Budget a little extra time toward the end of your project timeline where you can take time to do these reviews and have your developer or engineer repair the issues that come up. Although we’d all like to think these mistakes won’t happen, you have to assume they will and budget the time to stay safe.
Design projects can take on a variety of shapes and sizes, so it's very likely not all these critical steps will apply to your project or the team you work with.
I always say a good mindset to be in is to never leave any stone unturned. If you ever question yourself or think something is missing, say something to someone, or reach out to your client to confirm. Nothing is worse than assuming or disregarding information you may potentially need to know.
Lead with the mindset of making sure you have all the information you need to really hit the client goal you are striving for. This will help you think of their interests first throughout the project and assure a better final product.