Get Out of Your Own Way

So you’ve decided you need design help.

Good for you because step one is admitting you have a problem. Fear not, you are not alone. The harsh truth is most brands don’t invest enough time and attention into design because it can be expensive, time consuming, and you assume it might be barely better than what your 15-year-old niece Karen does on her iPad. 

Karen might have a future in design, but whether a project is expensive and time consuming is ultimately on you, the client. How responsive are you with feedback? How helpful is that feedback? Do you know what you want and how that differs from what you need? 

Let’s look into how you can keep your design projects inexpensive, on-time, and ultimately successful.

Feedback Response Time

The simplest way to cut down on project inefficiencies is to respond as quickly as possible when you’re the information stopper. Designers are curious by nature and will have dozens of questions for you throughout the process. So evaluate the response cadence you can provide before the project begins. Are you out of office three days a week? Do you need to provide status updates to your bosses once a week? Do you moonlight as a crime fighting superhero that routinely goes off the grid? Do you prefer texting, email, or phone calls?

Let the design team know when and how to best contact you. The reason this is vital is because without answers, projects can stall and delay on the smallest things. 

An example from previous professional experience as a designer proves this true. I had a client who was less than timely with responding and yet, wanted a complete web redesign in eight weeks. That kind of timeline may have been reasonable with an active client, but this client took two weeks to provide feedback for the wireframes. Then another week to provide feedback on the initial home page design. Suddenly, we were halfway through their self-imposed deadline and sat at 25% completion. 

In order to speed up the process, we asked for the rest of their assets to design the remaining pages. We didn’t hear back for three weeks with those assets and the client asked if we could finish designing the remaining pages and get the site built in time to launch one week later. 

If you’re scoring at home, that was five weeks of waiting to two weeks of design time.

Now, every project inevitably has some delays but these were entirely avoidable. Making sure you establish that feedback cadence early on and stick to it, is vital.

“Can you make it pop?”

No. I can’t. 

The reason this design cliche has become so infamous is two-fold. Firstly, “making it pop” is vague and entirely subjective. What pops for you may mean something completely different to the designer or others in the room. It’s simply not helpful design direction. 

Secondly, beginning any feedback statement with “Can you…” isn’t helpful either. Most designers CAN do what you’re asking. But should they?

I once worked with a client that was undergoing a full rebranding. The company had been around for over 150 years and wanted to refresh its identity for the social media age. I took their existing brand color palette and brightened it, reduced the heavy use of this dark gray color, and designed five new logos.

In the first review meeting, the primary stakeholder had no feedback on any of the logos or the new color palette. All they could focus on was that the old dark gray wasn’t what it used to be.

“Can you make it darker?”

Of course, I could make it darker. But doing so completely undermines the other elemental changes of the brand. If the entire palette is brightened to convey a more optimistic tone, weighing that down with a darker gray, one that resembled the old brand, would counteract the steps we were taking to rebrand. 

Constructive Feedback

I have heard every variation of, “Can you make it pop?” in my ten years as a designer and I’m looking forward to all the new and inventive phrasings in my next ten years. 

“I’m not really feeling it.”

“It doesn’t grab me.”

“I can’t put my finger on it but it needs something else.”

Well, Chad, I know where you can put your finger. 

When working with designers, feedback needs to be far less abstract than you think. When presented with designs, take a moment to think about your business goals and objectives, your audience, and whether or not the work is aligned with those goals. 

If you feel the work isn’t aligned with them, articulate what is off and why. It will save you so much time if the designers have actionable insight rather than returning to vague guesswork about will make it pop for you.

Your goal for every meeting with the design team should be to leave that meeting with either an approval or a task list of edits that the design team is clear on.

Wants vs. Needs

The inherent flaw to design presentations is that the items you see rarely are in full context. I once designed a few billboards for a client with clear, bold messaging aligned with their logo. There was nothing more because the billboards were slated to rotate on a digital board next to a major interstate. Drivers would have, at most, two full seconds to process the billboard’s information. 

The client came back and asked for four full sentences to be added, in smaller text, underneath the headline. I told them that it was simply too much for anyone to read when they’re driving by at 75 miles an hour. However, they were steadfast and demanded the content be included. So I added it and sent the designs to the vendor. (Who raised the same concern I had)

When the billboard went up, my friend and I drove by one off the highway and I asked Matt to read aloud the full paragraph. The billboard rotated before Matt could read the second sentence.

Truth is, many clients struggle with balancing what they want to tell their users and what their users want to know. When those two elements aren’t aligned, it leads to bad business. Why do you think User Experience design has exploded in recent years? Many companies realized they weren’t targeting their users in the most effective ways and went looking for people that could specialize in user research to bridge those gaps. 

At Walk West, we leverage that strategy and discovery process to understand your user’s needs so that we can optimize your new marketing strategy.

At the end of the day, we want the design process to be as productive and efficient as possible so that our clients aren’t wasting their own time and money. Avoiding these pitfalls will enhance the client-agency relationship and bring your projects to life like never before.

Chris Bunn

Chris Bunn

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