Why Your Boss or Client Shouldn't Mess with your Design Process
How I Lost My Way Straight Out of School
About 6 months into my full-time design career, I had a project assigned all to myself. It was a beefy scope and allowed me to fully invest in getting it right. So, why was I freaking out?
The majority of my time leading up to this had been spent on learning about the business and breaking away from the "intern" status. Did business knowledge replace design experience?
I called a friend who runs his design agency and confessed that for some reason, I was overwhelmed and drawing a blank at the opportunity to do the work I love. Work I had done over and over again in the past.
My friend's advice?
Do what we did in school. Revert to the programming.
I could spend all day talking about the things I learned at University that were useless. However, upon hearing my friend's obvious and basic advice, I was having flashbacks of mood boards.
I was looking for some grandiose answer, already concerned that the client wouldn't love my proposal and that I needed to crack the code for the perfect solution that would solve all their problems.
In reality, I just needed to do what successful designers and art students do every day. Reflect on what inspires me, and create something through my own lens.
Why hadn't we built mood boards at work? I work with senior designers, how come we haven't mentioned or valued an activity that is so fundamental for creatives?
You see, I was mostly looking for external validation for my work. Even though some architects insist they are artists, we disrespect their processes in favor of doing "what the client wants."
I put less weight into
"How do I give the client what they want to see?"
and more weight into
"What do I need to do to come up with the best solution?"
I sat down for a whiteboarding session and started to recollect all the things I had ever produced for a project that was vital in telling my story. It looked something like this:
Conceptual 3D Model
Illustrations & Diagrams
I had just created my first Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). From there, I began adding images of all the graphics I wanted to create to showcase my ideas.
Was I going to take the client through my whole process? Of course not, they don't want to hear it. They'll even start to freak out that they're paying you to "have fun."
I was going to speak with conviction about my design. I had come up with a solid concept, one that resonated with the client's goals and values, but infused some creative juice from our team.
The creative process is non-negotiable. The need for structure often emerges at pivotal points. While the realm of design thrives on innovation and spontaneity, a well-defined process ensures that this creativity doesn't spiral into chaos.
Why Design SOPs Matter
In an industry where visual identity holds paramount importance, consistency becomes the cornerstone. Design SOPs ensure that every piece of content, be it a logo, a brochure, a website, or a building, resonates with the client's ethos.
With a clear SOP in place, designers aren't left second-guessing. They have a clear roadmap, which means less time pondering and more time creating. This streamlined approach not only speeds up the design process but also enhances the quality of output.
In collaborative projects, where multiple minds meld, SOPs act as the universal language. They ensure that every team member, regardless of their role, is on the same page, eliminating potential miscommunications, overlaps, or blocks.
You won't be able to do everything yourself forever. As a design firm or freelancer grows, the volume & complexity of projects often increases. SOPs make this transition smoother, ensuring that the quality of work doesn't dilute with expansion. Pass on your best practices to your team.
When clients are presented with a clear SOP, it instills confidence. They're assured of a systematic approach and can understand the stages their project will undergo, fostering trust and transparency. Let them into your process so that they respect it.
Design SOPs, while seemingly administrative, are the backbone of a robust design process. They bring clarity, enhance efficiency, and ensure that the creative process, with all its brilliance and spontaneity, remains well-managed and directed. In the grand narrative of design, where art meets business, SOPs ensure that the story told is cohesive, compelling, and consistently remarkable.
Tools I use for SOPs:
Both of these have incredibly valuable templates for virtually any professional process.