12th April 2017

Five ways digital designers can save themselves headaches

Cat Saunders
Paint covered hands

It’s a week before deadline and after many hours of back and forth working on designs, you’ve finally got it – the solution that meets the brief. You’ve listened to all the opinions, reviewed all of the research and now you’re ready to perfect the winning idea.

Stop. You’re not quite finished. There will certainly be additional factors you need to think about – take a look at our tips below, which will be invaluable in providing your clients that additional added value they’re looking for.

1. Be aware of the hidden stakeholders, and kill ‘what’ with ‘why’

Every client will have somebody who believes they should own the design vision, and it is highly likely that they will be upset that an external agency has been brought in to deliver it. Find these people early and make them your friends. They will have insights into your client that would take you months to discover, and they may also have some very good ideas. There is no point in fighting, get them involved instead.

At the beginning of the project it’s good practice for everyone to get together in a room and start sharing opinions early. This is healthy. Design is subjective and it’s impossible to expect everyone to share the same views to begin with. What’s really important in these first meetings is not discovering what people do or don’t like, but why. It’s surprising how effective discussing reasoning for design opinions can help align the team towards one single vision.

The problem with a hidden stakeholder is not their disagreement with you or the solution, but the fact they have missed the valuable journey outlined above. Without the context of why design decisions have been made, the project risks misinformed amendments, and the extra time and budget to align these people with the wider thinking.

You can help steer who is present early on. Often different to the usual business structure, it’s important to include anyone who may have a different experience of the brand or business, not just the top dogs. This includes people such as marketers, content editors, those using the CMS for daily tasks, and people who understand the core brand values.

2. Understand your restrictions

Design is not just what it looks like, or what it does. It’s also how you’re going to build it. Every designer wants to produce the next groundbreaking website or brand identity, but sometimes time and money is tight, which means we need to get resourceful.

Rather than becoming frustrated with the million dollar idea not in reach, focus back to the main project objectives and how you can get there within budget. Take advantage of your best skills and list three key design objectives.

Designers are there to solve a problem, and this one is about taking advantage of the restrictions and still producing something awesome within them. Can you go minimalist instead of design rich? Can you use monochrome instead of colour? Can you go pure typography instead of big images? Every problem has 100 design solutions waiting to solve it, you need to find the one that also fits the budget.

3. Get complete sign off on the branding

There is always a temptation to jump straight into designs when a project is confirmed, but doing so too early can cost time and money. If the client has a brand that’s rough around the edges or in development, make sure you have a very candid conversation with them about the problems that will cause. With no brand personality in place you’ll have no brand identity and without that, what are you designing against? Make sure the client understands how the design process works and get agreement on a jointly agreed process before you start.

Take a change in typeface for example. They come in various weights, sizes and tone. Before you know it you have to rethink the whole layout because the original titles won’t fit, and the new font can barely be seen over an image. Therefore, when starting a new design project, always get a thorough sign off on the branding.

Style tiles can help confirm the choice of colour and font, but ultimately it needs to be a brand pack agreed in writing that any changes to the brand will require a change in scope. Talk to the client’s brand agency and make sure that any branding originally for designed print has been re-evaluated for digital. Advise the team to check that logos will work responsively across a range of sizes and that colours are still accessible on screen.

4. Make sure the copy fits into the designs

When real content isn’t available ask for it again. Most clients will have literature of some sort that you can use, but if not you may need to consider lorem ipsum text or other dummy content as a placeholder.

It is understandable that the finished copy won’t be ready in time for the design process, but it’s worth investing in a real content editor to evaluate the type of copy that will be needed in the real world. This is something that probably deserves its own post entirely, but it’s worth considering that it also helps sell the design, if the content shown is relatable to the subject.

5. Be ready for sudden changes

Design is iterative, and changes are inevitable, not because you’re doing it wrong but because a second pair of eyes will see different things to you. And hopefully you’ll discover, after taking ten minutes to process, that they have really addressed all of the things that were silently bugging you. Sometimes the changes are small and this is fine, but other times somebody will walk into the room and destroy everything and you’ll have to start again.

It’s not really practical for this to happen more than once on a real project, so it is a good idea to always keep your Creative Director (I admit I do do this – CD) in the loop.

However, the real key to a successful design process is constantly discussing your ideas with others. Not just your Creative Director, but other team members, the client, people outside of the project, anyone. It’s common knowledge that collaboration delivers great results, but with design it’s especially important. Don’t keep your designs to yourself, don’t be scared to show them off. And accept that you will get it wrong over and over, and you’ll have a lot more work to do. But this is ok, Design is fun, and all this means is that you get to do more of it.