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Designing the design process

The method used to create a design is as important as the design itself - and can be a big contributor to a project’s success or failure. Here’s how I’ve designed the process at NDP.

Design process

Design is about creatively solving problems within the boundaries we’re given. Boundaries like the brief. The budget. The client’s needs. Their audiences’ needs (not always the same thing).

But we need to approach how we do it carefully, to avoid painfully crashing into something. Spend a long time on one design idea only for the client to reject it at the last moment and, ouch, there goes the budget.

That’s where process comes in: a way of doing things which helps us avoid major pitfalls and hopefully arrive at the other side with a great design and a happy client.

Over the last year I’ve been restructuring the studio’s design process, working closely with Robson our designer, to achieve those goals.

My main aims are to:

  • Ensure the client feels ownership of and involved with the creative process
  • Get their feedback early and often
  • Get sign-off of the design direction as early as possible
  • Leave plenty of time to be creative without having to worry about making big changes later.

The process

Creative workshop

This is the fun bit. We sit in a room with the client and discuss ideas. Show examples. Doodle on whiteboards. Explore preferences, discuss brand guidelines and generally get a feel for what they have in mind. It’s a great way of building ownership - if someone feels like they’ve been part of creating something they’re much less likely to reject it later.

Style tiles

Half-way between a style guide and a design, style tiles are a great way to explore design directions quickly. They should cover typography, colours and examples of page elements - never a whole page or layout.

We then present the style tile to the client and incorporate any feedback. This should happen no more than a day or two after the creative workshop so they can see that things are moving quickly.

Once they’re happy with the changes, we ask them to sign off on the design direction. Before they’ve even seen anything like a normal page layout.

But that’s great. We’ve just got the design agreed while only using at most 25% of the budget.

Design delivery one

Now we’ve got the direction agreed, it’s time to actually start on the designs. And with lots of budget left, we can take proper care.

This delivery includes the homepage and two or three important page templates at mobile, tablet and desktop breakpoints.

After being checked by the team to make sure there’s no major problems we present the designs to the client, face-to-face if at all possible. It’s where we have the chance to sell the designs to the client. It gives the designs a much greater sense of value. It adds a bit of theatre. It makes it easier for us to explain our thinking. And much harder for the client to find objections without engaging properly, which they might if they’d just been sent an email.

After a few rounds of amends and the client is happy, they sign off again. This is their full and final sign off: no more changes from this point. And we’ve only used about 70% of the budget.

Design delivery two

Even though the designs are signed off, there’s more still to be done. The client wants to see what the rest of their site looks like, and the developers need a lot more to complete the build and theme.

It’s a fairly quick task to do this, and once done the designs are put through our full QA process. Here, the entire team carefully goes through the designs, looking for everything from minor typos to issues which may impact budgets further down the line. These make David, one of the front-end developers, sigh very deeply.

Once the team is happy (and David’s stopped sighing), we send the client the full design submission, presented on boards or in a book as a nicely-produced keepsake.

Conclusion

By consciously designing our design process in this way, while there’s still plenty of work to be done, we’ve managed to increase the quality of our work, reduce the amount of time it takes to get work signed off, and most importantly, our clients are much happier. All while continuing to meet deadlines and hit budgets.