SXSW: Pain-free design sign-off

31 March 2010

This is an old post, so may include broken links and/or out-of-date information

Nice badges and postcards courtesy of Veer

This talk was by Paul Boag from Headscape, a UK based digital agency. Paul also runs the designer/developer blog and forum Boag's World.

Paul began the talk by outlining the nightmare scenario of a designer who takes a terrible brief and turns around a design masterpiece only for the client to subsequently reject it and then slowly dismantle it over a drawn-out set of iterations - all before the whole project sinks into a mire of failure and regret.

Suggestions for improving sign-off:

1. Outline everybody's role within the design process The client's role is to identify problems. The designer is the problem solver. Hence, when a client requests a logo to be made bigger they are attempting to solve a problem, not identify one. As a designer your role is to unearth the underlying problem.

2. Have a strong methodology By ensuring the client you are both experienced and confident in your methodology, clients will feel more likely to trust your problem-solving decisions.

3. Include the client often and early Don't race ahead. By involving the client early you're less likely to waste time creating an unwanted masterpiece.

4. Educate clients If you can explain to clients your design decisions on colour, type, grid etc. they are, again, more likely to feel you're working for them rather than your portfolio.

5. Feedback Ask for specific feedback. Paul made reference here to the fact that despite many designers' view, it is actually important that the client personally likes the solution. (After all they are going to be using the site/brand or at least having to sell it to other stakeholders.) However, rather than just subjective opinions it is also important to ask for more specific feedback - i.e. How well does this design fit with your business objectives? Will a certain set of users be able to identify with it?

6. Avoid saying no This follows on from the first point - if a client asks for something you as a designer believe is unreasonable you need to help identify the problem. I guess if you've followed all of the previous points, you should avoid a situation where you have to say "No" to a client anyway. I think this is partly an exercise in language (i.e You never say "No" if you're a hostage negotiator).

Certainly from my experience, at the point when you have to say 'No', something has gone wrong. One of the things we pride ourselves on at Supercool is working with rather than for our clients - explaining our working process, how we interpret a brief and how we arrive at key decisions, as well as involving the client throughout the process. It generally works very well and is something we attribute to being a small agency with no top-heavy structure or account managers. As a result I wasn't expecting to get that much out of this talk, however, as usual, some of the most obvious suggestions made are probably the some of the most useful, even if they just confirm we're doing the right thing.

In many ways some of the above appears to contradict points made in my previous post, however I think managing time, as well as client expectations shouldn't need to fight against each other. All in all another great talk.

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