I was able to spend some time with my client today. I nice long discussion about pretty much everything. I outlined the notion about how typical processes seem to kill originality, and my doubts that the regular approach to things is actually up to this project. Or really future projects or design in the future.
I know he was doubtful at first. He said, I am doubtful this is the case. It's a pretty bold claim you're making. I get it. For a guy like my client, it's important that professionals practice their craft with dedication and discipline. Hell, even saying this idea aloud is far outside of my tolerance as a designer. But the more I reflect on the state of all things design, the more I am convinced.
I think there's a subtle but critical distinction that needs to be made between creative process and business operation.
Every design buyer needs confidence and needs to believe they can trust the designer. They have business critical business goals they'd like to achieve.They have to be guarded in taking risks as well. They can't just spend like there's no tomorrow and basic accountability and responsibility need to be integral in any engagement.
But here's the thing. Those considerations are business considerations. They're operational, not creative, not design. They don't address any any real aspect of the creative process or the tremendous balancing act of formulating great design to meet wildly different requirements and criteria.
I think this can really hang us up. Designers, and our clients too.
There's the project process. There's the design process. They might co-exist and intertwine but they are distinct and separate things. It's probably more accurate to refer the the project process as the project timeline. And the creative process as the creative process. And design as applied creativity.
Of course, this means that I'll be swimming upstream as a designer when it comes to marketing and communication, but I am confident I can find a way.
Anyway, our conversation continued.
I asked him for a more detailed written brief. Something that expanded on our first conversation when we excitedly hired me saying, I need to to revise everything. I need to get all the old stuff cleared out and new stuff done and made and out there in the world. He smiled and said he recognized that he was acting impulsivley and thought it would be good for both of us to have this be more explicit and detailed.
I outlined how I imagined things would unfold, using the distinctions I had just made.
After receiving the brief, I would respond in order that he felt confident about my understanding of the project
necessary discussion would happen at this point before the next step
The client can expect a report that considers the existing situation of their business in relation to their stated goals and desires; the will contain some design diagnosis and prescription
it might also generate some creative insights or opportunities which I will share if appropriate
the client is expected to read the report in full and raise any issues they have with the work
any discussion that needs to happen before the next step happens here; course corrections, adjustments to expectations etc.
Design and development occurs based on the steps so far;
this will be delicate because this is where the client might want assurance but the designer simply wants to explore possibility after possibility and evaluate them all
recognize we're doing this process deliberately and both the client and designer have a real interest in seeing that both parties are dedicated to the best result possible
periodic sharing of work and exchange of ideas and perspectives can happen here, but recognize this is not a place or time for the client to be the creative director
Design solutions and presentations can be made after they're developed; all provided with complete rationale
these might be presented as a complete suite of solutions, or piecemeal; the work itself will suggest the approach and conversation between client and designer about this will be crucial
Implementation and ongoing reviews and updates
order of implementation will be recommended by the designer and will be agreed upon by designer and client
I feel like I am the luckiest designer alive right now.
This project timeline resembles the multitude of others that exist, but I think that making the distinctions I have made, and even taking one step closer to opening the door for creativity is a huge step forward for me and my client
Maybe one day in the future, I'll be able to have engagements with clients like this all the time.
Unable to meet with the designer today.
What I like about that guy is the fact that he’s always trying to step outside the box, but still keep things attached to reality. Asked if he could make time during the weekend to talk if possible. Haven’t heard back yet.
But what about creativity and inspiration? What about not doing the things that create anodyne solutions?
Doesn’t following a process —especially the same process— eventually lead to doing same thing over and over again?
We’re repeating things but pretending they lead to different results. We’re so afraid that clients won’t see value in our work, we prop ourselves up with “our process” and “using our unique systematic approach”.
Tired of “clean” designs? Everybody says “clean” design. What if it wasn’t? Or what if it was described and understood differently? Are we really adverbing the world one noun at a time? I mean we’ve been doing that since the Macintosh was introduced in ’84. Why? Because designers all follow the same process.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t have an agreement about the work to be done and the goals everybody wants to achieve. We need that. We’d be fools to not scope and define the work.
What I am saying is that if we’re going to follow some process it had better result in something creative and great, not just a slight variation on the theme.
I might not be able to do a lot of projects at once and so I am working with one client at a time. But I would like to do more than change the world one design engagement at a time. I’d like to astonish you. I’d like to leave people speechless. I’d like to make things echo and ring far beyond this immediate task.
I don’t know if the usual process is up to it.
I’m going to meet with my client tomorrow and outline these points. Wish me luck.
How do you do any kind of discovery process for your own practice? Are you discovering your practice, or yourself? And if it’s yourself –because you’re inseparable from the things you do– do you know yourself enough to find some form of graphic identity?
Oh, wait a minute. I should back up. Let me bring you up to speed. Let me slow down.
The part I’ve left out here is–, well, maybe I’ve left out a few things. I should probably explain how a project happens. How I try to undertake a project large or small. Then I’ll get into some details.
Usually there’s some sort of engagement process that happens where a client is looking for a designer and the designer is trying to find a client. If this is handled with deftness and clarity, maybe you’ll get a good match between the work, the designer, and the client.
In this particular case though, the client (me) has already selected the designer (me). Sure it sounds a little glib, but speaking candidly as the designer I can assure you this client has, um, well, shall we say, exceptional expectations?
Part of the engagement process reveals what the client is after and what the designer brings to help the client.
Next there’s some sort of discovery or research work the designer does in order to get some insight into the complete problem domain. This can be a hugely valuable thing for the client. As the designer does this work, it’s inevitable they will find the parts of your organization and operation that don’t work as expected. It can reveal internal conflict, operational problems and missed opportunity. A client open to, and expecting, business expertise will find massive bonus value here in this opening stage.
This is the point where we find ourselves. (There are following steps such as design development, and implementation, but we’ll get to those in coming days.)
My first discovery is that the engagement process was short-circuited. This means there’s no project brief from the client. There’s no response or proposal of any sort from the designer either. All we’ve got is this brief description of what this is all about.
There are vague notions, sure. Some poorly articulated ideas that everybody was dreaming up at various points during the day. Some rumination and, what the client says is "thinking hard", and what the designer portrays has "critical insights" and "massive inspiration". But in the end, there’s no coherent expression by anybody about anything that’s supposed to happen.
This discovery alone is enough to send both parties back to their corners. The client needs to write some kind of brief and the designer needs to respond to that.
Yeah. It’s gonna be difficult, but I am going to try my best.
Let’s face it. I’ve left the site way way too long.
A lot has happened in the years since I made the site, a lot has changed, and a few updates really aren’t enough.
I gave this some thought. Well, a lot of thought. Probably way more than you might imagine. And I thought to myself Self, you really need to redesign your website. And then I thought to myself But really, what for? What are you actually offering? What is it you’re doing? Or saying for that matter?
And I’m not gonna lie. I also thought to myself things even worse. Things like You’ve pretty much ended your career by not doing anything you can show in a portfolio. You’ve been slogging through a bunch of technical work invisibly. What have you actually designed recently? Who are you kidding, you’re way too old anyway.
Well, it’s easy to get lost down that path. It’s an old habit. But there’s the other part of me too. The perverse part of me that delights in some cruel joke I can play on myself. Or maybe it’s the part of me that simply has to try.
Regardless, my conversation changed to Well you’re gonna do it, so exactly what will you do?
Well, this is what I am going to do. I am going to redesign this web site, and redesign everything that relates to it. And I’m going to do it in the open and make a record of all the work.
There are some other things that are important to me as well.
I want to have fun doing this. I love doing design. This isn’t going to be a chore. It’s going to be an exercise of all the things I’ve learned in my career, and a re-discovery of the things I have forgotten.
I want to try things that I haven’t tried before. Seldom do you get an opportunity to exercise some new approach or technique. It’s not often you really can stretch when you’re doing client work for a specific goal. If your work is focused on helping the greatest number of people regardless of age or ability, your never really getting the opportunity to try anything in the unusual or extreme. But this is that opportunity. Even if it doesn’t doesn’t end up integrated into the final output, doing these kinds of things can serve as examples in some kind of portfolio, or as ongoing learning exercises.
I want to be thoughtful and do my personal best. The goal isn’t simply to get a new website. It’s not really about reinvention either. It’s really about taking my own medicine, and striving for my personal best.
So in the upcoming days, weeks, and months, I’ll be writing here, and posting images and notes. I hope that you join me and you find the journey rewarding and valuable.