Monday, 9 January 2012

Getting the design work you want: ten pointers for success.

Do you get the results you expect from your designer?

I've recently found myself involved with a couple of projects where the clients were not at all happy with the design proposals they had been given — yet didn't know what they could do about it.

Take Company A (a firm of accountants). They had a need to re-name and re-brand their business. Knowing next to nothing about the process they put their trust in a firm of 'designers' that they had found in a local telephone directory. They called me in to help with PR, but mentioned their concerns over the design proposals, and asked for my advice, given my background in design management and identity development.

It turned out that the designers had met the client once, at the designer's offices, so they had little or no understanding of the client's corporate personality. They hadn't put anything down in writing regarding approach or strategy, except to give a fee for the design work (and the client, naively but perhaps understandably, assumed that this would embrace all that was needed).

Although the designers had agreed to prepare three options, they emailed design proposals, rather than presenting and explaining the designs in person. They provided three design proposals that each adopted essentially the same approach, but with slightly different executions. Two of their solutions (one a hand-shake as logo, one a too-obvious rendition of 'money') were breathtakingly childish, and reminded me of a school project. There had been no attempt to indicate a process by which a multitude of potential avenues might have been explored around the services and benefits the company offered its audience. They had more or less created logo concepts on the back of an envelope and said "take it or leave it".

I offered to 'broker' the process for them, and when I met the designers they admitted that they had had provided two 'rubbish' concepts so that the client would choose the third. They were not prepared to provide any alternative concepts, but as it happens, the client did like one of the proposals, and so agreed to proceed. But as artwork for stationery was being prepared, they kept making basic mistakes and not following instructions. It became clear that they simply didn't appreciate the attention to detail required. With a deadline looming, and things beginning to spiral out of control, I advised the client to cut their losses and find a different designer who could provide more constructive support for the rest of the work required in this critical process.

They agreed a fee to end the relationship and keep the design they liked; I found them a designer who had a more professional approach, who ensured everything ran smoothly to launch date.

The tips I would pass on are these:

1. If you're paying a fee, you're in charge. Make sure things happen the way you want them to.
2. Prepare a clear brief. Write down your requirements and expectations. You could use my Briefing Form [ if you like.
3. Hold a beauty parade. Research possible designers: check local directories, ask colleagues, friends for recommendations.
4. Visit your shortlisted designers in their offices; get them to visit you in your offices.
5. Ask them to make a formal proposal describing how they would work and what they would provide for the fee.
Make sure you understand what's going to be involved. Ask your designer to explain the process.
6. I'm against expecting designers to provide design solutions as part of the pitch process. You should be able to judge their expertise from other work and their attitude; then reward them for the proposals they prepare. Reputable designers will always work with you to revise designs if necessary to achieve a result that works and, ideally, that you're happy with. It's true that sometimes personal opinions diverge, but this is where it's important to be clear about the terms for ending the relationship if necessary.
7. Once you appoint a designer, agree the process: be clear what happens at what stages; be clear that your approval is required at all key stages.
8. Agree costs for each stage of the work (initial concepts, first proposals, fine-tuning proposals, preparing final artwork, handing over all final material). Be clear what 'extras' might cost (and what might be counted as extra work). Be clear what you get for the fee you pay. That should typically include all development work and the final artwork that you can use in the future, as well as your ownership of the copyright for unlimited use (once the fee has been paid).
9. Make sure the designers present and explain their proposals in person
10. If you're developing a new name and logo, be sure that someone checks availability and that you are not in danger of infringing someone else's copyright.