Does collaborating on design projects at work sometimes make you a little crazy?
Collaboration is supposed to be about things like teamwork, cooperation, and productivity. But in real life, collaboration isn’t always easy. When you have supervisors, marketing staff, creative team members, clients, and others all weighing in on the same project, things can get a little chaotic.
Here at Canva, we recently surveyed 500 owners of small- to medium-sized businesses, and 87% said that they wished the design process were more efficient at their companies. If, like these business owners, you’ve ever felt that there are “too many cooks in the kitchen” when it comes to design projects, or perhaps that your design process lacks direction and organization, modifying your collaboration methods with a few effective adjustments can make a world of difference.
If you can relate, stay tuned to learn more about our plans to help simplify your team’s design project workflow and make collaboration easier. For now, to get a jumpstart on improving collaboration in your workplace, let’s look at the typical lifecycle of a design project and what needs to happen within your team to make sure everything comes together in the end. We’ll also be applying the process to a hypothetical project, so you can see how each step might work in a practical context.
01. The Brief: Make a Plan
Sit down with your team and develop a creative brief, which is just a written plan or blueprint for your design project. Sometimes a client or company will come armed with a brief already, which you’ll want to go over with them and fill in any gaps in the information. Other times, especially for inside work (a project for your own company or department), you’ll want to create one yourself with your team. Cover as many details as you can, such as:
- What is the overarching purpose or message of the design?
- Who’s the target audience?
- What’s the budget?
- What’s the desired look or aesthetic?
- Are there brand or style guidelines that need to be followed?
- What are the physical specifications? (size/dimensions, color or black & white, required file formats, etc.)
- What is the scope of the project? (one or multiple deliverables, how many versions or revisions, any ongoing work or maintenance, etc.)
- Is there a timeline or deadline? (And is it firm or flexible?)
After you’ve created a brief that everyone can agree on, use it as a reference throughout the design process — and stick to it to avoid dealing with conflict or people changing their minds. If you’d like a basic template to use and a more in-depth look at the brief development process, check out our article on “Writing an Effective Design Brief.”
Apply It: Let’s imagine your company is hosting a public event and you and your team need to develop a poster to promote that event in your community. In the brief development stage, you would have a team meeting to hash out details like the size of the poster; what you want to appear on it (just text, photography, illustration?); whether you need to hire any outside assistance such as a photographer, and your budget for that; a timeline for completing various elements or drafts of the design; by what date the poster needs to be printed and distributed to effectively advertise the event; etc.
02. Progress: Monitor Your Momentum
Sit down with your designer (and any other key contributors, perhaps a photographer or copywriter) and decide how you want the design process to unfold and at what stages input or feedback will be given and by whom. Having an approval process in place in advance will make the project much less stressful as you approach the deadline.
Set goals for the design process so everyone involved can stay on track. Make sure to devise a schedule for creating or collecting any resources necessary for the project (copy, photos, etc.) or assign those tasks to appropriate team members, giving them plenty of time to complete them on schedule. (Asking how much time they anticipate needing will help you establish a timeline.)
A common approach is creating “milestones” — small deadlines for when a certain stage of the project will be completed. Depending on the project, you might keep it simple, like a series of drafts — first, second, and final. Or, for a complex project, you might create a deadline for each piece of the design (initial design ideas, images, copy, and so on).
Finally, you or a project manager need to keep an eye on the progress of the project to make sure it’s staying on schedule, giving various contributors friendly reminders of deadlines if need be. Don’t wait until the last minute to do this.
(A quick note about designers: Every designer has his or her own creative process and ideal methods. While time constraints sometimes require adapting that process, you’ll get better work from designers if you don’t wait until the last minute to assign them a project. Especially if the project requires a lot of experimentation design-wise, give the designer as much time as possible to create and ample notice of when items need to be delivered.)
Apply It: To continue the poster example, keeping on top of the project’s progression could involve both outside and in-house collaboration. You might need to schedule a photo shoot with a freelance photographer, making sure his availability meshes with the project’s timeline. Meanwhile, your designer, copywriter, or other creative team members involved with creating the poster need to be making appropriate progress on their tasks. Having all the necessary elements come together in the right way at the right time takes careful management and tracking.
03. Review: Check, Check, and Check Again for Errors
Once you have a final draft, check for errors or anything that may have been overlooked. Go over it with meticulous attention to detail; in fact, have as many detail-oriented people look at it as you can — the more eyes the better. One person may catch what another missed. If the design is particularly text-heavy, you might consider hiring a professional, freelance copyeditor if you don’t have someone with those skills on staff.
Some issues to look for include typos or other spelling/grammar/copy errors, alignment, conformity to a brand or style guide (if applicable), and consistent fonts, among others. Additionally, make sure the design matches the brief and meets all must-have requirements.
The designer should be looking for many of these things when finishing a final draft. But the designer shouldn’t be the only person to review a project for errors. It can be hard to look objectively at your own work; designers are likely to glaze over subtle errors since they’re so accustomed to looking at their design.
Apply It: An event poster would need to be checked for both visual/design errors (inconsistent fonts or colors, spacing issues, alignment, etc.) and copy errors (correct spelling of event venue and any names, correct dates and times, general spelling/grammar mistakes, etc.).
04. Get Approval From All Necessary Parties
Make sure everyone who needs to sign off on the design has the opportunity to do so before the design is finalized. If there’s a client involved (whether that’s a customer, another department within your business, etc.), make sure to run the design by that person or group again, even if they’ve already signed off on the brief. Upset clients complaining that they never saw the final draft and requesting more changes (Oops! We changed our phone number and forgot to tell you…) after a design has printed or gone live online is never a good situation.
Apply It: Instead of just showing the poster to the people who need to approve it and asking what they think, ask specifically whether it has their final approval for printing. Otherwise, you might hear a comment like, “The poster looks great!” and assume it’s good to go; then, a couple days later, when the design comes back from the printer, you might hear, “Oh, we can’t hand those out! It has the wrong address on it.” Avoid miscommunication (as well as wasted time and money) by asking specifically for approval.
05. Revise: Refine and Polish the Design
Compile a list of changes that need to be made that came up during the review or approval processes. Communicate the changes to the designer all at once rather than mentioning them one by one as they pop up. This approach will be more efficient and less frustrating for your designer.
After this feedback has been implemented, you should be at a stage where you have a more or less finished draft, or proof, that’s ready to be finalized. Just make sure no new errors are created while making revisions!
Apply It: Perhaps a key decision-maker, maybe a supervisor or someone with a lot of pull in your company, came up with some design changes for the poster during the approval process. But maybe that person doesn’t know a lot about design, and the changes don’t really make sense — so your designer comes to you with concerns. What to do? The revision process isn’t always a smooth one, especially when multiple people are involved. You may need to negotiate changes among your team, letting your designer explain why certain changes do or don’t work, to create the best possible final product.
06. Finalize: Prepare the Design to Print or Post Online
At this stage, the designer should:
- Make sure everything is as it should be — no missing elements, placeholder items, deviations from a brand/style guide, etc.
- Save the design in the appropriate file format, resolution, and color space. (An experienced designer will know what’s needed for various types of projects.) If you’re curious about what goes into navigating technical specifications like resolution and file types, we’ve covered some of the basics here.
- Double-check that the final product matches the specifications of its destination. If you’re sending the design off to be printed, the printer will likely have particular requirements. Certain browsers have limitations or quirks that also need to be considered for web design.
Apply It: A poster will need to be saved in CMYK, the color space that all printing equipment uses. But let’s say you also want to include an image of the poster in an email or post it on your company website to promote the event. That image would need to be converted to RGB to avoid the colors appearing distorted online. Your designer can easily create web-friendly files for those purposes.
07. Ship It: Send Your Design Into the World
For print projects, deliver the finalized file to the printer. The printer may provide a proof of how the design will look in its final, physical form before printing it off. Your designer should take a look at this proof as a last safeguard against any unintentional errors.
For web projects, it’s time to post or publish your design online. If possible, it’s a good idea to test the design before making it public to check that everything looks right and functions correctly.
Apply It: Ideally, your project will print or be posted online without any complications. But sometimes, your printer can get busy, equipment can malfunction, or web designs need troubleshooting. If at all possible, you should build some extra time into your project schedule as a precaution against these types of situations; then if, you don’t need it, you’ll finish ahead of schedule!
08. Give Kudos: Acknowledge the Team
The brief has been fulfilled, the design has been successfully completed, and another project has been added to your portfolio. You and your team should applaud yourselves for a successful collaboration and a job well done.
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