By Randy Schroeder, Bluewave Producer

Rule #1 — Allow plenty of time. Not enough time is the most common problem any design firm faces. Too often, the client is expecting a fast turnaround at a low price.

Rule #2 — Respect the design team. Respect their creativity, judgment and effort. They are professionals and deserve to be treated as such. An unhappy designer is not a creative designer. Creativity is art and needs to be invented and instigated on the fly and often on demand. It’s like when you were a kid and in front of her friends, your mother says, “Oh my son is so funny! Go ahead, be funny.”

Rule #3 — Give us the specifics. This one step alone will dramatically improve the process and workflow, saving big on time and money. Simply put, we need to know what’s coming and what to plan for. Is the project going to require instant revisions? How many? How often? How long for each one? In order to keep things running smoothly, just provide us with the following information:

  • When we’ll see the file
  • When you’ll need it back
  • The number of revisions you foresee
  • The date and time you know someone will be presenting
  • The date and time for reviews of the work in progress
  • The final date we’ll need to turn over the finished product
  • Any information that will allow us to plan ahead
  • An overestimated budget of time you think we should reserve for the project

We know it’s difficult to predict some of these things ahead of time, but even so you may have a hunch of what’s ahead. Just plan WAY ahead, overestimate, and keep us informed. There’s no charge for giving us an overestimate for any phase of work. It helps us plan better, which in turn serves you better in the long run. It’s far better to be pessimistic and over plan, rather than overconfident and under plan. That way, we’ll be better able to accommodate your needs.

Rule #4 — Be clear about what you’re looking for. I’ve asked clients before when they didn’t like a particular piece, “What did you not like about it? What do you think it needs?” Or, “Do you have any ideas that might be close to what you had in mind?” I’m always stunned when the answer is, “I don’t know, just make it better.”

Does that mean brighter, more playful, smaller, less corporate, transparent, more detailed, simpler, less busy…what? Without any guidelines, it’s like shopping for a car for someone. When you show them the first three, they say, “Nope, I want one that’s better.” How can you fulfill that request? Naturally we can play the guessing game and ultimately we’ll hit the nail on the head. But until that happens, the money clock is ticking. Later, the uniformed client may assume the firm just doesn’t get it. The client may think, “This company just takes too long to understand what I mean.”

Rule #5 — Communicate visually. Designers are visual types. When they can see what you’re thinking, it usually becomes crystal clear what needs to be done. I’ve found that the best way for all of us to work is for you (the client) to print your comp, mark it up with all your notes, arrows, sketches, etc., and fax it back to us. Then, ask if we’d like to go over it together with you.

All too often, the client wants to talk through the changes wthout any written notes or hard copy for reference. So the project manager is writing as fast as possible, scrambling to catch all the complexities, nuance, details and expectations, and hoping desperately that nothing gets misheard or overlooked. Again, it can be done this way but the topic here is saving money. This is not an effective way to impart delicate information to a creative person — or to the project manager who must then translate it all again to the design team. Working this way, details can be miscommunicated or lost altogether. Remember the childhood game “Telephone?”

Rule #6 — Keep urgent rush turnarounds as the exception, not the rule. Occasional use of tight turnarounds isn’t usually a problem, but if most revisions are done in this way, it can have negative impact on the efficiencies of the system and the creativity needed to design great solutions. Also, it’s expensive.

Generally, most designers plan their day way in advance. When an urgent project comes in, everything else grinds to a halt so that the designers can switch gears, drop other projects and pick up on the urgent one. Imagine if Michaelangelo was asked repeatedly to “Stop working on that ceiling, this is more urgent.” It may seem amusing, but pretend for a minute this happens every day or two for the next week or more. For some projects, there’s no choice. But it helps a lot if we know up front that’s how the file will come together from start to finish.