How to get the most out of the design process

Research shows that good design is key to business growth* and so employing the services of a designer should be viewed as an investment in your company, not just a commodity cost. If you’ve never commissioned a design project before it can be a bit daunting. To make the most of your investment its a good idea to plan the selection process and project management like any other aspect of your business. Here are some tips for getting the most out of the creative process and finding the wood from the trees.

1  view it as an investment

Research shows that good design is key to business growth* and so employing the services of a designer should be viewed as an investment in your company, not a commodity cost. To make the most of that investment you should plan the selection process and project management like any other aspect of your business.

2  write a brief

Fundamental to achieving a great result is writing down a clear brief. What’s a brief? Well basically it’s all the information you need to tell the designer in order for the project to be understood and worked on effectively. You may wish to include information such as:

  • background on your business or new idea – this could be info on your customer type, strategic objectives, strengths and weaknesses, competitors etc.
  • project objectives – how the design will be used and what you want to achieve.
  • any limits on the design – for example if it needs to adhere to any specific technical or legal requirements, or if it needs to fit in with any design already existing, or maybe there are environmental issues etc.
  • project management – budget, schedule and deadline
  • creative direction – styles, materials, tone or mood you like or wish to pursue.

It may be hard to create a full brief before you have had a discussion with a designer but do write down what you can. Remember it’s not set in stone and it will evolve whilst you are selecting who you want to work with. Also, the purpose of the brief is not to be prescriptive – you want to allow room for the designer to bring their creativity and experience to the table.

3  find the right designer

Generally it is a good idea to short list three possible designers. You can use the internet to find designers in your locality or you may find it useful to look out for design work that you like or ask a colleague to recommend who they use. Next you need to contact each designer or consultancy and have a chat with them inviting them to give you a credentials presentation. This is an initial free meeting where the designer will tell you about their skills and experience and will probably show you a portfolio of previous work. It will give you an opportunity to share your design project and give them a copy of the brief and discuss it. At this stage you can get a feel for how the designers relate to you and your business and how you relate to them. Ask the designer for a written proposal to your brief. When you get this back it should include an estimate of fees and an idea of schedules, method of approach and specific deliverables relevant to your project. You now need to assess each proposal on the criteria of:

  • who will work well with your company
  • who can demonstrate an understanding of your company
  • who has a proven track record
  • who has the capacity to complete and deliver the work within the agreed timescale and budget.

4  get the project started and keep it rolling

Right, so you’ve found who you want to work with, agreed the brief together and the creative process starts to roll – great! This is a journey and the design process will probably move through a number of different stages, such as:

  • concepts – the initial ideas and options
  • design development – refining the chosen concept
  • evaluation – testing and reviewing the design
  • implementation – production to launch.

The important thing to remember is that this is a collaborative process aiming to achieve what you have set out in your original brief. Yes, you need to take control of your project and actively manage it, but you also need to be open to new ideas and to give your designer creative freedom. Make sure you voice your opinions and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

5  complete the project

Once the creative process is completed the next stage is implementing the designs either through printing, manufacturing or website building etc. You will have agreed in your original brief who will be handling this part.

As your investment goes to work it is important to assess and measure the effectiveness of the design project. There are probably a combination of hard and soft measures you can use to do this, for example:

  • hard measures could include sales figures, profits, new leads or contracts secured etc.
  • soft measures could include shifts in consumer perception, customer feedback, general reactions to the designs, changes in market position or competitors reactions.

* The DBA Design Effectiveness Awards recognise, reward and promote the integral role effective design plays in the creation of business growth.