Can Your Design Process Handle The Uniqueness Of Each Project And Client?

Every project is unique. Every client is also unique. Each comes with a different set of goals and constraints. Can your design process handle all the differences that exist from client to client and project to project?


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I was recently reminded of the uniqueness of projects and clients after reading, Own Your Process: Ending Agile Guilt, by Megan Notarte for the Cloud Four Blog. Megan talks how their design process is changing and evolving and moving from something more waterfall to something more agile. She talked about how they now tailor their process for each project and client because of this uniqueness.

Like I said, all projects are unique. Even if you’re designing sites for two banks, those projects are still unique because the client isn’t the same. Each will have different goals, even if some are similar, and each will impose different constraints on the project, even if they share some constraints. Different clients will have different ways of working and communicating with you.

Empathy and Understanding In Client Relationships

A large part of the job of a designer has to do with psychology. Not in a how can I cure this person kind of way. Not in a how can I manipulate this person kind of way. But in a how can I understand and empathize with this person kind of way. That allows you to design the site your clients want as best as you can.

Every designer/client relationship is different and you have to work to build that relationship and understand how to work with it. For example based on the client I’m working with I might vary:

  • The words I use in an email
  • How often we’re communicating with each other
  • Whether we speak more over the phone, email, instant messenger, etc.

I’ve had clients over the years who are very hands off. I have to work harder to get information from them and ge them to elicit any feedback. I have strategies and techniques for doing both.

I’ve also had clients who are very hand’s on. I have to work harder to get them to leave me alone long enough to do the work they’re paying me to do. I have to understand which suggestions are the important ones and which I can probably ignore. Again I have strategies and techniques for both.

My Flexible Process

Earlier I mentioned waterfall and agile processes. I’ve described in previous posts how I too have moved from a process more waterfall to one more agile. I think this is true of most designers who are transitioning to responsive design.

When I mention these two processes, understand I don’t literally mean the Waterfall or Agile method of development. I have no idea what either really is. To me waterfall means planning all the details up front and working to meet those details and agile means starting with something rougher and iterating with the client until the site is done.

My current process is more to the agile side, but again I’m not suggesting I follow an Agile Process as I really don’t know what that means outside of my simple definition above.

My process is set up to allow flexibility and change. I start the process in the same way regardless of project and client, but the process isn’t a recipe of steps to follow.

In some respects it stays the same. Just because every project is unique, doesn’t mean every little thing you do on them is different. No matter how unique, the odds are the site has text on a background, navigation, a logo, a way to contact the site owner, etc.

You might come up with a new way to navigate, but chances are your navigation will either be a horizontal navbar across the top or bottom of the page or it’ll be a vertical menu down the left or right side. I rely on patterns for these and other design elements. The patterns are varied to the uniqueness of the project, but the underlying structure remains the same.

My process is set up to adapt to what the client wants to give to it. It’s meant to encourage and receive feedback, but is also capable of progressing without client feedback (or minimal feedback as some is always needed). In the latter case it’s up to me to decide when feedback is absolutely needed and when I can continue to work without it.

When you think about it, this is just one more change in moving from print to the web. That move comes with a different set of constraints. A set of constraints that allows for flexibility and desires proportion over absolute measurements. The web is flexible and dynamic. Our design process should be too.

I don’t specifically tailor my process for each new client, because the ability to tailor to the project is built into the process itself. The process expects change. It expects that each new project will be unique and will have different needs and requirements for best results.

Summary

Every project and client is unique and I think the best way to deal with the uniqueness is to work with a process that expects the uniqueness and can adapt to whatever conditions it’s given.

My process is hardly perfect. That’s part of it’s flexibility too, I suppose. It probably doesn’t adapt to some things as well as it could. For example I couldn’t see myself delivering static design comps at this point. It’s not something I need and I don’t think my clients really need it either. At the same time, I understand my clients may want static comps. In that case I’m prepared to deliver them.

The main thing is not to lock yourself into one way of doing things. Don’t force everything through the same tool and don’t force the same things over and over.

Work from a process that lets you quickly identify what will be different with this project and client and also what will be the same. Then have the rest of the process follow based on that information.

Start rough. Work from a process that generates a feedback loop as quickly as possible. Work a little. Show your work. Iterate. Repeat until finished. The flexibility to adapt to each new project and client can be built in, because the process calls for them to be part of the process.

Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.

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