When It Comes to Design, Collaboration is King

Ideas

The Anti-Reveal: How We Built a Collaborative Design Process

Samantha Langdorf June 21, 2016

Over the years, we have built a highly collaborative branding and digital process for every project that comes through the Briteweb offices. Yet one question we’ve grappled with is how best to collaborate with our clients during the design process specifically; how best to maintain the integrity of the designs while allowing our clients ample opportunity to put their stamp on the final product.

In our infancy, our approach to the design process could be summed up as “whatever it took to please the client”. This fostered a level of micromanagement on the client’s part that made the design phase feel like one perpetual revision round. During one challenging project, members of our design team sat at the boardroom table of an especially difficult client while their team directed micro color and spacing adjustments. By the end of the day we had reached a design that they were thrilled with, only to receive an email two days later informing us that they had changed their minds and we would need to go back to the drawing board.

As we grew, we began limiting our clients to a set number of revision rounds. This meant the calibre of work we were delivering was stronger and more refined, but it also meant that our clients felt less involved in the design process. Like our previous approach, this also led to lengthy revision requests during which we were left defending or justifying our recommendations. More often than not, this process produced a diluted end product that could be best summed up as a collection of compromises.

In the last few years, we have reached a comfortable middle ground where our clients have ample opportunity to contribute but important design decisions are entrusted to our team. Recently, I showed up at a client’s office with a stack of wireframe sketches — and I’m being very liberal with the term “sketches” here. Drawing has never been a strength of mine. Even when it’s as simple as drawing boxes, I still manage to make it look like I outsourced them to my 5-year-old niece.

In the past, I would have passed my rough sketches through our design team to refine and beautify but we were on a particularly tight timeline with this project and I needed to help our client make some important decisions on the user experience for a new online fundraising strategy. We simply didn’t have the time to make these wireframes look pretty.

However, by presenting a “rough draft”, rather than a refined product, we were able to keep the conversation focused on high-level goals and objectives rather than details. We were also able to quickly mock-up some variations that I was able to take back to our designers to test and refine. In two hours we were able to do what would have previously required extensive prep, a presentation and back-and-forth correspondence to collect and then implement change requests.

Our design process is constantly evolving, responding to feedback from our clients and embracing new techniques we learn along the way, but our experience has taught us that the most meaningful collaboration happens when we stay focused on purpose, substance and strategy. This means our clients don’t feel like they have to make micro design recommendations anymore — especially if design isn’t in their wheelhouse — and they can instead stay focused on whether the designs are supporting the larger strategic goals that we collaboratively decided on.

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