25 posts categorized "Project Management"

Eleven Tips for Successful Photo Shoots


What's under the sink? A few paper bags from fancy shops. Coke cans, yogurt containers, and a few empty bottles of Alaskan Amber. Cleaning products like Comet and Pledge. A dustpan.

What's on the counter? Six coffee mugs in varying shades of yellow, green, and white. Brioche studded with raisins and ginger scones from Cafe Besalu. A trail mix of almonds, cashews, and cranberries sweetened with sugar. And let's not forget the big pot of black coffee, whose delicious aroma infuses the kitchen.

One of the most exciting things about taking part in photo shoots is the joy of physical making: the process of design on a much larger scale than a mouse and Photoshop. Your palette is the world, and your tool is the camera.

Scattered throughout Patrick's studio were all the ingredients for a series of highly planned photos, but that won't stop us from furiously working our way through all of the material that's on the props table, the racks of clothing, the refrigerator.

But all of this material can't be forced onto each photograph. You have to let the scene speak to you, and react as nimbly as possible to sound the right note in the shot.

Clothing gets cycled a few times. The laptop on the table is a bit too heavy-handed, so that goes out the window. We throw some boots in the corner so it looks like the model just sat down on the floor for a quick break. Hair is let down, put up in a ponytail, and blush is furiously applied -- all in the hope that each change will make the scene feel finished.

Though that probably isn't the right word. No photograph is ever finished. Each RAW file is just another slice of time, some feeling more complete than others in their level of expression. If you're quick on your feet and willing to discard your presupposed ideas through each shot, new opportunities emerge that can feel more potent and human. Just by creating a space to allow them.

How do you create that space?

Continue reading "Eleven Tips for Successful Photo Shoots" »

Don't Hit the Deck: Mitigating Risk in Your Design Contracts

Risk Over Time

While rock climbing this morning, I just couldn't get off the ground. The route, a 5.11- called something like "Slippery Nose of Death", started off with a smooth first-sized hold that resisted my varied attempts at sticking to the wall. That is, until I'd figured out a way to force my left foot onto a tiny toehold, prop my right foot against the faux rock face with a smear that could only keep me aloft for 3 sec -- whoops, there I am again: back where I started.

I'd like to try the route again, but I can't straighten my hands. Yet.

What do I love about rock climbing? It's physical problem solving. Pre-thinking each climb will only get you so far up the mountain. You need to fumble through climb after climb until you've internalized each move.

Over years of practice, muscle memory will guide you through a sort of flow that can feel (almost) effortless. Truly great climbers have an elegance and grace to their movements on the rock that belies thousands of hours spent staggering up different swaths of rock -- often in gnarly settings that would induce abject fear.

And then there are those who climb without ropes.

Call them daredevils or fools, but free climbers -- who are treated with awe in rock climbing magazines and equally fawned over and pilloried by the mainstream press -- are considered the true elites. Risking their lives with every ascent, they're pegging the tough routes at Yosemite while their lives literally hanging by a fingernail.

I can't imagine taking a risk of such magnitude. I need a harness and a rope securely fastened to an anchor, as well as a belay partner who is attentively watching and listening for any signs that I might need assistance. My belay partner is the guy or gal who's watching out for my well-being, making sure I don't "hit the deck," a.k.a. pancake out on the ground beneath our climb du jour. If I fall, they catch me through the system we've constructed to keep us safe.

Have you ever "hit the deck"? Maybe not as a rock climber. But you've experienced something similar -- like when a client tries to pull out of your signed contract after you've done the majority of the agreed-upon work.

Continue reading "Don't Hit the Deck: Mitigating Risk in Your Design Contracts" »

True Tests of Your Design Process

Scantron Pong

My design process obsession began in the sixth grade, with a late morning pop quiz.

Directions: Read all the directions before beginning. Take out one sheet of lined paper. Write the number of siblings you have with a purple crayon. On line three, draw a picture of your favorite food...

In order to save time and be more efficient, I started carrying out the instructions as I went, until I reached the final directive:

Ignore directions one through twenty-five and enjoy watching everyone do this activity wrong.

A heavy rock sank down into my gut. I was probably the only kid in the room who had diligently plodded his way through illustrations of flowers, scrawling stars in the page corners, and folding up my sheet of paper in all sorts of intriguing ways, only to realize at the end that he should have stopped at the beginning. And it didn't help that my teacher and my classmates were watching me, wondering when I'd figure it out. Yes, I was the one keeping them from going out to the playground.

I'm not a linear thinker, okay? No wonder I ended up in this profession. Besides, doing great design work isn't this diagrammatic. Most designers can't quite articulate how they get the work done, other than to say that they iterate towards a result. You can't write that process down on a sheet of paper, hand it to someone else, and have them easily cough up a killer logo.

But when you're working in a group larger than you, that's exactly what you need to do, over and over again. We can't jog around our offices talking about how we're paid problem solvers, then go solve the wrong problems in a roundabout fashion, bearing the cost of wasted time, effort, and emotional turmoil. Those kinds of situations burn away at our patience until we snap. We don't want to get to the end of a project only to discover we took the wrong path at the beginning.

Here, I've tried to tease out some of the critical questions that need to be asked as part of your overall design process -- whether when dealing with clients, working your way to a design solution, or negotiating client feedbck.

Continue reading "True Tests of Your Design Process" »

You Need a Mark to Miss

Please Try Again

Please read the following client email and see how it makes you feel:

After we sign the contract, can we just cut right to the concepts? Can I see something after the weekend? Won't we save some money if we cut a corner here or there? I mean, I don't really know what I want, but I'll know it when I see it. We should just have something to shoot at.

I made only a little of that paragraph up, and it was making me naueseous. When clients speak like this, there are so many alarm bells going off in your head it's hard to think of how to react.

Let's tear these oft-spoken sentences apart and see how we should respond.

Continue reading "You Need a Mark to Miss" »

The First Point of Failure

The brochure cover design and rough layout were easily approved, you've proceeded to layout and typeset beautiful copy written by a freelance writer, €”and the client hates the copy. It's all wrong.

The changes that he described to you over the phone require the writer to create a new draft. Then you'll need to replace the copy through the brochure with a new content structure that requires redesigning the inside completely. And based on the copywriter "missing the mark," which you don't quite agree with, now the client's thinking the overall concept for the cover may need to change as well. And of course, they don't want to pay for the changes outside of your current estimate...

"But I told him that he needed to read and approve the copy before I'd go to full layout. He said he was too busy / on vacation / (insert client excuse here) and that he trusted me / my staff / my freelancer to do great work..."

More often than not, there is always a first point of failure in a project where an issue like this comes to light. It could be a late approval that influences your delivery date, a round of concepts that the client dislikes, or a misjudgment of exactly how many hours you'll need to deliver that killer Flash advertisement.

These points of failure can be traced back to concerns that rest outside the traditional "design process." Failure is an important and inevitable part of the creative process, often leading to truly breakthrough design solutions. But when major failures occur during the business processes of a project, you can get knocked right out of business.

In this above scenario, the first point of failure was the desire to please a client, no matter what the cost. Wearing your account management hat at the expense of your project process can trump the controls you keep in place to ensure that you don't have to work over your time estimate. While it's tempting to mold your progress to your client's availability, there's always a point of diminishing return (and profit) for the graphic designer. This becomes even more risky in a creative agency setting, where thousands of dollars in staff time can go out the window without client approval at key milestones.

Other common points of failure occur when:

  • The creative agency or designer isn't able to enforce boundaries around each phase of a design project. This usually emerges from entering into a project outside their area of expertise without having lived through what it would really take to fulfill the job profitably. In smaller projects in print and online, missteps can result in rework and added time and labor. In large-scale web design and video projects, a lack of boundaries can lead to absolute failure and huge costs amassed to start projects over again.
  • The client doesn't want to work within the project boundaries. This can happen because the client didn't disclose there were multiple stakeholders within their company that had to approve each round. If the designer or agency doesn't ask the client about the need for multiple rounds of approvals and changes, they may feel uncomfortable penalizing the client by asking for more money. And like above, the client can feel like they are a hinderance if they aren't available during important approval rounds and want to keep the project moving towards an absolute deadline. There's an endless list here of reasons why the client can strain against an agency's process, and if the designer or agency doesn't stand firm, there's usually no going back.
  • The client doesn't understand what they're asking for. They may have never handled a project in the discipline they've been asked to manage. The process you've been tasked to take them through baffles them (branding and web design being the usual suspects). Questions about their business strategy, business process, brand positioning, and sales methodology percolate out of your design work and open new areas they haven't grappled with fully. The design brief may become invalid partially through a project and require scrapping progress and starting over--something every client loves to hear.

While these kinds of situations often seem an inevitable part of a designer's life, they can be eased by making sure that you do the following:

  • You have properly researched and digested the business problem in the creative brief. And by digested, I mean that you've thought through, validated, and proposed focused solutions for the client's business problem in advance of any design work. Without the proper context and frame around the business problem, your design won't hold as much weight in the client's mind. In advance of writing the brief, you may need the client to fill out an intake questionnaire that fully examines the kinds of things clients may not have thought through (such as brand positioning and sales process methodologies).
  • You devise and keep to a workflow during your entire project--and make your client continually aware of the schedule and their ongoing responsibilities. If the client doesn't know they're on the hook and accountable through the entire creative project, you have no authority to make demands when things go sideways, both in pushing schedules out and in asking for more money. On the flip side, if you haven't properly planned your project out and uncover all the unknown variables, you're on the hook if it impacts your bottom line.
  • You keep within the boundaries of the proposal. I have fond memories of developing elaborate pitches at big agencies to try and land projects ($20K time investment). Then, when the work actually came in, we'd show five concepts instead of three at the first round, and then produce an extra brochure design or two if we were feeling nice ($5K). Most smaller creative agencies and solo designers can't afford to throw this kind of money out the window, and it trains clients to have expectations of their design firms that exceed the boundaries of profitability and professionalism.

Strangely, the larger the project, the more that the actual process of designing almost seems to be a mere fraction of the work necessary to make clients happy.

What are points of failure you've had in your design projects? What did you discover in the process that made you a better designer and a better businessperson?