Tips For a Smoother Design Process…
To have a smoother design process with better results, fewer revisions and issues, here are some steps to take.
1. On the client side, designate an internal project manager at your company who will ultimately be responsible for managing the project, the vendor(s), the feedback and final approvals. Having one point person sets up internal accountability and also provides the agency with one person to work with on an ongoing basis, minimizing confusion and errors. If your company is small, then you should also have a back up person. Both the project manager and backup person should be detail oriented, familiar with the internal process of facilitating approvals and providing graphics or other information in a timely manner.
2. The agency or design firm will also supply a project manager. The project manager will be dependent upon your internal team to supply images, content, creative brief, instructions, approvals and feedback in an organized and timely fashion.
3. Determine who is responsible for content development at your company. Is the client (your business) developing the content? If so they need to provide it in a Word document proofed and ready to go. If the client supplies sloppy content that hasn’t been proofed, it’s not the agency’s responsibility for any mistakes in the final content. Ultimately it is the client’s responsibility to have one quality control person who proofreads and approves the final content before it’s sent to press.
If the client wants the agency to develop the content, they need to supply an outline, target audience and any other relevant information so that the agency has one document about the project to work from. This document is referred to as a creative brief. Without this creative brief, projects can easily go off track. It also protects the client and the agency by providing a paper trail showing the original intention of the project, the process and the final product.
4. How many people are involved with approvals and who is the final approval person for any outgoing or outbound print piece(s)? Approvals by committee don’t work. The more people involved in the process, the longer the project will take. If you have a large group of stakeholders, designate one person on your team in house to be the project manager (as we stated before. They are responsible for obtaining approvals and gathering feedback, synthesizing it into one cohesive document that the agency can use. Often companies have several people in the creative and content loop, and that is fine, but having them all on email to weigh in on projects in development isn’t a good process. Instead have your internal project manager send the product to the team and have them gather and synthesize the feedback. Conflicting feedback wastes time and causes unnecessary confusion for all parties.
5. Approvals. It’s approved…. But Wait…. I need this change after I have approved this design project! In order for the agency and clients to work together they have to have a protocol, otherwise the entire project will be chaotic. The process for approvals is as follows: 1) work is presented. 2) client must supply feedback in a timely manner 24-72 hours or 7 working days for a large company 3) the feedback must be concise and the final feedback. In other words, sending feedback, then sending more feedback 2 days later isn’t an efficient way to work and it can also cost additional time and money. It’s up to the client to rein in their team and decide who’s feedback will help move the project along. If there is someone on the team who has trouble making decisions, or who likes to turn in decisions after the fact, just offer them a chance to provide feedback by a certain date otherwise their feedback won’t be included. The clients are usually the ones responsible for adding costs and time to projects.
The agency and the client need to be in alignment about approvals. Once something is approved, then any changes will be additional. Once something is approved and sent to press, or a website created based upon an approval, the client needs to understand and take responsibility for their approvals. Something that goes to press approved by the client, the client is responsible for the fees for that print project even if they decided to make a change after it went to press. When items go to press, or on a website once the programming starts, it’s too late to make changes. With websites there can be exceptions, but the client should operate under the assumption always that once they approve something it’s done.
6. Final product. Who is your internal quality control person? Who vets and proofreads all content for punctuation, grammar, style, accuracy, etc. and gives it the final stamp of approval? Once products are approved for printing by the company, any errors, typos are the responsibility of the company and not the agency. If the agency sent a proof that wasn’t the one approved by the client to press, then it’s the agency’s fault and they may have to work with you to cover the expenses to reprint. However, if the company approved the materials for printing and they were sent to press, the company is responsible if they later find issues such as typos, or other issues that it was their responsibility to find beforehand.
7. A word about timelines. A comfortable timeline for a project with content is 5-10 working days. That gives the client and agency time to work with the concepts, copy and design. It also allows for changes. Although agencies can turn on a dime, if clients regularly request things as a rush without paying rush, eventually your company will be asked to pay rush charges. By having a schedule and plan of your activities and trade shows, the agency may be able to predict some materials that you may need and offer some suggestions before you do. Think of the agency as a partner that can use their expertise to save you money, but also work with them to plan so you get the best results.
8. Revisions. Changes versus fixes. If clients revise materials, these are client changes and may require additional fees. If there are typos that agency added, then these are fixes. Fixes the agency is responsible for changes the client may be asked to pay for. Agencies try to work with clients to minimize changes, but each time a designer touches a file or opens up the work it requires time and all of the design elements to work with. Because clients aren’t familiar with the process, they are not aware of the steps in the process. Try to have your content and concept firm before you send it to the agency. And make sure you understand how many revisions are included before you will be charged for changes. If you don’t have a concept or content then you may need to pay an additional fee for the agency to do a few versions or comps for a presentation. This is especially important on flat or fixed project bids.
Frequently companies misjudge the vendor versus employee responsibility. The company may want the vendor or agency to be a vendor and outside resource and to pay only the minimum fee to maintain their expertise, but then they also raise expectations to the vendor or agency, to have continuous availability with fast deadlines without the information required. These types of situations start to resemble the duties of a full time employee or staff member with actual staff responsibilities. When asking a vendor to be sole approval for a product, for example, they won’t be able to, because it is the company’s responsibility and the vendor won’t want to take the liability.
The client needs to formally approve the final product. The vendor can offer feedback or advice, but the client needs to approve final product. When companies and vendors work closely for long periods of time, the lines can get blurred, but the agency is an outside resource to your company. Set up your internal processes (no matter if you are a small or large company) as outlined this way and both you and the agency will achieve the best results. If your company doesn’t have an internal Marketing Director, Marketing Manager, or Communications Manager, traffic coordinator (for ads for example), copyeditor, copyeditor, or print production manager (and this includes estimating as well as managing the printing), then these responsibilities need to clearly defined by the estimate and scope of work as to who’s responsible and how to most efficiently and economically handle these responsibilities, because some of these responsibilities may not be in the agency’s scope of work and may require additional fees.
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