So you work in a studio set-up and an exciting (or not) project just came your way. You get all pumped up and jump on a running train with your laptop and confidence. You start off feeling gifted, radiant…excitement oozing out of you. Everything feels fresh and challenging — a new opportunity (to prove your metal).
But a few weekends down the line, either you have nailed it or… Shit starts to slip away from your not-so-tight grip (use your visualisation skills)!!! 3 So what do you do? Damage control? Escape? Quit? or pull everything back together like superwoman?
I have had many odd situations like these and project by project, as a lone UX designer handling the wild elephant, I have learned a few tricks of the trade. I always wished somebody just handed me a manual with steps on how to unlock and deliver great project. But since that didn’t happen, I am going to make one for those who have landed here. These are very real learnings, which are more to do with management of design, the on ground techniques.
Please Note: I am no Design Lama (the Dalai Lama of desing...obv), but I do believe that sharing experiences can really really make a difference for those who are seeking better ways.
A lot of my learning boils down to the way we begin the project. If it starts well, if the foundation is laid correctly, things seem to be smoother on the path ahead. Of course it is not as easy as it sounds, often there are too many stakeholders involved and you have no say in things, your are probably not even in the sphere of influence. Despite all these possibilities, some things always work, some steps should always be taken. Here are what I believe (on a broader level), some must do’s for your own clarity:
Rule 1 — Take your first step backward
Do not directly jump into execution. Take your first pause right at the beginning. Get a grip on the stage at which you are entering the project.
So basically think about things like…
Is it a redesign or a new product ? Have you joined mid-way or is it a new project from scratch? Are you expected to redesign just parts of it, do a complete re-design? Are you taking a hand-over from someone…what’s their take on the project? Who was designing it before you? Who is developing it? How are they developing it? What is your role? Who is the influencer, who is the decision maker?
Once you have some idea of what you are entering, you can start planning
Rule 2— Understand the end-goal
Ask them what is it that they expect out of the exercise. Sometimes they may share a very potential and exciting long-term vision, sometimes it may turnout to be mundane and shitty. Sometimes they don’t really have any vision or an end goal, in such situations you must push them to create goals, help them do it.
Rule 3— Align your strategy with theirs
Once you know what stage the project is at and what the end deliverable is, create your own execution strategy. How would you reach the defined end-goal with your method? If there is a gap between your strategy and theirs , figure out how both of you can be on the same page based on what their priorities are. Ease out the conflicts in your head. If you are lucky, you will get exposed to their business strategy along with digital strategy and that…my friend is a good learning for any designer.
If they are counting on you for a digital strategy —read a better article. :D.
Rule 4— Know that you don’t know.
Design is an ever changing industry so there will be times when you will not be aware of how to go about doing things, or you make lack certain expertise. While it is important to be confident so that the client gains trust in you, it is always better to tell them that you might need some time to figure things out. And then do whatever it takes to get a solution.
A boat with holes can not float for ever. Only if the boat knew it had issues, it would have sealed itself on time and then ensured that it reached the destination. Be that boat.
Be very reflective of yourself, careful about the words you say. Do you really know what you are talking about? are you skilled enough to do this, or did words just slip away to impress?
Rule 4— Be dumb at times.
Dumb business questions can lead to really relevant design questions. So ask dumb questions, your mind will process all of that and churn out better questions and even better solutions. By being sure about the silliest of things, your fundamentals get really strong.
Also do your homework well, there is a very thin line between gathering information and annoying the hell out of your client.
Rule 5— Gain professional trust with the first few deliveries
This is a very critical step. If you do all of the above but end-up not delivering something great on time, the first few times esp. you will be judged for the wrong reasons post that. Just avoid this at all cost. On the other hand, if they feel happy with your first delivery, they are sure to become more flexible post that. Establish the fact that you respect their vision, time and money. Define that you are a disciplined professional who is here to make it happen. And be that person.
Step 7 — Be brave like a bull.