Using The Design Process to Resolve Project Conflicts

Every designer has worked on a project that has had moments of frustration. Some frustrations are common and have become part of design lore. The client who changes the direction of the project late in the game; the client who can’t leave the content alone and makes multiple revisions right up to the deadline; the new stakeholder who’s brought in late in the game and changes the direction at the last minute. For designers, these are more than just bumps in the road. They represent wasted time, money and effort. Common frustrations include:

• Running off in the wrong direction
• Rework/constant updates
• Changing direction midstream
• A new stakeholder signing onto the project late
• Clients playing designer

Learn how to provide web design project leadership from research all the way through testing in Dave Holston's new HOW U Course: Managing a Web Design Project.Learn more here!

Learn how to provide web design project leadership from research all the way through testing in Dave Holston’s new HOW U Course: Managing a Web Design Project.
Learn more here!

These frustrations are not only irritating, but in some cases they are the difference between doing average work and doing great work. Although frustrations like these cannot be eliminated, they can be managed. Identifying potential areas of frustration and prioritizing the ones that are the most costly and have the highest probability of happening can help designers focus on what needs to be addressed first.

Design by its nature is a risky endeavor. Designers make things and express complicated ideas in ways that have never been seen before. So how do designers manage risk while developing new and exciting works?

Design process uses several controls in the project so that designer and client can check their alignment. Design briefs are created at the beginning of the process and act as a scope-of-work document, including basic project specifications, information about voice and tone, and positioning. Along with the brief, sign-offs placed at critical junctures help preserve alignment and minimize frustration. Along with these tools, there are methods of working that promote alignment from stakeholders.

Design process offers several tools for managing project frustrations.

The Design Brief

By developing the brief with the client’s help, the designer creates a guide for how to proceed that can be shared with all stakeholders. As an alignment tool, the brief documents direction—taking some of the subjectivity out of the design process.

The design brief is a very important control tool. By outlining the direction with stakeholders and documenting it, designers create accountability for all involved in the project. By having the brief in writing and accessible to all, clients are less likely to make costly and time-consuming changes later in the design process.

The Sign-Off

Along with the design brief, sign-offs at specific times during the process help check progress so that designer and client are in sync on status before committing time and effort toward a particular direction. Sign-offs are usually done before and after the concept phases, so designers can confirm a general direction before executing the concept.

“I have the client sign off on the project brief before I get started with the design process,” says Jose Nieto, principal and creative director of the design firm square zero. “That allows us to deal with any misconceptions that I might have with the project from the beginning. So if there’s any problem in what I interpreted, it’s dealt with before the project starts.”

This article was excerpted from Dave Holston’s book “The Strategic Designer.”To get detailed instruction from Holston about how managed the design process for web projects, sign up for his new HOW University course Managing A Web Design Project from Start to Finish.