Improve Workflow, Quiet Creative Chaos

It seems like a simple idea: Improve workflow to stop feeling overwhelmed. But when you are in the throes of creative chaos, making workflow changes seems like just another thing to add to the to-do list. That’s part of the reason why chief marketing officer Bryan Nielson is thrilled to introduce designers to AtTask.

In this guest post, Nielson talks about all the ways creatives can feel buried in projects and tells the tale of one HOWie who used AtTask to improve her team’s performance. Read his post below, and for even more project management solutions, check out the resources at My Design Shop.

Bryan Nielson

Bryan Nielson

No one can argue that technology has made it easier than ever before for creatives to complete projects: Photoshop, Illustrator, AutoCAD, Quark, Macs, iPads, 3-D printers—the list goes on. Yet at the same time, technology has also spawned endless ways to receive projects.

Whereas assignments used to come via sticky notes or drop-by visits, receiving projects is nothing short of drinking from a fire hose: e-mails, instant messages, text messages, Facebook messages, conference calls, Skype chats—another list that goes on and on. Not only are these requests coming from a variety of vehicles, but also a number of different sources, from team members to executives. To continue the analogy, it makes every workday akin to a fire drill, with deadlines arriving unexpectedly, often with drastic consequences.

Even the most organized person is stretched in his ability to juggle everything. In the daily bombardment of requests, it can be difficult to identify what takes priority and not confuse what was heard last as what is most important. There is a huge difference between projects that actually move the needle and impact the bottom line and ones that are simply pet projects.

I hope all designers who have read this far are nodding in agreement. Of course, every environment is different, but in my experience working with everyone from small startups to Microsoft, this seems to be a constant. It is unfortunate that the chaos of project management can actually impede people from being able to do their best work. When more time is invested fielding, managing and tracking down requests, that means less time spent designing and creating.

These were the uncomfortable shoes Erin Frey found herself in last year. As creative director at House of Blues Entertainment, she and her small team of two are responsible for handling incoming design requests from all House of Blues and LiveNation venues nationwide, which includes everything from fliers and menus to bus wraps and billboards. With her head barely above water, it was becoming increasingly more difficult for Frey to have full visibility into all of her team’s activities.

Frey recently presented at HOW Design Live 2013 and talked about how she and her team turned the tide and earned the ability to say “no” in their department. Once drowning in work, Frey could now show up to meetings with concrete numbers and status updates, literally showing how busy her team is in no uncertain terms. Because they were no longer constantly distracted or worrying about whether a file uploaded successfully or work was reviewed in a timely manner, the creative services team could focus on what they were hired to do: finding fresh ways to visually communicate the live music experience.

What allowed them to stop being “yes” men and women? A software tool called AtTask, which takes care of the “left brain” work so people like Frey can spend more time in the right side of their brains. Interestingly enough, once Frey’s team was armed with the evidence to push back, they found they were so on top of things that there was no need to. In designing AtTask, we wanted to empower people to take ownership of their work, collaborate openly and receive recognition for their accomplishments.

Work does not have to be synonymous with hell. The pain points and bottlenecks in creative workflows can be eliminated to allow creative types to spend the most time doing the fun parts of their jobs. Even in project management, there’s an art to creating a beautiful piece of work(flow).


Have you entered one of HOW’s design competitions this year? If not, you still have an opportunity to pit your best work against designers from around the globe in the HOW International Design Awards. The deadline to enter is Sept. 16, so don’t delay!

HOW International Design Awards