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Cognition

Plan for the Unplanned

Leading up to the design phase of a project, we devote a lot of thinking to setting the project’s core goals and requirements, as well as establishing a basic plan for how the project will flow. During this time, on my team, we ask as many questions as possible and learn as much as we can before we present a strategy to the client. In the end, everyone agrees on what the goals are, but how those goals will be realized is yet to be determined.

Design takes time—time to think, brainstorm, and try things that might not work, and then time to package all of that thinking into a deliverable. Once we have that artifact, we share it with clients, and then they go through a very similar process. Our clients aren’t only looking at color palettes and page layouts; they review and process all of the ideas and recommendations behind every design decision. Reviewing and understanding design takes time too, as does assessing if the ideas presented will ultimately meet the project goals and jive with the client’s internal workflow.

We’re currently working on a project where we started out with set delivery dates for our designs, with structured time allotted for feedback and neatly planned rounds of revisions. As we started the design process, though, we quickly realized our original plan could use tweaking. We sat down with the client and revised our tactics. Instead of delivering a ton of design thinking all at once, we broke down our deliverables into much smaller batches—“checkpoints”—that allowed our team to present its thinking more frequently and also get more immediate feedback from the client. The sooner we presented our ideas, the sooner the client could validate and provide feedback, which meant we weren’t wasting time producing additional designs that weren’t going to cut it. Quicker client feedback meant we could make adjustments as we worked and roll revisions into future deliveries.

Figuring out the best way to collaborate with clients over the course of a project is key, and that doesn’t mean you set it and forget it. Sometimes the plan agreed upon at the start of the project works perfectly; sometimes it doesn’t. And that’s okay—tactics can be revised. The best approach for presenting design deliverables and getting feedback from the client depends on the project, but getting feedback sooner is never a bad thing. More frequent checkpoints and better communication leads to the best possible design thinking and a stronger finished product. Collaborating with clients on the process as well as the product means you’ll find the best way to achieve the goals you set out to accomplish.

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