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«Return to Blog List Design Team Roles for Best Results

DOH! We recently had a glitch on a logo/web design project for which I take complete responsibility. Knowing the client was anxious to get the website completed, I tried to shortcut the logo design phase. Oh sure, we gathered all the information, took careful notes about the company, its competitors, its products, and its markets and market challenges. But we skipped the part where we crystallize those notes into a Design Specification document, and get agreement that the design spec represents an accurate assessment of the client’s needs. And we skipped talking about the roles we all play in the design process.

As a result, we soon had a client who was directing us to make the font bigger, and make it skinny, and…you get the idea. Fortunately, I work with a writer who has a talent for telling everyone how things are going to be, and we all got squared away and went back to work in our proper roles, working from a design spec she pulled together in record time. And we’re all still friends. Totally dodged a bullet.

So what are the roles that make for a productive design team? In this case, there were 3 roles: the client, the copywriter, and the designer.

The client

The client’s role is pretty straightforward, really. They need to tell us what we need to know about their business and markets. When we come back with a design spec, they need to tell us where we got it right and where and how we got it wrong, and help clear up any misunderstanding or miscommunication revealed in the spec. Before we can design a logo that represents their company, we all need to feel comfortable that we understand what the logo should communicate. The design spec serves as a "communication blueprint," identifying critical messages and priorities. When we return with logo options, the client uses the design spec as a basis for evaluating them. That nearly always elevates the conversation above the "can you make the font bigger" discussions. If it doesn’t avoid them altogether, it at least gives you something to pull the discussion back to.

The copywriter

Copywriters are not always included on a design team, but whenever possible, I like to work with a copywriter from the beginning of a design project. We can coordinate written and visual messages better, and it gives me someone to bounce design ideas off. I’ve learned to welcome criticism from writers at this stage, because it often saves me from going down a design path that doesn’t stick to the design spec. As "word people," writers can discuss concepts and represent their perspectives in ways that can give a designer new insight. And when it comes to client presentations, knowing you’ve been held to agreed upon messages is invaluable. If you’re fortunate, you will also (like me) get to work with a writer who can fix any mistakes you make in working with clients.

The designer

The designer’s role is to take all the words—questions and answers, explanations, conceptualizations, confusion, clarifications, technical info, artsy-fartsy hyperbole and half-baked ideas—and spin them into visual gold. Something from which people in a client’s market can derive some useful information about the company; something that gives them the assurance that this is a company they should get to know more about. I wish I could explain how that happens. ;-)

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2 Responses to Design Team Roles for Best Results

  1. Ray Gulick says:

    Michael –
    Might as well call her by name: Ellen Cline in Albuquerque. Glad you were fortunate enough to work with her.
    Ray

  2. Ray:

    I have worked with the copywriter mentioned in your post for over 20 years, and she is the best! I affectionately refer to her as the “General”. When she works with clients on writing website copy or collateral material, she is laser focused, meticulously detailed and incredibly talented at grasping and blending concepts and perspectives with the “right” words. Earlier in our working relationship, she stressed the importance of getting the copywriter and designer involved in the “beginning” of projects (e.g., website design and copy, collateral materials, press releases, etc.); you will avoid lots of problems, time delays, turf wars and money. But of course, that’s only if you step outside yourself and retain the “General”.