Creative work like web design can be a project manager’s nightmare. Subjective, unquantifiable work can be a real challenge and test a performance driven project manager. Here are some tips and tools to achieve the right business aims with design projects, whilst still creating beautiful designs.
Web design projects that go on for three years…budgets are but a distant dream… disgruntled designers forced to work overtime to finish off a design before heads will roll. Sound familiar? One way to avoid this rookie web design project mistake is to set out a realistic plan for the project from day one. Realise that the likelihood of creative work running over means that you will need to be conservative with promises. Your three maxims:
Don’t ever let a designer walk out of a meeting and not have a clear design brief- preferably in writing, as it must be something that can be referred to later. Be realistic with the brief length and adjust it according to project size, but make sure there is always one to hand.
Make sure design time is logged accurately against the project aims, including any planning, research and brainstorming time. You can’t just ask a designer to ‘design’ without allowing them the headspace to actually create something. Realise that creative work needs time to breathe, and that your designer will probably need to go off and work on other projects to get some perspective every now and then. There are some great online tools like Toggl which allow designers to track their design time as they go along, segmenting off different phases of the project.
A web project is a huge collaborative intellectual and creative effort. As a project manager, it is your responsibility to make sure your developers, copywriters, designers and account directors all talk to each other and share ideas. Designers will need to have a creative feedback loop with developers and writers to make sure their ideas are possible, and account directors have to bring the client’s requirements to the table. Online team sharing tools like Basecamp and Trello facilitate the creative process and give everyone full visibility on a project; Asana and Bitrix are other popular project management tools used by designers. Make sure everyone is logging in regularly, updating their work and also talking to each other outside of these online platforms. Arrange team meetings and huddles to keep everyone in the loop.
Make sure Your Designer Gets the Right Feedback
So you have gone into the client meeting with the wireframes, and the feedback is that something needs to be changed. It is your job to make sure that your designer gets the correct (coherent) feedback so that they can then make the required changes. Take notes, ask for soundbites or get your designer involved in the meeting if you can. At this stage of the process, it is far healthier (and cost-effective) to have an honest conversation, than venturing down the wrong design route because of unclear feedback.
A web workman needs the right tools. It might frustrate you when creatives like designers regularly request new software and tools, but trust us: you are better off giving into them. Paying a little bit more for some licenced software is a smart investment. Investing in your designer will pay off when project completion times fall and job satisfaction soars.
Testing & Sandboxing
Another good reason for collaboration, a good web design will need plenty of prototyping & testing. There are online tools such as Invision that will allow designers to test out their designs, but always get a developer’s perspective on the design too. You don’t want to let a creative project run out of control before realizing the design cannot be implemented. Make sure you test desktop, tablet and mobile designs on a range of devices to get a full usability picture. If you can, get some user testing on your designs to see how people actually interact with them.
An online business will also need design assets for social media, and may even require some creative packaging designs in order to package up any ecommerce products in a way that’s consistent with the overall brand. Make sure that any graphic design assets are consistent with the web design, and vice versa. Otherwise you may end up having to take a rather expensive trip to the printers…
On a larger design project, schedule in formal meetings to help ascertain where the project is going and help you diagnose any early signs of trouble. Schedule the meetings in from day one and be flexible with timing, but don’t let them slide. As well as informal huddles and team shares, larger meetings will encourage people to get more serious about the project.
You are there to take the heat off the production team. A lot of your role will be to facilitate communication, provide support and shield designers from the elements of the project that are going to interfere with the creative process. Make sure that you are project managing effectively and not delegating inessential admin tasks to the wrong people. The key to your leadership success will be your ability to recognize people’s strengths and use their talents wisely. Don’t let bad project management dilute your team, product and service.
What do you think is the most challenging element of managing a web design project and why? Share your thoughts with me below.