Ready To Inspire: Breandan Knowlton – Bridging The Gap Between Designers and Clients

Breandán Knowlton is a UX Designer based in The Hague. His book on Managing Web Projects is available from Five Simple Steps; he blogs at breandon.org and tweets as @bfk.

  • Will be talking about client culture, design culture, what goes into Great Work, and what to change on your new project. ‘Design’ in the broadest possible sense: Code, graphics, projects, IA, etc.
  • In web projects, you have a mass of creative people, designers of one kind or another… and then the Clients. Sometimes there are misunderstandings about each other. Are our goals the same, or can they be merged together?
  • We tend to think of clients in a specific way — suit, business, money, organisational goals. The culture of design involves looking at design constraints and finding design solutions, via creativity; be inspired, make beautiful things and good experiences. This is not how we think of clients, which is odd, because we are making products together — you need both sides. Good projects involve both kinds of thinking. We’re all people, we want the same kind of feelings out of projects: feelings of energised focus, commitment, and to enjoy the process.
  • In the best partnerships, both partners have space to do Good Work. Definition: “Enjoying doing your best while at the same time contributing to something beyond yourself.”
  • Great projects don’t depend on a single culture.; they depend on everyone working in rhythm, doing good work, being invested — in a state of Flow.
  • Creatives are really good at understanding Flow. More of our web projects could be closer to a state of encouraging flow — and you can control this. Flow just needs three things, and you can create all of them. 1. Immediate feedback. 2. A balance of capability and challenge. 3. Clear goals and progress.
  • For immediate feedback: Work in short cycles. You do something, you see it. This should be easy for designers; you code something and see the effect immediately, whether you’re a software developer, web developer, or visual designer. Social feedback cycles are also short (e.g. Dribbble) — a feedback loop is built into our design cycle. It is harder for clients because they don’t work in the same space. If you put them in charge of content and imagery, it gives them the chance to see their words appearing on screen and creates a feedback loop they are part of. User Testing, which is something we need as part of the design process, can also create a nice feedback loops for clients, helping to bring them into the project.
  • To balance capability and challenge: Both clients and designers spend too much time not being challenged due to their high skill level. To move into a state of Flow, designers tend to increase the level of challenge and set ourselves new goals. The best position to be in is High Challenge, High Skills. We create challenges for ourselves all the time – we started creating responsive, adaptive, elastic grids even before the client asked us to. We’ve pushed web standards in the same way (HTML5, CSS3). The question is how can you challenge the clients so they can experience that same exhilaration of being on the edge of something. Challenge them to know their customers/audience better; to write good copy; to do meaningful research. Even if you have brilliant copywriters, IAs, etc. on the project, you can still assign a lot of work to the client that requires them to ramp up their skill set and gets them engaged and in a state of Flow.
  • Clear Goals. We all like to see where we are. Design culture has a set of goals, client culture has set of goals, and they’re not always the same. For designers, getting paid, preparing for the next gig, portfolios, awards, and learning may be goals. For clients goals may be related to customers and their needs, financial impact, and changes in internal processes. Find goals to agree on: Reflecting the value of an organisation, creating measurable value, finishing the project on time/budget. But be aware that goals are pulling in different directions.
  • Time for action. Here’s what I challenge you to change on your next project: Bring the client into your Flow. Make the short feedback cycles stretch across both designer and client, build in the magnitude of challenge that requires building new skills, increases the amount of challenge, and pushes the client closer to something they are truly engaged in. Recognise that people on the project have different goals. The result: Designer and Client are both in a state of Flow. Both invested. Both learning. Both experiencing the spontaneous joy of creating. It drives what we do.
  • Result: You can do Good Work together; something that neither could create alone.
  • Projects make us super-human. When we start working together, we can build things that are meaningful and big. Create conditions so that everyone involved can have the same sense of excitement.
  • Go do some work that you’re proud of! Find good clients, teach them what they need, and bring them along. Create the conditions where we can find spontaneous and wonderful joy in what we do.

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