Archives for March 2019

10th March 2019 - No Comments!

How to Inspire Clients / Product Teams

A bold statement I know. But I have been involved in enough agency pitches and product projects that have gone one way or another to feel like I can provide some intel that might, or might not be, useful to you.

Context: I will mention 'client' a lot. The majority of my experience is working in agencies but even within them, or when working client side, I treat those who are asking me to work with them on something as 'the client'. It could be a manager or a colleague but it helps to keep that line. They want my help to solve a problem. The process is going to involve some conversations, and some confusion as we might not understand each others language, but if we stay mindful of that fact we go through the process together and solve the problem.

Choose your battles.
I don't know if I read this, or if someone told me it, but its great advice. Work hard to turn 7s and 8s into 9s and 10s. If you have a 3 or a 4 then don't worry (too much) about turning them it into a 9 or 10 - it's not going to happen without an insane, and unprofitable, amount of work. If you are in, or leading, a team that has a lack of ambition then I'm not going to lie - its a long road and no quick wins are available to you. Decipher the problem first: Is it coming from the top or the team? Try and get inside their heads and find out what makes them tick. Work on them slowly. Bring in inspiration, share articles of success stories, show them metrics, subtly run a workshop that opens some doors.

I've worked in half a dozen or so agencies - all pretty desirable with long lists of awards for their creativity and design skills. But the truth is even they have plenty of 'money' jobs (3s and 4s). Clients who don't want cutting edge work - they just want something a bit better than their competitors. To entice them to make the leap from this mindset towards something more exciting has probably been tried and failed and it cost time/money to do so. The challenge is trying to sort these clients from the clients who are up for doing something bold. I think the best agencies I have work for acknowledge this and are clear about it to their staff and then provide ways to work around it. Keeping staff motivated who are stuck on one of these types of jobs is challenging but the best thing to do is get it done, keep it profitable, and move onto the next one. Look for those opportunities to do your best work and learn. Some of my favourite projects have been those clients who, after being made to feel like heroes, have provided awesome opportunities.

So my advice is choose your battles. Try not to make every project 10/10. That is the road to madness if you ask me.

Conversation vs Doing
Some clients (the ones I don't really like if I am honest) want you to turn up at the 1st or 2nd meeting and blow their socks off - having essentially Done the hard bit. They expect creative genius to be unleashed without anyone understanding the project. This has always irked me and is especially a problem when turning up to a pitch with some creative work in hand. It, for me anyway, usually goes one of two ways. You win the project based on some stylish yet inappropriate design jizz that just happens to be in sync with the decisions makers taste. Or you don't win it. If you are lucky to hit the bullseye on day one - it usually turns out that you find out its wrong a few weeks later and end up throwing all that effort, and a little bit of the designers' sanity, in the bin. For this reason, I will never advocate creative work being done for a pitch. You can inspire and entice without arbitrarily pushing pixels around. I also think this approach cheapens what is the most creative and valuable part of the whole project! The same can be said of internal briefs. You need to do your homework and get your context right first before diving straight in.

So what are the alternatives? You could refuse to pitch on these jobs - but if that is your bread and butter that's going to be a hard sell. My favoured approach has always been to turn up and explain your creative & production process in more detail - and be strong about it - the clients you want to win are the ones who respect this approach. The ones that just want to 'see it' are generally the clients that everyone hates.. Later down the line, they tend to be the clients that to say things like "I'll know its done when I see it" and shit like that. So yeah - do some of the initial research sure (not too much) but be clear that a project is a relationship, not just a transactional delivery. Give them some examples from other industries is always a good shout. Would a builder build a house without using their experience and digging into what you need? A crap one would. A good one wouldn't. And you would end up with a house that is likely to be unfit for purpose - or worse case be dangerous and fall down on your head. Why bother having all that experience if you just turn up and start firing random shots hoping to hit a target.

Summary: Try not to burn any bridges but have a go at moving towards a better way of doing things.

Set the goal
So you've had the conversations. You understand reason for the project and problems you need to solve. It's time to explore the creative goals.

Clearly, a good place to start. What do you like? What do they like? What are the competitors doing? What do websites, apps & projects (outside of their specific industry) look like?

This is always the beginning for me and if done well can become the bedrock for a great project & relationship. I've been asked at this stage to pin down these conversations into some sort of design brief or goal. For me, its never really worked out. The document is created and never looked at. It's a step that didn't need to be there. My favourite approach is to print out a bullet point summary alongside some mood boards and stick them up somewhere the team can see them. Take them to meetings with the client when reviewing in the future and point to them. Those are the things we agreed to aim for! Let's push towards them. It's far to easy to have a PDF hidden in an email or an Invision Board on a URL and to never see it again.

Probably my favoured approach. It's visual and you can go really deep if you need too. My tips for moodboards are to be really clear what you are showing - call it out. Is it the colour scheme, the layout, the tone of voice, the photography? Setup different moodboards and dig into each element in more detail. Get them printed out large and have your team, and/or the client, study them. If the person you are presenting too doesn't have the vocabulary to provide you with the direction needed to help them. Create a series of questions & pointers. I always try and think about how I would present this to my grandparents, a retired tax inspector and RAF engineer. They didn't go to art school and spend years of their life presenting, discussing and debating design and art. Much the same as a client or non-creative manager. They spent their time looking at excel sheets or writing essays on literature. Try and keep this in mind and not get in a huff when they can't give you the direction you need. Try and see it from their perspective and create a shared vocabulary. It cant be a little pedantic but ask what they mean by certain phrases or words.

Be clear and specific. Ask in plain english for what you need to progress.

Style Tiles
I've never had any success with style tiles - maybe I am just not a fan of the approach or I haven't had a good tutor in this area. Internally if you have a product team and they are working an agile process 'maybe' I could see it working. In the land of Agency and Client, I don't think anyone understands it. It's too meta and they don't tend to have the systems to translate style tiles to their wireframes and into a final piece.

More coming soon...
Thats the end of this ramble for now. I need to go and enjoy my weekend but I want to get this written down before my day starts 🙂