The design process is often complex, sometimes joyous and perhaps even surprising! Every project has a path that can meander in a multitude of interesting ways before it comes to fruition.
But one thing should be true in the vast majority of projects:
Design is a collaboration – NOT a top-down tick-box tutorial!
Any time a project includes more than one person, then you are collaborating! I’ve seen many different beliefs about how creative collaborations should take place (both within a company and beyond) and the ones that work are the situations where individuals trust and respect other opinions and are treated as sensible adults.
“But surely that’s obvious”, you say?
Well you’d be suprised!
A studio or design-led department schooled in a ‘design’ mindset will (or should!) know exactly how to set up that creative and collaborative atmosphere …but outside of these fringe cases there is a tremendous amount of what I could call ‘cluelessness‘!
The problem is this:
A design process led by an administrator, accountant or company ‘secretariat’ will focus on the pure and simple ‘ticking of boxes’.
These folks may tend to revel in their lack of design knowledge (or that “arty, farty stuff”) but are good at having opinions (and as we all know, design is all about opinions… and no one is really ‘right’!)
Perhaps their only first-hand experience of dealing with feedback on creative ideas and ‘collaboration’ will be waaaaay back when teacher marked their work at school. This leads to a tendency to fall back on this bizarre muscle-memory of feedback as ‘marking’ when they approach the design process.
And no relationship that involves you ‘marking’ anotherfully grown adult’s ideas as ‘school-work’ WILL EVER WORK!
And worse, I’ve seen many a project (even at the early ideas stage) actually taken away by these administrators, discussed in private, and then fed-back via emails and chinese whispers that indirectly get back to the designers!
“Whoooa! You’re kidding right?”
Unfortunately no! Nothing of any worth will come out of a process like this. It will be stifled, bland and adhere to the lowest common denominator of creative thinking. Good ideas will struggle to survive because they are strangled by a deliberately ignorant and heavy-handed tick-box mentality from the very start of the project.
And this is happening in sooooo many of those medium size companies that are both big enough to have multiple departments, but not big enough to give any freedoms to those departments.
“But hang on, a good design process does include some harsh criticism; and boxes-to-tick, right?”
Design is ALL about feedback, and consultation, and criticism, and bouncing ideas of everyone you can find. And you’ve GOT to get the appropriate sign-off and proofing of ideas and final designs. Just don’t let that sign-off control the entire system. Sign-off should be part of the collaborative process, with sound reasoning and honest, face-to-face converations about where you are headed and what you are all striving for.
Design is the freedom of NOT being afraid of failure and experimentation. Even in the most buttoned-up, confused and straight laced company it can STILL be about the freedom to let a process produce something that is both beautiful, elegant AND on-brand.