Yes, OK… Easy headline, obvious topic!
Everyone knows communication is important in any business. How information, ideas and opinions are transmitted through a company structure is pretty much where your business is going to live or die.
Even if your organisation is gifted (or cursed) with a single minded visionary (or control freak) MD, the information still has to flow to the right people at the right time. If it doesn’t, nothing of consequence will get done.
Now comes the interesting bit. How do in-house creatives survive the communication problem? I think this is a massively overlooked issue in the design world.
If you’re used to a studio or freelance existence, projects generally seem to be more or less nicely packaged and at least vaguely prepared (after all, they’re on the clock!) and feedback probably comes from a single point of contact who makes the decision themselves, or goes back and gets sign-off from their managers. Of course, we all know of legions of problems and disasters in this world, but outsourcing does usually do one great thing: It separates the creative part of the project from the merry-go-round of corporate meetings, decision making and internal politics required to decide what, when and how a project will be attempted.
Now, the bad news.
You may think it is MORE difficult to communicate about an outsourced project. You may think that the very reason a project is done in-house is to alleviate any issues and misunderstandings of your brand, message or market.
Nope, unfortunately not.
In most cases, the reason that design is done in-house is NOT due to a company wanting to streamline communication and decision making. And it isn’t about a company believing wholeheartedly in its design team so they can nurture the creative process and make beautiful, carefully considered design the centrepiece of their very existence.
The reason design is done in-house is so that anyone in the company hierarchy can quickly CHANGE THEIR MIND and have a say at ANY point in the process… without having to email back and forth with a external agency. Simple.
This is where things become problematic. All the vested interests in a project can meet and form opinions in parallel to the projectentering the design phase. The scope of a project can instantly change, the targeted customers can vary and messages can be altered… And this will happen all the way up to when a project is output, and beyond. Great!
A company may deal with this by having a solid process to communicate changes back to the designers at every sordid twist and turn. But this isn’t good communication; this is just painting the rotten wood with more expensive paint. (And, of course, most companies WON’T have these processes.)
Perhaps a business thinks that creative mind-changing is somehow more nimble, fleet of foot and will allow them to outmanoeuvre the competition. Perhaps a company relies on doing the ground work later when they are more “focused” on the end result. Or perhaps they believe they can only ever decide on a project when it’s fully realised: they just can’t operate conceptually.
The underlying problem is that a company has lost the ability to make decisions and communicate them effectively to a creative team. They can’t write a proper brief. Your organisation has become incapable of properly researching, identifying and sticking to decisions at the very start of a project because they think it will be better to keep a warped, schizophrenic running commentary on the design process (that may well pass for “good communication” if you are misguided enough to believe you are doing “fine”).
At best: Design decisions by committee (always good!); Lots of changes to a project; Little time spent on a sub-standard final design (compared to a million mock-ups and other possible ideas); Exhausted design team.
At worst: Chinese whisper feedback; Abandoned or withdrawn items after someone sees the final product; Design team subsumed by the politics and machinations of board level dim-wittery.
How could it be done better?
Now there’s a question. Without writing far too much here, I would simply say “Get the design team involved in the research stage of a project. Get them mocking up designs BEFORE the brief is written”. It probably seems like a massive waste of time to the companies involved, but THIS is the real advantage with having an in-house team. USE IT.