The Importance of Having a Solid Design Process
When your design process is fluid, consistent and easy,
it makes all projects and clients a lot dreamier.
‘Design process’ is a term we often hear thrown around in this industry. Processes, processes process. Systems, systems, systems. Yawn, yawn yawn. But hold up, because having a refined process for design projects puts the designer in the driver’s seat (as the expert) and the clients in the passenger seat (to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride). It establishes concrete timelines, deliverables, responsibilities, and boundaries. It’s been crucial to the success of any project we work on here at Function, and also crucial to bringing in new clients.
Back up. What is a ‘design process’?
Your design process is the experience that you are providing to your clients. It’s everything from project inquiry through to wrapping up a project and sending the client off into the big, scary world with all they need to succeed. And processes do change pretty significantly from designer to designer.
Some designers may take multiple months to work through an entire brand project, while others who may only take on 1 client at a time for a hyper-focused period and may be able to work through the same project scope in 2 weeks instead. It varies and if you’re someone on the lookout to hire a designer, studio, or agency, it’s important to understand what each design process entails in order for you to make the best decision for your timeline, budget, and needs.
Here's a quick glance at our own process here at Function:
They just need a logo. Why does the process matter?
As designers, we’ve all heard this before. The design process is what will determine how fluid and easy the project feels for a client from the very first interaction through until the end of the project.
We want to make sure all of our clients feel understood and very taken care of here at Function. One of the ways we do this is by getting on a consultation call with potential clients so that we can build a professional, face-to-face (or more often a screen-to-screen) relationship with that client instead of just kicking things off with impersonal emails. It’s important to us that we build trust and engage our clients in the project right from the beginning. We want to nurture a collaborative environment and let our potential clients know exactly what they can expect from us during our time together.
Your design process is also what sets you apart from other designers. You know that saying about people not always remembering what you said, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel, right? That is important here.
Clients are not immersed in the design world. They don’t live and breathe design trends, design jargon and design fails like we do. They’re hiring designers because they need an expert. Because design is perhaps a little foreign to them, it’s 100% our role in the client/designer relationship to make sure all clients understand what’s happening at any given point, understand expectations and are guided through their project in a way that makes them feel thrilled to have made it out without any scuffs, bruises or scrapes. When that happens, (we hope) they are elated and so excited to share their new brand/website along with their experience with anyone who will listen. And that means better referrals.
Ok, so what happens without a ‘design process’?
Good question, avid reader!
Without a solid process in place, here’s what could go wrong for all parties:
Timelines go askew. We’re talking a 6-week project may just turn into a 1-year ordeal. And ain’t nobody got time for that.
Project scope creep happens (AKA: more than what was initially agreed on, including too many back and forth revisions), which means that designers get very upset and clients get very frustrated. It’s bad for everyone.
Invoices increase because of scope creep, which makes clients uneasy. There’s no happy sharing of that experience, now is there?
Clients feel lost and unsure about how to respond to things, so they just don’t! We’ve all been ghosted by a client at least once, right?
Designers feel like they’re just winging it because they don’t have the right processes in place to design with intention and strategy, which leads to awkward silences when the client asks “great - but why did you choose that colour??”
Clients feel insecure and untrusting of the designer being an expert, so they micromanage every step to maintain control and that leaves the designer very cranky.
Boundaries get crossed which means designers are texting clients for feedback and clients are calling designers on Sunday morning at 7 AM for a status update on their website and then both parties want to cancel their phone plans and fire each other immediately.
Ok, those were a bit dramatic, but honestly, maybe some aren’t so far from the truth. Having a signature design process means that designers and clients can collaborate in successful and effective ways to make sure the project starts and finishes not only with respect intact, but also exceeding expectations AND on time. You better believe it.
Your signature design process IS your brand experience
As a designer of brands, we talk a whole lot about brand experience around here. We create the brand experience for our clients’ products and services. This means we are helping them craft an entire client/customer journey with every unique touchpoint someone has with their business.
Oftentimes the brand experience comes down to strategy and visuals: how people find and engage with a business, whether that’s on social media, the Google machine, by word of mouth or through another source. We help our clients to be intentional about things like who they are selling to, what position they’d like to be in the market, how they communicate, and how they want their audience to feel about their brand and business. Once we figure that out, we help them translate all of that into a kickass, trusted, professional brand design with logos, colours, fonts, imagery, graphics, patterns, packaging, newsletter templates, business cards, websites and more. This is a brand experience.
Now, as a designer, when it comes to your process, this is your brand experience. How a client finds you, reaches out to you, interacts with you, engages with you, hires you and moves through their project is your very own brand experience and it’s the determining factor in whether these clients are going to feel so amazing that they can’t wait to share everything you do with everyone around them, or if leaves them feeling kind of “meh” about the whole thing, wrapping up a project and not really thinking much of it.
As much as we preach to our clients about having a streamlined, fluid, consistent and trusting brand experience, we need to embrace our own if we want to propel our own businesses forward.
An amazing design process puts your marketing on autopilot
Once you can provide an experience for each one of your clients that is easy, fun, and exceeds expectations, you can absolutely expect the referral inquiries to start flowing into your inbox. We know this from experience. About 80% of our clients these days come from referrals and that’s not a coincidence! We’ve worked hard to establish a signature process that helps our clients feel very taken care of and trusting in our expertise so that each project is collaborative and successful.
Here's a peek at how our clients find us here at Function:
The other bonus of having a tried-and-true design process in place: we don’t have to worry about falling behind on promoting our services or finding new work because marketing is built right into our process. We don’t finish a project around here until blog posts are published, portfolios are updated, graphics are shared and client feedback forms are received. This literally puts our marketing plan on autopilot.
So, if you’re a designer and you’ve made it this far in the post, that must mean you’re serious about getting serious. And, my friend, that starts with your process. Set some time aside over the next month or so to really take a close look at how your clients might feel when they are working with you through each step of the project. Better yet? Why don’t you ask some of them? Hop on a call! Send a survey! Do some of your own research into how you can make your design process so amazing that your clients can’t help but shout your name from the rooftops!
Hey, designers —
Need some support when it comes to your design process? You’re in luck!
The Function Creative Co. Design Process is a live certification program all about crafting a signature design process (AKA what they didn’t teach you in design school). If you want to learn more or be the first to know when we’re accepting applications, then be sure to join the waitlist.