Agility vs. The Big Reveal

20 May 2020  •  ,

I wanted to write a pretty casual post about my working style because it’s been bouncing around my head a lot the last couple of weeks!

First, let me set the scene…

If you’ve been a creative on Instagram or Pinterest, there are a million and one posts on how to boost productivity and make the most of your time, and I’ve probably tried them all.

In fact, I started this week dead set on trying the method of blocking out certain days for certain related tasks. I thought I’d have a day of admin, a day of blog post writing, a day of design work. But, you know, Thursday is my shopping day, and oh, I need to sort out a new bank account, and actually I want to start this new project right away. The next thing I knew, my plan was completely out the window.

And it was only 12:04pm on Monday.

The big reveal

Not to make it all about Instagram and Pinterest, but these two platforms have definitely changed the way independent designers work. It’s brought processes to the forefront and made everyone want to look their shiniest. A lot of this seems to revolve around some sort of big reveal of finalised concepts to their client.

I used to do this, both in my agency work and freelance projects. I’d work for ages on something, then do a big reveal when I figured it was “finished.” Of course, in an ideal world, your client will proclaim “it’s perfect!” and swoon into a graceful arc on their chaise longue, singing your praises and sobbing about how they ever did anything without you. It’s the dream, and I’m not saying it never happens, but I’ve learned to prefer when it doesn’t.

I think if you have a real, honest and open relationship with your client, they are going to be more likely to provide feedback. They should want to ask questions and provide input if it’s a project that they’re passionate about. And you should want to receive that feedback if you’re passionate about your work.

If you’re presenting something that you think is finished I think a few things can happen:

  • You’re already attached to the work, and you might be closed off to feedback.
  • Your client may not feel like they can provide feedback as it’s presented as finished.
  • You increase the chances of completely missing the mark and needing to redo a lot of work. Spending hours getting the curves of a logo just right only for the client to not vibe with the concept isn’t productive!

Agile collaboration

In product and software development, we often follow a methodology known as Agile. I’ve worked in quite a few places that have used some form of Agile development or another. A lot of companies pick and choose the aspects of the method that they prefer, which I think is great. The general values of Agile software development are:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

For me, when I am working as the sole designer on a freelance project, these values become very important. Unlike in agency life, I don’t have a team around me to bounce concepts off of or get feedback from. This is something I’ve learned that I value deeply, so when I find myself in these “solo” situations, the solution is clear: my client becomes a member of my team.

So, when I’ve spent a few hours working on initial concepts, I send them a casual screenshot as things start to take place so I can receive immediate feedback. This allows me to make rapid iterations and make sure that the work aligns with the client’s vision throughout the process.

If I have a question for my client, I don’t wait to save them up for one big email, but I fling off a note as it pops into my head, the way I might message a colleague on Slack.

For me, it’s about being open, honest and collaborative so my client can say “I really hate this colour you’ve chosen” and I can say “oh god, you’re right” and we both have equal ownership of the vision we are bringing to life.

So… How do you schedule anything?

Taking this kind of approach can make it harder to stick to a schedule. Just because I have the time to send off questions and concepts to my client doesn’t mean that they will have the time to respond right away, so my daily schedule also needs to be flexible. This means that my previously mentioned attempt at blocking out specific days for specific tasks never would have worked.

I will write a more in-depth post about how I plan soon, but I think the general idea is this:

  1. Figure out the tasks you need to get done for the week, the ones you’d like to get done for the week, and a few extras to fill the gaps.
  2. Map out your ideal week and where those tasks fit in, knowing that you might be ticking off Thursday’s main task on Tuesday.
  3. Each morning, re-evaluate what you have on for the day and modify your task list.
  4. Have the few extra tasks mentioned above readily available for if you find yourself with a bit of time to fill while you wait on feedback from your client.

Hopefully you’ve found this post useful and have started thinking of new ways to open up your processes, be more agile and adaptive, and force your clients to become your new colleagues. Just don’t bitch about your client to your client like you would with your regular colleagues!

Thank you for reading!

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