Where creative projects go wrong

Over the years I’ve worked with creatives on projects that include graphic and website design, physical product design, and UX / UI for apps and online platforms.

There are a few ways for a project to go to hell and leave everyone hating the process. The most common is when the ideation doesn’t match the expectation of the client (can be internal or external), even though they might already have approved it. 

Anyone who’s managed a project with a design component will recognize the cycle… 

  1. The ideation is approved, but is slightly broad / general
  2. Creative realizes they have room to stretch and gets excited, or conversely, plays it safe — leading to a 1st draft that is either specific but not what client had in mind, or overly generic
  3. Client provides extremely detailed feedback on a piece of work they don’t really like, which confuses the process
  4. Creative gets frustrated trying to fix something client doesn’t like, or creates entirely new draft which may or may not please the client (who by this time isn’t always sure what they want)

The critical moment usually happens between #2 and 3. At this point it’s still fixable but deadlines are tight and depending on how many people are involved there may be some serious frustration. 

What has to happen but often doesn’t, is a very timely, concise revisiting of ideation with the end client. You can’t fix wrong or misaligned ideation with more design, no matter how good the concept is to begin with. 

One other note: the phrase “end client” is an important one. A good project or product manager can sometimes alleviate confusion between the different people who are involved (brand, legal, marketing, PR, etc.) but whoever will actually own the end result needs to approve the ideation. That doesn’t always happen, and it’s also why big agencies rarely run a tight enough design communication cycle to avoid cost overruns. But that’s a topic for another time. 

On why belief matters, and how information is coded into experience

Every day I go for a walk and pick up trash.

Although there a lot of reasons for it, the two main ones are:

  1. It needs to be done — (a matter of faith / belief)
  2. There is information coded into the experience that I can’t otherwise get to

That first reason is quite simple to break down: I don’t believe that there should be trash on the streets. 

The second is a bit more complicated, and reaches into a bunch of things— like human centered design / experience design, empathy, entrepreneurship, and how we build ecosystems from an individual up to global level. 

There is an important relationship between the two, and it’s a relationship that’s largely about action, about testing what we believe and what we are most suited to work on in the world. 

In the startup ecosystem this is expressed via investors saying things like “we want founders who are obsessed with solving problems” or founders saying “I won’t rest until I’ve understood and solved this problem for my target customer / market.”

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