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Manage D.P.

How to plan and manage the creative design process, creative agencies and creative people

Page 1 Design Process Stages & Principles Page 1 Process for Managing Design Project & Creative Services Page 3 Design Process & Principles Page 4 Consider & Decide the Level of Design Innovation Required Page 4 Patents & Non-Discloser Agreements

All organizations, businesses and individuals use design in very many ways. For example, the design process features in corporate identity, branding, image; design is central to advertis-ing, marketing, promotion, and in the development of new products, new services and technical development of all sorts such as websites and other in-ternet systems. Design features in very many aspects of work and business. The design management principles ex-plained in this section also apply to all sorts of other management processes involving the use of external creative agencies or providers, for example architects, interior designers, landscape gardeners, personal stylists, etc. The principles of planning, communi-cation, control and working towards clear agreed aims and accountabilities apply to all situations where we ask a creative provider - internal or external, in-house or contracted - or to do something for us.

These simple principles will help in managing the design process, and are relevant to a lesser or greater extent when working with creative people and providers of all sorts, from de-sign and advertising agencies, prod-uct designers, branding and image consultants, to creative people provid-ing design services for building and renovation, and other creative ser-vices relating to domestic, house and home, lifestyle and personal image.

Design Process Stages and Principles

These process steps are certainly appli-cable and necessary for large complex commercial or industrial design proj-ects. For smaller routine design man-agement projects and tasks, or for man-aging creative providers in domestic or personal style areas, many of these principles will be unnecessary, so use what is helpful and appropriate. If in doubt ask team members and agency people and creative specialists what stages are necessary and helpful for them. Err on the side of caution. Where any simple routine design man-agement project encounters problems or fails, it’s likely that the project man-ager will have decided that something in this process could be ignored or taken for granted.

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Even at the most simple level of working with a creative provider - for example a hair stylist or an interior decorator - if there is an unhappy result, it’s rarely the fault of the creative person - the problem and the ultimate responsibility belongs to the customer or specifier. Problems are generally due to the fact the customer or specifier has not explained and agreed ‘the brief’ properly, or not managed the process adequately while it’s happening.


Managing design and cr eative projects Managing design and cr eative projectsrequires a clear methodology. For com-plex tasks the project manager must be vigilant and detailed. This is not to say you need to be ‘hands-on’ and constant-ly interfering - absolutely not - creative people need to be given freedom to use their abilities or you might as well ask an accountant to do the job (no offence to accountants), however, you as proj-ect manager - or the customer - need to allow for and anticipate everything that can arise. The key to this is estab-lishing clear positive open communica-tions at the outset, and then maintain-ing full mutual understanding at all times, irrespective of how much free-dom is delegated.This is both a process and a checklist of management stages. Adapt and use it to suit your purposes. Again, bear in mind that the full extent of the process here is for complex de-sign projects, but the essential princi-ples are transferable to any situation where a creative person or provid-er is required to design something. Adapt the level of detail and use the aspects described here to suit the purs-es of your particular design project.

Process for Managing Design Projects and Creative Services

First, establish and agree the aims of the project - large or small - aims must be defined and agreed with the exec-utive budget-holder (that’s you if this is a small project and you are the only person at the ‘customer’ side), and if appropriate with all other stakeholders (team-members, focus group, depart-mental opposite numbers, legislative/approving bodies, etc). See the more detailed notes about establishing and agreeing design aims below. Determine a budget, (or for simple proj-ects decide simply what you are pre-pared to spend) and decide timescales and chief outcomes/results required - remember the principle of ‘fitness for purpose’ - there is no point shooting for the stars if all you need is a quick basic refinement. Conversely do not expect to create a new market with a ‘me-too’ basic improvment.

Decide the level of innovation required ‘me-too’ or high innovation, or something in between - this depends on your aims and required outcomes. Again consider ‘fitness for purpose’. See the more detailed notes about level of de-sign innovation below. Write an ‘outline’ brief or specification a detailed brief comes later and should be developed with or by the principle agency when appointed. Ensure interested affected people are aware and are in agreement. Define a team or supplier specification what sort of team agency will be best for this - have a clear idea of the qual-ities and scale and style of the agency and/ or creative people that will be appropriate for the project. Consider and (perhaps provisionally) decide what project management tools and information systems you will use. For small projects you will not need to change your mind about this, but for large projects you’ll need to ensure that your chosen tools and sys-tems interface with those of the selected creative agen-cy, so for larger projects keep your options open; the agency might have better suggestions, and will cer-tainly want to use their own systems for managing the creative activities and progress at their end. Decide method of team or agency selec-tion - make this transparent and inform candidates of the process - for large projects invite formal presentations in response to the outline brief. For large projects particularly, ensure that proper legal documentation and processes are used and in place, for example, non-disclosure agreements (where the development is commercial-ly sensitive, or might be subject of a pat-ent application), clear agreement about the use of ideas, intellectual property and copyright ownership - clarify any areas of doubt and potential misunder-standing. Creative agencies common-ly have a different view about

these things to commercial business manag- ers - misunderstandings develop easi-ly so you must flush all of these issues out into the open and make sure they are fully understood and agreed on all sides (and ensure this transparency of agreement is maintained through the design management project). Select the internal team and agree clear responsibilities as appropriate - often internal team members are on the fringe, notably for such things as quality and safety, ITC, finance, etc., which means these people are easy to forget, but it’s important to involve and include them as appropriate in your planning and ongoing communications so that they are able to provide the as-sistance and input required. Consider the strengths and styles and preferenc-es of different team members.

Look at the personalties and styles section to better understand that different people are naturally better at doing different things. If in doubt, ask people what they are good at and what they prefer to be doing within the project - don’t just assume that everyone can do any-thing. Some creative people are pas-sive or introverts and need to be given guidance and management; others are proactive and/or extraverts, and will be happy to instigate and use their ini-tiative. Be aware of whom you expect to do what, and seek their commitment that your expectations are appropriate and comfortable for them. Photo courtesy of:


Select external team - external agency and or other creative people as appro-priate - be mindful of level of inno- vation required - assess integrity and track-record as well as the quality of their ‘pitch’ presentations (in trying to win the project contract) - clarify allo-cation of work and responsibility with-in external agency - senior people are more expensive than junior people, but senior people are bored by routine work - be comfortable with the people appointed to the tasks within the agency. Communicate and explain the plans to all involved and seek agreement - clarify expectations (and always keep doing so through the project). At this stage, assuming appropriate sign-off of the plans, you are ready for the project to start, and are now into the implementation stage. Clarify and agree the preferred man-agement style and man-agement methods with the agency, firstly with the agency’s team manager or project manager, and then with all other people on the project, so that everyone knows what’s expected - this should embrace com-munications, updates, approvals, break-points, amendments - where possible anticipate any-thing that might arise to affect the project - aim to prevent surprises oneither side - transparency and clear open positive communications on both sides are essential. Look at the levels of delegation, and decide continuously how much freedom to extend to peo-ple within the project. Your job is to manage the project - not to do all the work. The aim is to manage the team so that they feel good about what they are doing, they know clearly what the ‘rules of engagement’ are, and they get feedback and regular updates about progress and expectations. Communi-cation, measurement, encouragement and maintaining some flexibility to ac-commodate slippage and new opportu-nities along the way, are vital aspects of managing success-

ful creative projects. Ensure plans and forecasts are kept up to date and communicated. Provide in-formation and progress reports to up-line managers and executives - do not wait to be asked. Updates and progress reports are vital for staying on top of creative projects, and demonstrate that you are in control, which keeps ner-vous up-line managers off your back, because they can trust the project is in safe hands. Stay informed; measure and monitor; be available when required, but try to let the team get on with their jobs. Creative people need space and reassurance. You have the overview, not them, so behave accordingly: man-age and feedback and update in the big picture and resist the temptation to ‘micro-manage’, if you have such ten-dencies. And generally enjoy the creative process and encourage all involved to do the same - it’s a wonderful thing, in which the combination of solid project management skills and creative spe-cialisms can produce extremely sig-nificant and rewarding outcomes, for the organisations and all the people involved. Finally, always remember to give good positive feedback and thanks to creative people and agency staff. Cre-ative agencies and creative people are like most other staff - they get blamed when things go wrong, but get little credit when things succeed. Instead turn it around the other way: make sure you take responsibility and accept the blame for any problems that arise, and ensure the creative people get the thanks and the credit for all the success. As with any management role, this pro-vides the best platform for success.

Design Process and Principles

Establish The Aims of the Design Project

Be clear first what your aims are - what is the purpose of the design project?You need to agree and confirm with all involved the actual purpose of the design project. What are the outcomes required? Use the SMARTER crite-ria to establish these essential starting parameters. Design and the creative process will always tend to zoom off in weird and wonderful directions that’s the nature of the creative process and of creative people - so you need to establish clear guidelines or things

can become very difficult to control.

• It’s all too easy to lose sight of the original purpose of any design project unless it is properly established, quanti-fied, agreed and recorded. • Specific (a clear written description of what is intend-ed or required, the outcome needed - the basic aim of the exercise) • Measurable (quantify every aspect that is fixed, espe-cially budgets, scale of applica-tion • Agreed (with all stake-holders and interested/affected parties) • Realistic (even highly conceptual projects need to have a realistic intention or the project is inherently flawed) • Timebound (proper start and finish timescales, ideally with milestones (check-points) and measures along the way) • Ethical (if you build ethics in from the start you provide a valuable reference point to maintain integrity) • Recorded (write every-thing down; it’s essential for clarification, agreement, man-agement and control) • Using the brainstorming process can be very helpful in beginning to establish project aims.


right people for the job.

Consider and Decide the Level of Design Innovation Required

This is a vital dimension of the speci-fication and is critically important for any creative people working on the project. Is your design project highly conceptu-al and ground-breaking, or is it a revi-sion or development or improvement of an existing design or product or ser-vice? Or something in between? The thought process and design process are entirely different for something abso-lutely new compared to something that simply adapts or develops an existing concept or idea. Creative people there-fore need to know the level of innova-tion required. Many of the best creative people will by their nature tend to strive for optimum innovation. This is fine if the project requires it, but if the design project is merely to design next season’s range of tea-towel patterns, there’s no point in having a designer working on the next generation of bac-tericidal super-absorbent textiles that change colour to indicate when they’re due for cleaning. The level of innovation must be ‘fit for purpose’ whatever that purpose is. Your reference point is the outcome or result required by the business or or-ganisation. Deciding the level of innovation is also crucial for selecting the right type of designer(s) to work on the project. Some designers are highly innovative; others are more comfortable with re-finements and developments. Know-ing the level of innovation helps you to identify the

Patents and Non-Discloser Agreements (NDA’s)

It is generally not possible to patent an idea or an invention once it becomes public knowledge, or enters the ‘public domain’. If your design project involves a con-cept or plan or details that might be subject of a future patent application, you can protect the confidentiality of your ideas when discussing them with prospective designers through the use of a non-disclosure agreement (com-monly abbreviated to NDA, also called a non-disclosure undertaking or a con-fidentiality agreement). A non-disclosure agreement (NDA) simply states that both sides (normally the specifying ‘company’ or customer, and the prospective supplier or ‘recip-ient’ of the confidential information) will keep confidential all sensitive in-formation disclosed by either side relating to the (named or described) project. A two-way undertaking is often more appropriate than merely protecting the interests of the customer or specifier be-cause the supplier will commonly have their own needs for confidentiality too. Having said this many NDA’s ignore the interests of the potential supplier and are worded as a simple oneway protection, basically signed by the po-tential supplier or agency to guarantee that they will keep information relat-ing to the project confidential, and take reasonable measures to ensure that all information is treated confidentially among their people.


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A simple NDA can be achieved also via a simple exchange of letters. It’s not a complex thing, unless the project is very serious. If you do not have a non-disclosure agreement document or template, most good design agencies will often have their own NDA’s which can be adapted to suit the needs of both sides. If not, a decent solicitor should be able to advise on the creation of a simple non-disclosure agreement. Alternatively examples of NDA’s are freely available on the internet. Try to choose an NDA which uses simple plain language, and avoid being per-suaded by lawyers to spend a lot of money creating a complex document, unless the project is very serious. The likelihood is that the creative agen-cy will want to amend your NDA any-way, so keeping things simple is your best way to complete this formality quickly and easily, and then get on with awarding and managing actual project. Incidentally non-disclosure agreements can be used for any discussions where you need to protect the confidentiality of information - NDA’s are not restrict-ed to design projects and ideas that might be patented. Article from:

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