Discuss. Design. Develop.

Neil Ayres

In digital design, genuine collaboration between designers, developers and their clients is good for all three parties, and not exactly neurosurgery.

The traditional workflow for the design stage of much client work goes something along the lines of:

Client concept



Client ‘feedback’

Design presentation

Client amends

Design resubmitted

Design ‘sign off’

However, in a proportion of cases, it’s not until the ‘final’ design is signed off that the developers – those responsible for bringing your designs to life – are called into play.

Once client-approved designs are delivered, developers will frequently reject or adapt them. It may be that a particular piece of functionality doesn’t work with a certain design element; a chosen typeface hasn’t got an equivalent Chinese character set; or a specified applet doesn’t work on a particular browser… Whatever the reasons behind them, any alterations at this stage lead to frustration for all parties: You haven’t had your vision fulfilled; the developer has been provided with something they’re unable to make work; and the client has to take everyone through another round of revisions.

Considering the volume of digital projects that are constructed on the client/designer/developer model, it’s shocking the amount of time and energy companies are wasting by not only sticking with the traditional ‘silo’ approach to project management, but by overlooking obvious means of improving relations with suppliers, such as insisting, for instance, on only working with agile agencies.

Admittedly, not every brand has the luxury of having in-house design and development teams sharing desks, à la NET-A-PORTER, where group mobile manager Sarah Watson explains, ‘Our designers, developers and testers sit alongside one another, so we can move from concept to creative very quickly.’

But surely things can be even more straightforward. The difficult stuff – the stuff you’re ostensibly being paid for – should be your primary service, right? For a designer, that’s the designing bit. Not the admin bit.

A Brand Perfect masterclass in London

Source: Paul Clarke

A Brand Perfect Master Class in London

Here’s the secret: Through one of the most basic tweaks possible, you can ensure that this is the case, and the entire workflow can be streamlined, leaving everyone with smiles on faces. Remember my workflow example from the beginning of this piece? Imagine a working method that went a little more like this:

Client concept

Workshop and collaborative brief

Design presentation

Client and developer feedback

Design resubmitted

Design sign off

By workshop, I’m talking about a practical forum for discussing how project elements impact on one another, with the aim of coming out of the process with a solid, achievable brief that has been created collaboratively by client, designer and developer.

We’re not reinventing the bread slicer here. All we’re doing is recognising the fact that spotting and addressing problems early on is far more economical, and leads to greater satisfaction and better relationships for everyone involved.

Pascal Auberson, chief technology officer of award-winning interactive production studio Specialmoves, says the top three things that developers want but never get are a fully specced-out project, adequate time to build it, and with no changes to the brief. On the whole, designers are probably inclined to agree. If you convinced your clients that it makes sense for them to adopt the workshop approach I’ve outlined above, and coupled it with something like their own accepted project standard (something like this), those requirements become a bit more realistic.

For designers, working this way means you’re far more likely to get design concepts approved and released without them being tinkered with along the way, and you have the added bonus of a client that has a sense of personal investment in your work.

Neil Ayres is the editor of Brand Perfect, an initiative by Monotype focused on digital media and emerging technology, with the aim of getting brands, designers and developers doing more good stuff together.

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