Design insights & tutorials.

The Ultimate Guide to Managing your Design Projects – Part 1. A false start.

WARNING! This entire blog article is an advertisement. Wait! I know what you’re thinking – either 1. “This guy is crazy,” 2. ”I’m going to stop reading this article immediately” or 3. “This is all just a clever device to pique my curiosity and keep me reading. Damn it! It’s working!” Whatever you’re thinking, please give me a few moments to explain.

Back about seven years ago as Go Media was just starting to grow, we decided we needed a blog to better market our design firm. The GoMediaZine was the result. The original intention was straight-forward. First, establish ourselves as authorities on design by sharing our design knowledge and trumpeting our accomplishments. Second, gain new design customers through our reputation as a design leader. When the Arsenal was born about a year later our customer base suddenly included fellow graphic designers. Accordingly, the content of the GoMediaZine also changed. We needed to produce content that would drive traffic to our design products (vector packs). The strategy was almost the same. We would build a community of potential customers by sharing our design expertise; this time through amazing (and FREE) design tutorials. We hoped that the community would become customers of the Arsenal. It was a classic win-win. As cliché as that sounds, we truly believe in it.

This concept of marketing through education is nothing new. But, typically, we would write articles and tutorials AFTER our products were already finished and available to the public. Recently, however, Jeff Finley has been working on an E-book to sell on the Arsenal. The E-book is an insider’s guide to the apparel industry. While doing some research on marketing e-books he learned that you should really be posting blog articles long BEFORE you launch your product. Basically, you’re priming your audience so that by the time you release your product, everyone is lined up down the street ready to buy it. I guess this makes perfect sense. Everyone does it. Whether it’s a movie, a video game or a new Apple product, the marketing hits the streets long before the product is available.

That brings us to this blog article, an advertisement. This article is an advertisement for the most ambitious and useful design tool that Go Media has ever produced: Prooflab (prooflab.us). This is the first in a series of blog articles I’m going to write about managing your design projects, posting proofs, tracking time, etc., etc. It’s a series of articles about the logistics and communications side of being a graphic designer. The goal of which, I hope, will be to entice you to try the Prooflab once we launch it.

Of course, one key to the success of educational marketing is that it needs to be genuine and provide REAL VALUE to the reader. It can’t pretend to be valuable, but in actuality be a long article explaining how great our product is. Furthermore, Go Media’s audience is very sophisticated. Our audience can sniff out an ad or some secondary motive in a heartbeat. Whenever we posts anything on the GoMediaZine that is overtly self serving, we are summarily bashed, and rightfully so. If we do not do a good enough job keeping the design community’s best interests in front of our own you let us know! So, of course, I’ve been struggling mightily to figure out how I could possibly write a series of articles about project management, specifically, project management for graphic designers with the punch-line being: “Prooflab is THE solution.” All the while, not being too obvious about it and simultaneously providing you with some valuable knowledge.

Well, I couldn’t think of any. Or perhaps my conscious wouldn’t let me. So, I’ve decided to take a different approach – 100% transparency. I will lay all my cards on the table. I’ve decided to have a true, real, and honest discussion about the various products and systems that graphic designers use to manage the design process. I’ll let the chips fall where they may. My hope is that once we’ve gone through this learning process, the conclusion is that Prooflab is indeed the ultimate design management tool. But if it isn’t, then we will keep improving it until it is. Our goal is to make Prooflab the industry standard.

So, where do we go from here? Well, I suppose I could use your help! I have some ideas of my own, but I would like to ask you – what should I write about? What questions do you have about proofing, time tracking, client communications, project management, design firm management, CRM, etc. Or if you would like to contribute in a real way to this conversation by talking about how you (or your firm) manages its projects – I would LOVE to hear about it. Basically, let’s make this a design community-driven discussion about how to best run a design project. And hopefully, we will all benefit.

You can add comments after this article, you can write me directly at: bill@gomedia.us OR, if you have a few minutes to spare, you can take this short survey that we’ve thrown together. I will include your thoughts and survey results in subsequent articles.

I may insert your thoughts directly into my text (with credit or anonymity – whichever you desire) or simply use them as primers to help direct my research. I truly appreciate your help on this. And I promise to remain as impartial as possible – I know you’ll call me out otherwise.

About the Author, William Beachy

I grew up in Cleveland Hts. Ohio and was drawing constantly. As a child I took art classes at the Cleveland Institute of Art and eventually became known as the "class artist." I graduated from The Ohio State University's department of Industrial Design. I have always tried to blend my passion for illustration with Graphic Design. Go Media was the culmination of my interests for both business and art. I'm trying to build a company that is equally considerate of our designers AND our clients.
Discover More by William Beachy

Discussion

We want to hear what you have to say. Do you agree? Do you have a better way to approach the topic? Let the community know by joining the discussion.

  • http://simonh.me Simon H.

    Well, at Studio Ace of Spade, we more or less break down our process in the same way for our projects:

    1/ Client hunting or request from a client
    2/ Client’s needs assessment (through meeting, analysis of their market, current practices…)
    3/ Proposal that includes a tentative project scope (+ estimate if requested)
    4/ Contract signing and down payment
    5/ Concepts (3 to 5)
    6/ A concept is chosen by the client to finalize
    7/ Revision I
    8/ Revision II if necessary
    9/ Final approval
    10/ Balance reminder payed
    11/ Delivery
    12/ Receipt

    Obviously, the exact break down slightly varies from one client to the next, from one type of project to the other, but these are the steps.

    Now, to give credit to you guys, a web project managing and proofing system is great to cut the time in between those steps.
    A reason why I like to still take that time to send stuff to the clients via email or meet over printed/projected/shown on screen proofs is because the client interaction between each step is fundamental in establishing a quality relationship with them I think.

    One of the things I’d love to read about is about your PM style in general. Or how do you manage billing?
    Well, remember the project about Lady Luck? What about some behind the scene stuff about the more business/PM side of things?
    And what about a project where it didn’t go as flawlessly?

  • Wbeachy

    Hey Simon,
    Great to hear from you! And thanks for the break-down of your design process.

    I suppose I should have been a little bit more clear about the type of information I’m looking for in this discussion.

    Let’s forget about anything BEFORE you land the project. Let’s focus this discussion on what we do as designers starting the moment the client says: “you’re hired.”

    Also, lets not discuss anyone’s particlar design process, but let’s focus on how you MANAGE your process.

    For instance, how does the sales person communicate the project details to the designer? How do you track time? How do you stay in touch with the client? How do you deliver proofs? How do you receive feedback? etc. etc.

    Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of the project management process…

    And yes, I will absolutely share Go Media’s processes and policies with everyone.

    • http://simonh.me Simon H.

      Ooooh gotcha! That idea is terrific. Let me put something together, as I did earlier.

  • Filip Allberg

    Seems like the potential for an interesting article series is there. Even signed up on the notify list for Prooflab so already some success has been made.

    I’d love to read about collabs, working on multiple computers, budgeting time and managing several aspects of business; i.e. do you hire others for the economics and logistics and just focus on designing?

    Either way I think it will provide a great insight to the industry, as I’m just a student.

    File-management might be a worthwhile topic as well. I have enough trouble keeping my schoolwork, photographs, resources, inspiration, freelance and blog files neatly ordered as they have a tendency to intertwine. I can imagine the borders being a bit more clear on customer projects but then how do you back up your files?

  • Filip Allberg

    Cool, I’m glad!

  • http://simonh.me Simon H.

    Ok. So, here’s our process at Studio Ace of Spade to do PM:

    1°/ When the project is landed, we have a meeting with our client during which we establish our contract. During this meeting, we’ll establish a timeline for the project. It depends of how busy we are, of the client’s needs, etc.

    2°/ As for proofs, if we really can’t do otherwise, we’ll send a couple JPGs, along with a bunch of explanations of our process (usually one to two pages).
    But usually, we try to meet with the client (especially if it’s a new one) and explain our thought process and why the concepts that are the way they are.
    A little bit what you did back and forth with Paul for the Lady Luck shirt.

    3°/ Keeping track of hours in a really strict way isn’t always our priority, as we currently do not bill hourly: our customers being primarily small businesses, they love to know how much money they’re going to drop ahead of time. So we have to tell them at least an idea of the total amount…
    How we price ourselves then is our hourly rate times the number of hours we think we’ll have ti put in the project.
    I know it’s not always the most effective way to go about it, but for us it proves to be so far.

    4°/ We mainly stay in touch with our clients by email for minor details and also to have written traces of approval, questions answered… along the way.
    However, as I wrote earlier, we love to meet as much as possible with our clients. It helps to maintain/build a great relationship with them, to make sure there’s no miscommunication… (We also try to call/email our former clients every once in a while to get some news from them and see if they have any questions about the product we delivered).

    5°/ As for file management, we use Dropbox during the project. One folder per clients, with all the related subfolders:
    - Documents for the documents related to the project: contracts, estimate, proposal, etc…
    - A folder per project (website, brochure, business cards, branding etc)
    - A resources folder (files the client communicates to us)

    After the project, we archive: a copy on DVD for us, one DVD for the client (with a file list/explanation), a copy on our data hard drive.

    And I believe that’s about it?

  • Thomas

    Thanks you very much..

  • Tommy

    Thanks for sharing..

  • http://www.drmustafaerarslan.org/ panax

    Very cool and interesting article

  • http://www.drmustafaerarslan.org/ panax

    Very cool and interesting article