This post is adapted from our webinar presented by Scott Talbot in collaboration with HOW Design. If you'd like to follow along, you can watch the full webinar here.
Preface: Welcome to the race—Quantity & quality of content
We work in a race. A design race.
At the root of that race lies the simple fact that the design process has fundamentally changed.
It used to look like this:
But now it looks like this:
Instead of a simple process where a single person requests a limited amount of content, many people now create marketing & sales materials on behalf of your company. Vendors, salespeople, partners and employees are all creating content across a variety of channels for an increasingly fragmented audience.
The race is about who can push out the most content and the best content. Who can innovate with design? Who can present a broad, united front across an ever-growing number of media channels? These are questions we have to figure out, and fast.
Additionally, we're in a world where consumers have become increasingly aware and discerning about graphic design. When a popular company changes their logo, it becomes mainstream news, bringing everyday consumers in on the conversation about what makes good design.
With the higher demand for content, and a more discerning audience, how can in-house creative teams keep up with the demand to both work quickly and deliver quality content?
This situation puts in-house design teams in a pretty tough spot. In this post—the first in a three-part series—I will introduce a best practice and share three related tips to get the most from your in-house design team. Each post in the series will follow the same structural format.
The first practice: Fueling up
Your designers are given the difficult task of being creative, original and inspiring on demand every single day. It's essential that they're able to turn on their creativity when it counts.
To do this, designers bring a level of practical science to the table. They're trained on hierarchy, grids, typographic theory, best practices, and so on. But to find those truly creative "lightning in a bottle" solutions, your designers will need a full tank of ideas, concepts, jokes, random facts and insights to pull from. This tank is what puts creativity on tap, ready to go at a moment's notice.
Here's how you help them fill it.
Tip #1: Hone their craft
One of the biggest traps designers can fall into is becoming complacent, using the same techniques and ideas over and over again. The world of design is rich and deep. One could spend a lifetime learning the ins and outs of all the different designers, movements and techniques, but the demands of work can stunt this learning.
Encourage your designers to expand their knowledge base. This can be done through tutorial programs like Skillshare, Lynda or Udemy. On Netflix, there are many documentaries about design worth watching. There are also plenty of free tutorials and documentaries on YouTube. And even though it's not a visual medium, podcasts can be a great source of inspiration. Finally, you could offer to purchase books about graphic design, so the designers have a small library on-hand to help bust through the occasional creative block.
Another way to help your designers is to send them to conferences like Adobe Max, HOW Design, AIGA and Brand New. There, they can hear from key figures in the industry and mingle with their peers. They can keep a pulse on the state of the industry, and often, it is a much-needed morale and creativity boost.
If you don't have the time or budget to send them to those bigger conferences, there are often local meet-ups that offer many of the same experiences. Check out Creative Mornings or your local AIGA chapter to get plugged in.
Tip #2: Break out of the design box
For designers to stay sharp, they need various inputs channeling new information into their creative tanks. Keeping this tank full of fuel is essential to solving creative problems at a moment's notice.
One way to help is by encouraging your designers to stretch in ways not directly related to their day job. They could learn a new hobby, try out a new sport, or seek a new cultural experience. Push your designers to get out of their comfort zones. There are a million suggestions you could make: learn to rock climb, weld, or change a car's oil. Adopt a dog. Listen to new kinds of music, travel to a new part of the world, volunteer at the local food bank. Read the collected works of an author, join a book club, take improv classes. The possibilities are, as they say, endless.
Here's the catch. The creative tank requires a natural ebb and flow of work, rest, exploration and collection. You can't get the best work out of your designers if they're stuck staring at their computers all the time. This requires you, as the creative director, to limit the amount of time you're demanding them to be in the office. Much of the creative field demands a huge commitment of time, late hours and constant connection. But the best work isn't going to come from exhausting your designers—it comes from letting them momentarily step away from their ongoing tasks.
Tip #3: Connect with the customer
During my time here at Lucidpress, I've been able to attend various conferences with our sales team.
In 2017, I traveled to conferences with AIGA, HOW and Adobe. I sat in on a bunch of sessions, which was fantastic—a critical part of practicing my craft and learning new skills, right? But to be completely honest with you, the best learning experiences came from manning our booth and meeting potential customers.
As a designer, sitting at my desk all day, I'm far-removed from the experience of our users. But after interacting with potential customers, answering questions, hearing their frustrations and connecting with them, I'm better able to inject empathy into my work. I'm more motivated to serve them, and I make better decisions by knowing where our customers are coming from.
Make sure to connect your designers with your customers. Bring in a few clients for an interview session and lead a "design thinking" workshop. Include your designers in meetings with clients, and send your designers out with your sales team when it makes sense. It will be immensely helpful for them to hear all the questions, complaints, praise and criticism first-hand. You'll soon find that your designers are more invested and bring better solutions to the table.
The first step towards getting more output from your creative team is to keep their tanks full. Don't make the mistake of letting them run dry when there are so many opportunities to refuel.
In my next post, I'll talk about how your team could possibly have enough time to stay refueled and deliver great work faster. (Yes, it really can be done!) Don't miss it.