5 tips for successfully managing a design project

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5 tips for successfully managing a design project

Since starting my career in creative project management over 15 years ago, I can confidently say that this field definitely keeps me on my toes. No two projects are ever the same, and no matter the road you take to get there, it’s always satisfying to see the end products out in the world. These finished pieces are the direct result of many hours of research, brief creation, content scripting, concepting, reviews, revisions, approvals, and finally, things of beauty to see on a shirt, online, in print or on a billboard.

Here are my top five tips for running a smooth, successful project from concept to completion.

1. Start with a clear and focused creative brief. For a project to start on a track built for success, all stakeholders need to have reviewed and approved a creative brief. The brief will most likely include some background on the brand and overall project objective, a list of deliverables with accompanying formats and design specifications, a timeline, a budget, tone and style notes, required elements, and any relevant brand research and supporting elements, such as the target audience, customer demographics, and desired outcomes or goals.

Creative briefs can vary widely depending on the desired end product, but having one is essential to make sure that everyone involved in approving the project agrees on the overall objectives. Large experiential pieces, like our USGBC booth on the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo floor, would have very different brief content than a traditional print ad.

Our USGBC booth area at Greenbuild.

2. Ensure that you have compelling (and final) content. This is one of the most important pieces I look for, before starting a project. From a design perspective, we need to know that we have all the content that needs to be included. Having final content helps to cut down on creative rounds for review once the design is in layout. It’s much easier to make text edits in a document before it goes into layout, after which the text edits must go through several hands to be implemented on the designer’s side. In my ideal world, there would be only design or layout-related edits once a project is put into layout.

For example, with information-intense pieces like an infographic, having final content is important at the start of the project, since all the design elements are based specifically on the content provided. Making content changes once an infographic is in layout usually impacts more than just the text alone.

Our recent infographic on LEED residential spaces.

3. Have clear and open communication with all stakeholders. I have always felt that one of the more important aspects of being a creative project manager is your ability to listen to and communicate well with others. By having open lines of communication with the clients, reviewers, copywriters, designers and anyone else involved with the success of your project, you’re often able to troubleshoot and solve problems before they become a larger issue, as the project comes to a close.

4. Champion the brand standards. This can be a bit of a balancing act when you have a variety of stakeholders and reviewers, and it’s also where a creative project manager can spend most of their time. In the end, you want to make sure the creative piece you’re managing is showcasing the brand in its best light, while delivering on the objectives outlined in the creative brief. With this top of mind as you review and adjust throughout all of the project stages, the creative project manager’s path will stay clear and focused.

5. Have flexibility! Despite having all of your ducks in a beautifully designed row, things happen. Timelines change, content goes through a major rewrite, requested assets come in at the last minute and notes can throw a whole project back several rounds. A successful creative project manager knows that things like this can happen, no matter how organized they’ve been, and they are able to pivot, revise, reorganize and regroup to get the project back on track.

For me, focusing on these things goes a long way toward making for a smooth and seamless project from start to finish. And in the end, you can be proud of the amazing work you’ve helped bring to life!

Read more of our blog entries on design and campaigns