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

Designing the Greenbuild booth for a great attendee experience

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Designing the Greenbuild booth for a great attendee experience

For Greenbuild 2018 in Chicago, our creative team had the opportunity to totally redesign our presence on the expo hall floor. We designed a 70-by-60-foot (4,200 square feet) booth that showcased both the USGBC and GBCI brands. The ideal booth design needed to have a longevity of three years.

Our main goal was to build brand awareness for USGBC and LEED, as well as each of the GBCI brands (Parksmart, PEER, SITES, and TRUE) and their various products and services. We also wanted to be sure to provide an inviting space for attendees to learn about each of the brands, for staff to hold sales meetings with customers and for local USGBC community members to network. Part of this goal also included providing a designated space for our GBCI Certification Work Zone.

We started to design the booth from the basic floor plan, and then moved into the actual design of the physical space. One side of the space was devoted to our GBCI Certification Work Zone—this meant we included tables and chairs for meetings, a check-in desk and planters to clearly divide the space. We split the other space into two sections, one focused on USGBC’s merchandise, with a counter and shelving, and the other devoted to community meetings and networking.

We selected all the interior furniture and carpet. We also created a specific space to showcase Arc, and a spot to mount the plaque display. The entire booth space was framed by recycled cardboard walls.

Greenbuild 2018 booth layout graphic

Our next step was to design the recycled cardboard walls and focus on messaging. The interior facing walls included our USGBC logo, the LEED logo and messaging from our overall mission, such as “Better buildings are our legacy.” The goal was to create an open space showcasing the brand, without creating too much stimulation to detract from presentations or meetings. We also included mounted TVs as a way to incorporate digital signage and video within the booth.

The panels facing the exterior of the expo hall featured messaging focused on our current membership campaign. We wanted to show off that we are a diverse community of real estate leaders, governments, developers, contractors, architects, engineers, educators, innovators and companies working to build healthy, efficient and equitable buildings and communities for all.

Greenbuild 2018 booth layout graphic

USGBC booth for Greenbuild 2018 graphic

Seeing the booth go from sketches to the final product was such a cool experience! We worked on-site at Greenbuild to interact with customers, meet with members and provide further information about all of our products. Watching the space being used as suggested, and seeing people actually experience our brand in person, was rewarding for me.

This year at Greenbuild Atlanta, we will be using our booth again—but every year, we get a chance to improve the experience. In 2019, we will have new flooring provided by Interface, new digital visuals, Arc demonstrations and information, opportunities to meet the experts, merchandise for purchase and some giveaways. Will you be attending Greenbuild this year?

Reasons to visit the Greenbuild booth in 2019

Case study: Redesigning the Greenbuild international website

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Case study: Redesigning the Greenbuild international website

This past summer, we transitioned our website for the Greenbuild international conferences from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8. While this change on the back end didn’t have to mean change for our end users, we decided to leverage this opportunity to rebrand and refocus the site. Here are three key takeaways that we gathered from the process.

Create and maintain consistency in user experience.

Over time, it is easy for a website to develop minor inconsistencies in branding and presentation, and this is especially likely when multiple teams in an organization have a stake in the content. What starts out as a minor deviation to satisfy an immediate need can lead to a user experience down the line that feels less cohesive.

As always, it’s for the marketing team and brand managers to try to limit these deviations and keep the entire experience feeling unified and coherent. It helps every now and then to revisit an existing web property to clean up the inconsistencies. Scheduling regular revisits of websites, preferably in a staggered manner so that you can devote time to each one, can help you to avoid procrastinating on compounding branding problems.

One of the drivers of inconsistent branding can be a lack of adequate default options baked into the content management system. When analyzing the areas for improvement with our Drupal 7 site, we found that a lack of tools and templates meant that content managers were coming up with creative workarounds and solutions to common problems.

To combat this, we created a robust set of templates using the Paragraphs module in the Drupal 8 Core. The goal was to give content managers on the site an easy, standard set of options for adding and editing content, making brand consistency the default rather than the exception.

Achieve a sleek site with more images and less text.

Trimming text-heavy sites can be tough when every piece of information feels essential, but the truth is that nothing makes reading a site feel more like a grind than large blocks of text. Lightening the experience by removing unnecessary text and integrating photos and visual elements is a great way to keep users happy and on your site.

For the Greenbuild website, we decided to add visual appeal by separating text into colored sections, adding more decorative and illustrative images, and giving some pop to headers with colorful backgrounds. The result is a site that has more shape and texture with which the user can engage.

The redesigned Greenbuild international website uses more images

We added images, modular blocks of text and headers to the new Greenbuild international site.

Focus on what’s most important.

Of course, not all content can simply be trimmed or removed—a lot of it is important! However, being strategic in how you present this content to the user can make a big difference in how they interact with the site. While a piece of content may be important, it isn’t necessarily important to every user, every time they visit a site.

With the redesign of the Greenbuild site, we decided to rethink how we presented some of the content. For example, we took information that was common to each of our five international conferences and moved it to a separate homepage. We also took content that would be interesting to specific users, such as the schedules, and separated each piece out to its own page.

It’s a good strategy to allow your users find the content that they need, rather than making them sift through all of the content that you want to give them. The key balance to strike is making all of the information on your site easily found by those who need it, while keeping it out of the way of those who don’t.

The purpose of the Greenbuild site is first and foremost to drive attendance and engagement for the conference, and reworking the site gave us a chance to refocus on that purpose. By creating brand consistency, integrating more images and visual design, and focusing on content that promotes the key motivating factors for attending or sponsoring the events, we were able to better serve the website’s core purpose.

Read more UX tips

Designing LEED print ads for international audiences

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Designing LEED print ads for international audiences

Last year, the USGBC design team was tasked with creating a new print ad series for both China and India. We had a goal to make LEED feel more localized, indigenous to China and India, and integrated with the issues the country is facing.

The ads would focus on various issues that LEED addresses, including energy, indoor environmental quality and water/waste issues. The key audiences we wanted to reach included building facility managers, LEED clients, manufacturers of building materials and LEED APs, just to mention a few.

As I designed these pieces, I wanted to focus primarily on photography, with typography as a secondary design element. We had statistics that covered issues about water, air quality and energy use, so I wanted to use these a typographical elements rather than just supporting copy on the ad.

First, I had to source photos that felt relevant to the locations, as well as to our audience. I chose a bright and bold color palette to complement the photography and help the copy stand out as an overlaid design feature.

In our final designs, I really wanted people to take away the line “a better future for India” or “a better future for China.” The goal I focused on was showing that LEED-certified buildings can help address some of the main issues both locations are facing daily.

Print ads for LEED in China

The final ads we have been running show off high-quality photography and bold typography and create a dynamic layout for viewers. If you want to read more about our efforts in both India and China, visit gbci.org.

View more recent design for international projects

Design case study: The SITES AP ad campaign

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Design case study: The SITES AP ad campaign

This spring, our USGBC design and marketing team decided to switch gears with our current SITES advertising campaign. SITES is used by landscape architects, designers, engineers, planners, ecologists, architects, developers, policymakers and others to align land development and management with innovative sustainable design.

Because SITES touches so many different people, we decided to focus on people themselves, to drive home the connection to the professional. Currently, the SITES team is highly focused on growing the credentialing program. They are interested in driving registration for the SITES AP exam, and the new print ad needed to support that goal.

The SITES AP establishes a common framework to define the profession of sustainable landscape design and development and provides landscape professionals with the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge, expertise and commitment to the profession.

When designing, I always start by pulling as many photography options as I can before moving into layout. I pulled 16 different photos, and then started laying out the ad with the given copy. I went through three design rounds before landing on two final layouts that connect with the SITES audience.

Next, I decided the photos and typography could stand alone, without any additional design elements to tell the SITES AP story. The ads are simple and concise, and the message is clear. Check out the project over on our Work page!

See more design case studies at USGBC

Designing the Arc brochure

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Designing the Arc brochure

You might find it unusual that an organization so focused on the environment would design printed marketing collateral. In this “print to digital” day and age, why would you rely on paper to promote your message?

While curbing wasteful printing has always been a priority for our USGBC marketing and communications team, sometimes paper speaks louder than a screen. In fact, science shows that paper can be more effective and memorable than digital.

When we sat down to strategize our marketing for Arc, a digital platform designed to help building projects collect, manage and benchmark their performance data, we knew we needed to supplement our heavily digital-centric marketing with a standout print brochure.

Arc brochure design

The goal was to create an impactful leave-behind to complement the team’s sales efforts. The brochure would be used in meetings and presentations and distributed at various events. The team got started on the design, aiming to have the brochure ready for distribution at Greenbuild Europe, which took place in April in Berlin, Germany.

The trifold design brochure conveys Arc’s innovative and data-centric functionality, with simplicity and ease of use. Its compact size (5.66 by 16.98 inches) is portable, but large enough to accommodate the perfect amount of information, so it’s useful to our customers. The die cuts add dimension and make the brochure eye-catching and modern.

Arc brochure

Per our printing guidelines, the brochure was printed on Mohawk Options paper stock, using soy-based inks by a local FSC Certified printer.

See more of our recent design work

Holiday bag designs

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Holiday bag designs

Our holiday party at USGBC headquarters in D.C. featured an onsite screen printing station with designs from our team to be applied to tote bags.

Happy people with USGBC holiday tote bags

Printing USGBC holiday tote bags

USGBC holiday tote bags

Links we love: What USGBC design professionals use

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Links we love: What USGBC design professionals use

As part of the USGBC marketing and communications team, our design team works on many kinds of projects, from brand identity to article images to print collateral. Not content to rest on their current expertise, they are constantly seeking out what’s new in the design world and incorporating ideas from the wider world into their projects.

Here’s a quick roundup of some of the websites where they find inspiration:

Annie Patton, Director, Creative Services

  • I like Fast Co. Design. They send out a daily newsletter focused on articles relating to design and business. They cover lots of different topics and industries, which gives me the opportunity to look at our work from a different perspective.

Amy Civetti, Art Director

  • Brand New is a division of UnderConsideration, chronicling and providing opinions on corporate and brand identity work. The reason I love the “reviewed” section of the blog is that they cover current design trends and show what the updates look like. It’s a really great way for me to stay up to date on other branding out there that I may not otherwise be exposed to.
  • Resource Cards is a growing list of free resources that help creatives with their next project. I love this because it pools tons of resources into a really easy-to-use page. I have a few go-to free sites in my brain, but when I am struggling to find something, I know I can go to resourcecards.com and find some alternatives!

Nia Lindsey, Senior Graphic Designer

  • When creating new brand identities, developing the color palette is my favorite part. I love that Coolors presents the colors full width, with most of the necessary color values calculated.
  • Mattson Creative‘s design blog is, hands down, one of my favorite design studios. Every post inspires me to find unconventional ways to innovate and perfect my craft. They recently completed Sesame Street’s 50th Anniversary identity, and it is amazing! #goals

Learn more about staying current with design trends