Why we work the way we do. Part 2: Deadlines

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by”. Douglas Adams
English humorist & science fiction novelist (1952 – 2001)

Ah, the deadline… love it, or loathe it, we all need deadlines from time to time. Unless you’re a designer of course, in which case you need them ALL the time…

Some of the more laid back might say that they’re a little bit arbitrary anyway – but where would we be without them? Let’s be honest, would anyone actually finish anything if they didn’t have someone waiting for it? Think Sagrada Familia – 133 years and counting… Ok, that’s a bit of an extreme example, but you get the picture (with scaffolding)…

So, why do we have them?

Well, everyone likes to know where they stand and deadlines are a good measure of progress. A client quite rightly is paying for a service and they want to know they will get what they’ve paid for. For bigger jobs like websites, deadlines are equally as helpful to a designer though, because they help with scheduling. Reflection, review and sign off times make it possible to quickly turn around other clients’ small urgent jobs during the natural pauses in a larger project – but only if everyone knows what to expect and when.

How can a client be truly delighted with their website, book or branding if it wasn’t even ready for the launch party?

Now, there aren’t many environments that are immune to slippage, so scheduling ‘wiggle room’ is crucial. Before a contract is even drafted, it’s good to look at when the finished article needs to be ready by – and work backwards. If this timescale just isn’t going to be possible, the client has three main choices: revise spec, push back launch date or find another designer. Where possible, compromise is a good friend here.

What are the main causes of slipped deadlines?

In our experience, there are a few main reasons why things don’t always go to plan:

  • delays in starting due to late signing off of previous projects
  • lack of clarity/communication around brief
  • delays in signing of contract/deposit payments
  • non receipt of content
  • Scope creep
  • misinterpretation of brief
  • unexpected absence (client or designer)
  • major change of specification or additional/new client project team members
  • unavailability of clients to review progress at key stages or sign them off (see first bullet above)

Usually, the quickest way to keep a project on target is to speak openly at the start. It’s no use a client being so in awe* (*scared) of the ‘creative’ that they don’t ask for clarification of a concept they are struggling to grasp. We’ve said many times before that a design job is only as great as the confusion it doesn’t cause – to the end user or to the integrity of their brand. Other things that can help:

  • designers: cut the jargon and observe clients’ non-verbal communication signs
  • clients: say what you think (nicely please!)
  • if you say you’re going to do something by Friday, do it – clients too! (there we go with deadlines again!)
  • spend plenty of time working out the remit of a job at the beginning; it saves time in the long run
  • clients: make sure all your colleagues who need a say are included as early on as possible, especially if they have the right to veto your project. Saying ‘but we’re too far along the line’ does not always work…
  • restrict who has admin rights to websites and keep backups (oh yes…)
  • designers: prepare a comprehensive questionnaire covering every possible aspect of a job – it’s easier to skip a question than to remember something important when in discussion
  • sharing of likes, dislikes and snippets of a desired look and feel, however trivial it may seem, speeds things up – as will notifications of holidays and business trips
  • scheduling regular review meetings/chats/calls to keep everyone on the same page means any difference of perspective can be rectified quickly

If everyone knows what is wanted/expected from the outset, key dates can be factored into a realistic schedule. When that happens and everyone sticks to it (barring any unforeseeable circumstances), it should be possible to deliver an end result that exceeds a client’s expectations: more jam for tea!

Why we work the way we do. Part 1: Contracts

Some of our clients are still surprised when we follow a few ‘formalities’ around projects. By formalities, we mean things like estimates, contracts, agreed timescales and sign off sheets.

We’re a relatively informal and flexible team and we like to make sure that our clients are delighted with everything we do, which is why we have these processes in place. It means we all know where we stand and we can all relax within the agreed remit of a job. In this post, we focus on contracts and why we always work with them.

Why do I need a contract?

Well, if you were to ask us to create a small leaflet for you, it’s reasonably simple: you ask us to quote; you agree our price and give us your brief and deadline; we work on it; you approve it; we send the artwork to you or to a printer and then we send an invoice for the work completed. This seems reasonably fair and straightforward.

But you’d be surprised at the number of times we’ve been asked to create 3 designs (often in several colour schemes or formats) on the basis of “if I like one of them, I’ll go with it”. This is called ‘spec work’. Helpful as we like to be, we do have to say no for a few reasons: the biggest reason is that back in the early days when we wanted to build goodwill, we came up with some new branding designs for a potential client, only to find he went to another agency with ‘his’ ideas and just asked them to artwork them. We had spent a long time researching and coming up with those ideas, and then artworking them for presentation to the client. In order for us not to be caught out like that again, our ideas have to remain our intellectual property until paid for in full or licensed for a fixed term. That’s part of the terms and conditions of most designers’ contracts and we’re no different.

We know some people might think it sounds a bit off, but would you expect to ask a solicitor for advice and not pay (even if you didn’t like the advice)? We like to work in partnership with clients so that we come up with an end result that they’re over the moon with. They are able to specify timescales and add in other clauses that matter to them too.

Likewise, when it comes to building a website, where our time involved can be much greater (1-2 months typically), we can’t really be expected to develop a site on spec. That’s why we never start work until we have a contract signed by both parties. We also ask for additional commitment from our clients in the form of a first installment towards the final invoice on signing of contract and an interim payment when the design and structure is agreed.

Again, some might think that it shows we’re not very trusting, but in actual fact, if we turn down other work for 2 months while we complete a massive project, not only does it affect our immediate cashflow, but if our client were to decide for whatever reason not to pay that single invoice, we are in a bit of a deep rut. And we get a bit grumpy when we’re hungry!

What our contract tends to mean is that everyone knows where they stand, costs are spread and we work with people who value our expertise and commitment. We feel valued, our clients feel listened to and there’s jam for tea.

What was that paper size again?

An illustration of the A series of paper sizes
The most common sizes of paper in Europe

Most of the time, when we do a print job, we work out the specifications based on the size of the finished job (A4, A3, A6 etc.). The reason for this is that paper is measured in standard sizes so everyone in the production process will know what they are working towards. When using, say an A5 reference, the printer knows to order the exact amount of paper to run a job without creating too much waste. Of course, you can have any sized job you like, but you may end up paying more for it.

How does this affect me?

Well, the vast majority of all printed materials are produced in one of the sizes above. The sheets of paper that run through the presses are in these proportions, so using a standard size minimises waste and makes it easier for a printer to plan the jobs on the press. This keeps the cost down and is much better for the environment too.

What can I do in future?

If you ask us to work on a print job for you, we can chat through your options and help you plan the job most effectively. We’ll also take into account things you may not have thought of, such as whether you want to keep your materials smaller than the ‘large letter’ format to save on postage, and best types of paper stock for the particular project you want to do.

An illustration of common envelope sizes
Common envelope sizes

What’s the difference between vector and raster images?

There are two ways of creating images on a computer, vector and raster, and there’s a knack to knowing the difference.

A Raster image of a butterfly
A raster image of the butterfly. In the zoom circle, you can see that the image is made up of square ‘dots’ called pixels

Continuous tone images like photographs are usually raster. Images with large areas of ‘flat’ colour or those created using mathematical equations to define the image are more likely to be vector. Fonts on a computer are also made from vectors.

A vector image of a butterfly
This is a vector image of a butterfly. You can see how the image is made in the zoom circle underneath. The red line is called the path, and the control handles—which control the curve of the path—are also visible.

How does this affect me?

Most of the time, you won’t need to know if an image is vector or raster, but occasionally it can be helpful to know. If you have an image like a logo that needs to be used at a range of different sizes, from say small on a business card, to enormous on a building’s signage, vector formats are best. This is because they can be scaled up or down without losing any definition. Photographic images really don’t look great as vector images though.

What can I do in future?

If we’re creating or sourcing the images for you, you shouldn’t need to worry. If however, you need to supply us with an image, say your logo or a photo for an ad, you will need to know what to send us. We’re always happy to help, so if you’re unsure, please feel free to give us a call and chat it through.

Brand New: New Logo for Facebook done In-house with Eric Olson

So Facebook have changed their logo. I’m withholding judgment until I see it actually in place. What do you think?

Please note that the red in the logo is simply there to show the differences between the old and the new logos. Please click through to the linked article below to see more.

Source: Brand New: New Logo for Facebook done In-house with Eric Olson