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!

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