All design teams, large or small, require these things for optimum performance:
- Clear goals and objectives
- Unambiguous scope of work
- Well-defined expectations
- Delineated roles and responsibilities
- Relevant information and background for the project
- Sufficient time in which to work
- Appropriate technological tools
- Effective collaboration
- Ongoing communication
- Meaningful recognition and reward system
- Oversight and management support
- Consistent processes, from creative to communication
- Agreed-upon chain of command and functional authority
Typically, a project has a core design team consisting of a creative-focused and a client-focused professional. In many instances, more designers are added—some to take a hands-on creative role and some to provide more of a production or finishing capability. In addition, team members with a particular skill set may be added—for example, an illustrator or a print production manager. When a design firm gets larger, not only does the team expand, but there is also the option of adding administrative management personnel to help run the firm. They work to directly support creative and client service because they provide financial and administrative duties that make projects and the firm run better and more smoothly.
For any design team to work well together, each person needs to recognize that his or her performance affects the entire group in its ability to solve problems, develop creative, and satisfy the client. The more they understand what their contribution is to the project, the more attainable great results can be. When things are fuzzy and undefined, it's easy to believe it's someone else's responsibility to handle a certain task. Poor team performance often is the result of poor communication and an ineffective collaborative environment.
The Creative Mix
Selecting the right creative people for a team can be challenging. Just because someone has relevant experience and a great portfolio doesn't ensure a wonderful fit. There are a variety of subjective factors to consider when choosing creative talent:
- Chemistry: Do you like this person?
- Style: Does this person fit in with the group?
- Attitude: Is the person positive or negative, cynical or enthusiastic?
- Design sensibility: Is it the same or different from ours?
- Professionalism: Is the person as buttoned up (or as loose) as the rest of the crew?
- Sense of humor: Does the person have one? (A little humor goes a long way in a stressful situation.)
- Temperament: Is it even-keeled? Will we have harmony with this person?
- Speed: Is the person used to a fast-paced or a slower environment? What's the person's approach?
Team Work Flow
Besides these personality-related factors, design teams need the right mix of skills and abilities. Design projects move from big-picture concepting to the highly detailed finished piece. This is achieved through a kind of "relay race," handing the project from content experts to aesthetic experts to technical experts, as the job moves from kickoff to completion (see chart below). Often, the only person constantly participating in the project is the project manager, who is involved in monitoring every aspect.
Every design team needs to be aware of and constantly be working to improve their teamwork, some aspects of which include
- Knowledge sharing
Teams have obligations to each other and to the project they are working on. Project managers should bridge gaps and facilitate communication and work flow among team members. Project managers are the conduit that helps ease the difficulties of disparate personalities, expertise, and working styles.
Project Profile in Assembling the Team
Objects of Affection designed by Sonnenzimmer / Chicago, Illinois USA
Objects of Affection Poster
Objects of Affection was a show featuring painters Anthony Adcock, Barbara Krol, and Jeff Stevenson, all members of the Chicago Artists Coalition. Each artist's work included realistically painted elements generally focused on one object—hence the title of the show. It was not easy to come up with a striking image that highlighted the show's concept, while not casting too big a shadow over the artists' work. Nick Butcher and Nadine Nakanishi, of Sonnenzimmer, rose to that challenge. "How do you advertise an art show you are not in? Our answer: nature!" says Butcher. "We started this poster with a photocopy of a crinkly greenish-brown leaf, using its shape to prime the paper for the following colors. From there, we used textures and painted elements to fill in the small sections of the leaf, creating a patchwork of color and shape."
Ask a seasoned designer the secret to team management, and he or she will say it is to get the right people doing the right job for the right client's project. Part of being able to select those people is to have a good creative brief, a well-defined scope of work, and an accurate deliverables list. From that comes a clear picture of what needs to be done. Match the right skill set, temperament, and perhaps most importantly, available talent, and you've got the perfect combination. Then it becomes a question of bringing these people into the project and getting to work.
In most design firms, the person obtaining, estimating, and planning the project is not the person who will design and implement it. Hopefully, the lead client service and creative team members have established the parameters and process required to complete the project. Out of this comes an understanding of who should be attached to the project.
Client Selects Team
Some design firms let the client choose the team. For example, the creative director allows the designers to develop concepts for a particular project. Then they do an internal critique and select the strongest ideas, which are presented to the client. The design direction the client approves is worked on by the people who created it. In that way, the client is choosing the team they want to work with. This methodology gives the whole staff a shot at each account. Other firms simply have the creative director make the staffing assignment based on anything from availability to serendipity.
Using Supplemental Staff
Each person on the design team should have a specific role and set of responsibilities. When the team is formed, this information and the assignment should be reviewed and confirmed. If the team member is on staff at the design firm, he or she should have a formal job description. Because of this, each person has a preexisting, broadly defined role or potential role in each project that comes into the firm. However, at the onset of each project, specific duties for each assignment need to be discussed with the worker.
Part of the team-assembly process is planning and then communicating the plan in a manner that everyone can understand. This is further complicated with the addition of team members from outside the firm, particularly if they seem to duplicate the core team's skills. An example is hiring a designer when there are already several on staff. However, not all designers are created equal: Some provide short bursts of creative energy, while others provide a reliable backup needed to see the project through to completion. For this reason, and maybe others, the team is sometimes supplemented with outside personnel.
Firm versus Project Hierarchy
Every design practice is different. Some have little or no hierarchy, with everyone reporting to the firm's owner; others have multiple layers of seniority and clear-cut divisions between departments. The structure that is right for the firm in terms of hierarchical rank may not hold true functionally in the day-to-day delivery of a particular design project. A creative director, for example, may be functionally accountable to a project manager well below his or her pay grade. The creative director empowers the project manager to advise him or her and to enforce agreed-upon work flow and project parameters, such as schedule or budget. In other instances, the firm's strict hierarchical structure applies within the realities of projects as well. This can make a project manager's job more difficult if a senior staff person refuses to report to him or her.
How the team functions is a matter of taste and efficiency. It is imperative, however, to communicate that structure so that all team members are clear on not only their roles and responsibilities, but others' as well. It is especially important for each team member to know who will review and approve their work. A firm can have a freewheeling creative collaborative culture, with designers supporting, brainstorming, and critiquing each other's work, but everyone needs to be clear on who makes the ultimate decisions that impact the design.
Here are some things to consider when making personnel choices:
- Who has worked with this client before?
- Who has the relevant experience with a similar kind of project or client?
- Who would bring a fresh eye to the work?
- What technology is involved? Who has mastery of the technology required?
- What are the deliverables and the delivery media?
- Who needs a challenge, or a break, that this project would provide?
- How creative does this project need to be? Really experimental or very conservative?
- Who has the best stylistic and temperamental fit for this?
- Do we need a full- or part-time person?
- Who is available for the schedule that has been established?
- How much time does this project require of each person?