In some ways, managing a virtual team is like managing people face to face, but a few things must be adjusted to make it work smoothly:
- Launching a project with a face-to-face meeting, if possible, is great for setting the proper tone and helping to facilitate a sense of personal connection among team members.
- Written forms of communication, such as email, can easily be shared and subsequently referred to later if necessary.
- Use of technology, especially web-based project management software, is a given.
- Being able to create virtual "war rooms" (i.e., collections of discovery materials held in one location) where people can review visual material and documents is essential.
- At some point, real-time viewing and discussion of work in progress must be facilitated.
- Some activities, such as brainstorming, may be better accomplished with shared physical proximity. Distance may slow certain processes, if not completely impede them.
- Camaraderie in design must be facilitated. Many elusive creative moments come from being in proximity to other creative people. Alternative scenarios need to be provided for this type of interaction to occur in some way.
- Verification of information must be pursued. Not everyone understands text-based messages. Voice inflection, as well as nonverbal communication, can often change the meaning of words. Managers need to make sure the team gets the right message.
- Teams that represent a variety of cultures—based on everything from ethnicity to geography to expertise in allied but different industries—can present a challenge, especially when none of their work time is face to face. Barriers come down when people can interact personally.
- Shared processes and agreed-upon work methods will bond the group. Having a team code of conduct will diminish misunderstandings and make the team more cohesive.
An asynchronous environment, in which team members and the client are not viewing and discussing the work simultaneously, can lead to lots of misunderstandings. Managing reactions and feedback becomes challenging in that context. Certain meetings, review sessions, and conferences should occur with all team members logging in or calling simultaneously. This is particularly important for initial creative concept presentations. Having the design team and the client participate directly with each other will allow real-time discussion, timely input, and group resolutions.
Useful Questions for Screening Creatives
Whether you are hiring a staff designer or selecting a temporary collaborator for a project, you need to interview this person. Many design firms make hiring decisions based solely on portfolios. A lot of relevant information is contained in a portfolio: Style sensibility, attention to detail, quality, and experience are all obvious. But what else can you uncover about the person behind the work that would help you make an informed choice? Here are some openended questions to ask:
- What was your last project? What did you learn from it? What did you like and dislike about it?
- Describe your work process on a typical project. How do you approach design?
- Which pieces in your portfolio are you most proud of? Why?
- What kinds of clients do you prefer to work with? Why? Which clients in your portfolio were like this? Which ones were not?
- What kind of creative direction did you have on this particular project? How do you like to be supervised? What make a good boss?
- What are your professional goals? Where do you see yourself in five years?
- What do you think are your strong and weak points? What are your plans to improve your deficiencies and enhance your strengths?
- What organizations or activities do you pursue that enrich you as a designer? What professional societies are you a member of and how have they helped your career?
Remember that these questions are meant to aid in discussions that reveal more about the person you are interviewing. However, it is against the law in many countries to discriminate on the basis of gender, age, ethnicity, region, sexual orientation, skin color, or national origin, so steer clear of any conversations that touch on those topics.
Project Profile in Assembling the Team
Magabala Diary designed by Finn Creative / Kunnamura, Australia
Celebrating more than twenty years of publishing about indigenous Australians, Magabala Books, in conjunction with Finn Creative, created a distinctive cross-cultural daily diary showcasing aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander storytellers, writers, and illustrators through exquisite portraits, book excerpts, and artist profiles. Finn Creative is lead by creative director Kevin Finn. Prior to moving to Australia, Irish-born Finn worked in Dublin and New Zealand with top design studios. He then spent seven years as joint creative director at Saatchi Design, Sydney, winning national and international recognition.
The Magabala desk diary is both a revenue stream for the company, and a promotional item. "Early in the process, I suggested that we may be able to include a number of other levels to the diary," says Finn. "For a start, we should look at how indigenous people view the calendar year, and also include dates that have particular significance for indigenous people. Added to this, since Magabala produces books, I felt it would be interesting for users to have access to excerpts to the authors' works as this would make the diary more engaging (and more valuable) as well as promoting the authors (and, in turn, Magabala Books)."
"One of my goals was to try to make the diary as cross-cultural as possible, as well as perhaps making it a resource to further educate about indigenous culture," Finn explains. "In addition to this, a key objective is to access people who may not normally see themselves as having an interest in aboriginal culture, simply because the usual portrayal of aboriginality is delivered through painting—dot painting in particular. Creating a diary that on the one hand is smart and sophisticated looking and on the other hand provides a wider look at aboriginal culture through literature, became a critical objective. Above all, the desk diary needed to be practical."
Since Magabala Books produces books, the visual direction was based in this truth. All the Magabala Books–related information, including the authors' backgrounds and excerpts, are delivered as though inside a small book contained in the diary. The diary will be produced each year, so it needs to remain consistent but fresh each year. The book idea will be the constant (almost template) for each diary.
"The Western calendar is linear and very fixed, split into days and months," notes Finn. "The indigenous calendar is circular, fluid, and flexible, split into seasons that are defined by when flora and fauna appear or disappear and are dictated by weather patterns. Even though the Western calendar is specific (365.25 days to be exact), we still commonly use the phrase 'the whole year round.' And even though the Western calendar is linear, once December 31 comes around, the next day starts the process from the beginning again, so it also has a cyclical nature."