In his most famous work on capitalism and commerce, The Wealth of Nations, author and economist Adam Smith describes how even something as simple and pedestrian as a farmer’s woolen coat can’t be made by a single person. It requires the collective expertise and effort of many different people — everyone from the shepherd to the tailor has a role play to play, including less obvious jobs like dye-maker, money-lender, cart-driver (and cartwrights before that), and the folks who hand-carve buttons from precise species of wood. It takes a village, literally.
Bringing things to the current day, let’s consider the modern creative company or internal team. Do you work together in concert on every project? Does one person seem to do multiple jobs when he should be leveraging only what he does best? Perhaps one way to test your internal workflow is to design a business card … together.
Small Things Have Big Consequences
The business card is a small artifact, but it can be used to examine your processes and roles. Readers of The Busy Creator are likely to be the designer or copywriter, but you’ll also need a project manager, a finance person, an external print partner, and someone higher up the chain to review all the cards for accuracy. Or at least, you should create those roles for the purpose of this little experiment.
Create a Thorough Workflow
If you don’t already have a design workflow in place, let’s create one.
Start with a kick-off meeting where you discuss the business merits of this project. Talk briefly about the time requirements and who would be involved. Observe early challenges, whether those are printing costs, getting info from HR, meeting a timeline, etc.
Next, assign roles. As mentioned above, this probably looks something like this: an art director will create the overall style, a production artist will build the files and ensure precision, a writer will create the text and content, a project manager can help suppress problems and investigate logistics, a financier can approve a proposed budget and ultimately release the funds, and a project owner oversees everything and keeps track of those high-level business objectives. In practice, there can be numerous overlaps, but see for a second if you can actually innumerate each of those roles.
After you’ve put together the team, assign a project number, create a shared place for project files on a server and/or within your project management software, and otherwise get yourselves organized. If you use a big whiteboard, write it up; if you use a Kanban board, make those first few cards in their appropriate columns.
Ok, now get to it. Sketches, first copy drafts, type research, visual concept development, etc. etc. As the cards come together, you’ll need to schedule formal moments for review, where certain concepts are brought forward and others put aside. It’s a good idea to take the extra time to show your designs to the team in an organized fashion, with a proper presentation template. Get practice speaking about the project in-progress, and the challenges you’re encountering as things unfold.
Team members can break off and discuss further as needed. The art director and production artist will chat about specifics relating to colour, type, etc. The writer and project manager can work for accuracy and compliance. The project owner will keep an eye on everything to make sure things are running smoothly.
Assuming everything is rolling along, you’ll be ready to send your files to the printer and get some shiny new cards. For the benefit of the project, keep your printing partner informed and give him access to the entire team as needed. A simple list of all project members and their contact info will cut down on drama and red tape, allowing your printer’s own team to troubleshoot directly to the person who can help. For example, some issues relating to ink and paper might be the purview of the art director, but issues relating to shipping and billing would be more appropriate for the project manager or accounts payable contact.
Avoid Potential Pitfalls
The business card is peculiar because it affects everyone in the company, and can become a point of discontent, especially among creatives. Sadly, there’s no true way to please everyone all the time. But there is a way to use this to your advantage to test your workflow; it’s a chance for the project owner to practice his politics, and assert that A.) not everyone gets an opinion, and B.) we designing the cards are taking into account the larger business considerations and objectives. There’s trust involved with a business card just as would be the case with a larger, more thorough project.
Another potential pitfall is waiting for the last minute to get essential people involved. Knocking franticly on the door of your COO demanding an up-to-date list of all employees and their contact details is almost certain to yield zero results, and might actually plunge the entire project into chaos. Instead, sending a “heads up” request weeks earlier can help build a solid foundation. Specific to this type of project, you can create a blank Excel sheet indicating exactly what you need and in what format. (See also, Data Merge in InDesign). The same behavior is important for people in less managerial and ownership roles — don’t surprise your junior staff or even your proofreaders with an unwieldy or intricate project at the last minute. The likeliness of errors increases sharply if someone feels like they’ve fallen victim to a sneak-attack project.
How Did It Go?
Hopefully, the project has yielded a set of beautiful new cards. But more importantly, what did you learn about your workflow? Was there a point where the entire project seemed to come to a halt? Did one person seem overwhelmed? Was it organised and transparent throughout? Did you find email to be a terrible mess? Now is the time to correct your bad habits and address these issues.
Some firms host post-mortems to discuss the projects objectively, and to remark on future plans to improve their operations and the work it produces. Perhaps you can take the time to try this tactic even for a humble card. For these post mortems you’re less concerned with critiquing the design, and more concerned with discussing whether your expectations matched the reality. Evaluate the gaps in the process, not the end result by itself.
Report Your Results
Share a story of your own team dynamics. Can your company indeed design a business card? Do you have a well-oiled machine in place to tackle complex projects involving multiple departments? How is information and progress shared?
Leave a comment below to offer some insight. Your experiences can help others learn and explore new ideas.