What teaching students taught me about clients

I just finished my second year of instruction at the University of Washington, teaching mobile experience design to Juniors in the Visual Communications program and the process continues to teach me about what good design asks of those involved with its processcommunication is key in design

Your work is not self-evident. Explain what you’ve done and how it addresses the project goals.

Students have an inclination to present work by describing the visible elements of the project, something Mike Monteiro calls “the real estate tour.” It’s boring to have someone prattle on about things you can easily see. What’s less clear is why something was designed the way it was. The process for making design decisions can be a very internal one, but it’s important to communicate that process to your teacher – or your client. Make sure they understand the thought process behind the real estate.

Set clear goals and make sure they are communicated

As a practicing professional I’m used to making assumptions about what my team knows – they’ve got years of experience in the field so it’s logical they have informed perspectives about requirements and process. That’s not the case with students, or with the designers you’ve hired. When you are engaging in a process it’s important to be clear about what you’re hoping to achieve and why it’s important to your business.

Make Shit Up

Designers get hired to solve intangible problems. It’s our job to bring clarity and form to abstract and ill-defined problems. In order to do this, we often have to make assumptions in order to validate our solution. This is a skill that takes a long time to cultivate and those who are new to the design world struggle with this. There’s a lack of confidence in just making shit up and going with it. A robust design process will help everyone understand why it’s important to do this and how to keep things moving.

Designers want work they can show in their portfolio

The the end of the day what design students want, is work they can include in their portfolio – work that impresses potential employers. This is true most designers – they want to do work for their clients that is renowned and admired. By giving them freedom to explore and create you’ll all end up being happier with the finished work.

Iterative work is difficult to wrap your head around

Iteration produces the best results. It’s proven time and time again. But iterative work is difficult to evaluate in structured environments. It’s important for both clients and designers to understand what part of the problem you’re addressing with the current effort and when you’ll be addressing the other parts.

Designers, like everyone else, are motivated by deadlines

The quality of work I see from students before the final weeks of the class is typically unimpressive. But, what happens between then and the due date for the final work to be turned in is magical. This is true for your design team as well. It’s not to say that it’s unreasonable to expect to see progress throughout an engagement, but it’s important to have confidence in your team to come through for you in the end. If it’s not something you feel confident about, it’s time to have a conversation with your designer.

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