Imagine this scenario – after months of negotiation, you’ve picked the UXD studio you believe is ready to help you transform your business. It’s a big step, and you want to make sure you’re doing everything you can to make the process as simple, efficient, and stress-free as possible. So you’re searching high and low for the secret formula, a foolproof blueprint, or at the very least, a trusty checklist you can follow to make sure everything goes to plan in the early stages of your client-studio relationship.
We’d love to help. But there’s one (rather huge) problem. It doesn’t exist.
Our EMEA Design Director Rich Mills explains why not only is it not as simple as ticking off points from a pre-set formula, but it’s something to be avoided at all costs…
Here’s why he’s holding firm.
#1. Design is No Longer a ‘Nice to Have’
When Rich began his design career twenty years ago, he says there was – largely – less of an appreciation for its importance within the creative process than there is today. “I think the good thing is that there’s a wider understanding that design is important and it brings value, efficiencies, and even greater bottom lines to whatever challenge you’re wanting to solve,” he says.
“The biggest change is that design studios aren’t the be all and end all to solving all problems, it’s very much working together with the client to solve the problem.”
In 2019, even at a consumer level, the interest is there – he says you just have to think about the popularity of design TV shows to understand how much it’s become a part of our everyday lives. And now, with more technology available at our fingertips, more people than ever before want to join the conversation. “We’re lucky enough now that any person off the street can download software and create a digital experience – it might not be a very good one, but they can do it,” he says.
#2. The Traditional Client-Studio Relationship is Extinct
And it’s exactly this change in behaviour that’s led to the breakdown of ‘traditional’ client-studio relationships. With a smirk, he admits some see designers as “donning berets, sitting in ivory towers separated from the real-world”. It’s absolutely not (always) true, and the best results come from rejecting outdated stereotypes and enabling the client and the studio to break new ground together.
“Back in the day,” he says, “it was very traditional – someone wanted something to be designed so they would hire a design studio, who would then go off for however many weeks or months with very limited interaction, and they would come back and say ‘this is what we’ve done for you.’”
Today, that’s not typically the way challenges are approached. “The biggest change is that design studios aren’t the be all and end all to solving all problems, it’s very much working together with the client to solve the problem.” This new working relationship means you can work faster and better thanks to a greater alignment of what the vision actually is.
“It’s not the ‘what you do,’ it’s the ‘how you do it.’ That’s always how you cut through and win against competitors, because anyone can have a checklist.”
And that’s something Rich is confident will happen more and more in the future. Due in part to collaboration apps and online tools, there’s no reason why the creative process can’t be demystified further, with barriers between clients and studios diluted beyond recognition. Ultimately, this increased sense of collaboration breaks down the need for checklists, as clients and studios can work together to establish the best way forward.
#3. It’s a simple answer to a complex problem
However appealing a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach sounds when it comes to the design process, Rich stresses it’s often not realistic. “To be different,” he says, “you have to be prepared to be different.” And having a cardboard-cutout template is often not going to give the work the originality it deserves.
“It’s not the ‘what you do,’ it’s the ‘how you do it,’” he says. “That’s always how you cut through and win against competitors, because anyone can have a checklist.” Sure, having a strong idea of what you’re looking for when it comes to your UXD design studios is beneficial, but never at the sacrifice of exploration and co-creation.
“For me, having a clear brief can be worse – they can be helpful, but you don’t want to be too wedded to them. They should be focused enough to give direction, but loose enough not to limit creativity."
“Anyone can offer the same processes, but the real difference is the people involved, and the key behaviours that allow success to happen,” he says. This, he believes, requires not only collaboration, but also avoiding being too rigid as such an approach can prevent the ability to flex and correct if anything goes wrong.
#4. It can stall creativity
Just like anything you do in life, if you follow a fixed template for every changing scenario, you run the risk of producing tired, formulaic results. For this reason, Rich believes you should not only look to avoid following a strict checklist from day one, but you should also be open to not writing a fully-fleshed out brief.
“For me, having a clear brief can be worse – they can be helpful, but you don’t want to be too wedded to them. They should be focused enough to give direction, but loose enough not to limit creativity,” he says. “That’s where collaboration has to come in – not just on the final design, but also on the challenge we’re trying to solve. You need to work it out because what a client might think is the brief might not necessarily be the right brief for them.”
Thinking about the practicalities like budget and time are important, he says, but allowing yourself to be fluid and work together to define the brief can have stronger results. “The whole point is having some sort of collaborative session where you work together and paint what that vision of success is,” he says.
Still desperate for that checklist?
Although you’re definitely not going to get one from Rich, we twisted his arm to share a few ‘pointers’ to help you on your way, especially if you’re ready to start working with us in particular.
- Prepare to be collaborative. We’re here to work with you to solve your problems.
- Prepare to be challenged. We need to know we're on the right track. We can't just be yes men.
- Prepare to be wrong. We're experts in this field, you’re coming to us for a reason.
And there you have it – why the secret formula to working with a UXD studios doesn’t exist. What do you think? Whether you agree or disagree, we’d love to hear from you on Twitter @Massive_Voice or on LinkedIn @Massive Interactive.
Rich Mills is a Design Director at Massive Interactive. Over his 20-year career, he’s delivered products across the spectrum, from industrial design to brand delivery and experiential in physical spaces. He’s also worked in innovation and within the digital space. Client interaction has been integral to every step of his career to date.