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How to commission a designer: Step 5 - Manage the project

How to commission a designer: Step 5 - Manage the project

1 May 2015

A six-part guide featuring practical tips, advice and checklists for businesses investing in design.

Design could be one of the best investments you ever make. But how do you get that investment right? How do you choose the right designer at the right price? How will the designer get to grips with the complexities of your business? How can you communicate what you want when you’re not quite sure yourself? How will you manage a designer and how will you assess whether what you get is ‘good’ design or not?

These are questions businesses ask all the time about using design. This guide aims to help you answer them.

Step 5: Managing the project

Managing a design project is about more than briefing the designer and then leaving them to get on with it. You need to take a full and active part in the project if it’s going to achieve the result you want. That means taking key steps to make sure everything stays on time and on budget.

A good first step is to create a project plan elaborating in more detail on the timescales set out in the brief or any proposal document provided by the designer. Making this a joint exercise will ensure you have a common starting point and expectations, as well as setting the right collaborative tone for the project.

It’s important that a single point of contact is available on your side at all times. The designer will need regular information and perhaps meetings to discuss issues as they arise, so don’t give the job to someone who’s going to be tied up or away for long periods during the project. If review meetings are missed, sign-off of the various stages of design work will be held up and deadlines will slip.

Build in review meetings for the designer to formally present concepts, models or mock-ups. Think carefully about who has final responsibility for signing work off and who needs to see concepts beforehand. Ideally, these people should be involved as early as possible, preferably in drafting or approving the brief. That way, you’re most likely to steer clear of unwelcome surprises and delays.

The same goes for anyone, internally or externally, who is likely to be involved in implementing the project, particularly if this means totally new disciplines, such as engineering or manufacturing, being adapted for the first time.

Try to review design work objectively rather than subjectively. For example, try to consider if the design work will help you achieve the aims you set out in the original design brief rather than being subjective and just saying “I like it” or “I don’t like it”. If you don’t have clear enough aims in your brief then perhaps you need to add them (eg, Is the design trying to help you reach new customers or new markets? Is it trying to innovate or position your company or your product differently?). You may want to test your design with customers at some point too, and allow time in your schedule for changes based on their responses. It can really help refine the design to work best for your audience.

Project milestones

Agree milestones with your project team and plan in review points to monitor progress.

  • Prepare/agree the brief
  • Review initial design concepts
  • Select strongest design concepts for development
  • Select final concept
  • Test
  • Detail and refine designs for production
  • Sign off final deliverables
  • Start production
  • Launch
  • Deliver
  • Evaluate

The Design Council offers support programmes to help organisations get the most value out of design. Learn more about our work here.

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Download a PDF of this guide that includes case studies and more tips and information.

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