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How to set a task for a designer and not go crazy

I work as an art director at an interactive agency and teach beginning designers in online courses. From experience I know that working with a designer can be a source of amazing discoveries, and can turn into a headache, deadlines and a spoiled project.

A common cause of problems is an incomprehensible task: the manager and designer do not understand what they want from each other. This is today’s article. It will be useful if you have had to return the task to the designer at least once in the last six months, because he did something wrong.

Step One: Understand What To Do
Situation. A Clockwork Orange Agency is developing a website design for a dairy. They made a design concept, the manager went to present it to the client. At the meeting, the client said that he did not like anything, the concept was far from expectations, and “more air” was needed.

The manager does not know what to do. What does “more air” mean? How long will the edits take, is it scary at all or not, what is the procedure? The manager asks the client about the details: what should be the concept for it to be accepted. In response, the client begins to generate solutions: offers to change the font and color, underline the links in bold in the header, add details with white circles.

During the discussions, the manager and the client themselves give birth to a new design concept, and then the manager comes to the designer with a list of literal changes: move the button five pixels, change the font to Helvetika, place such and such text on the second screen.

Problem. The manager chews the task very much, understands it too deeply. He knows where and how to add a button, and uses the designer as a tool.

Sometimes the microcontrol method works well – for example, if the manager is experienced and with a lot of watch, but is dealing with a novice designer who still cannot offer any solutions. In such cases, the designer will even be happy if he is offered a literal solution – they will tell you how to repaint the block to get better, how to rewrite the text and move the module.

But if the designer is experienced, then such a statement of the problem fetters him. He himself can offer a lot of cool – and, most likely, objectively more cool than a manager with a client – but he does not have the opportunity to do this, because everyone has already come up with it.

If the situation repeats month after month, an experienced designer is discouraged and is looking for a new job. So the company may lose cool designers who could benefit, but they leave because they are treated like children, not adults.

Decision. In cases where the manager does not understand the scope of work and the essence of the changes, he can come to the designer and honestly say: buddy, we have a problem, I don’t understand what to do with it, let’s come up with something together.

This approach benefits both parties:

The designer receives a field for activity and the ability to influence the situation.
The manager receives a more motivated and responsible performer.
In order to prevent microcontrol in the long term, you need to keep a balance between chewing the task to the smallest detail and complete unknown. A productive and valuable task lies somewhere in between.

Step Two: Immerse the Designer in Context
Situation. A Clockwork Orange recently launched a dairy site. The site works and as a whole looks good, but with texts the trouble is in places: either the headings do not fit into the first screen, then on the mobile version the size of the main text becomes unreadably small.

The manager sets the task to the designer: “Comb text styles” and applies a link to the layouts. The designer has been working in the company for three days and knows nothing about the project. He sits down to do the task, changes the fonts and for a long time piles over typographic nuances. Three days later, it turns out that the changes are too large and radical, and it was only necessary to slightly finish the existing styles.

Problem. The manager handed the task over to the novice designer without explaining what work preceded this task. We need more data: what kind of site is it, why is it needed, what are the technical details, what problems with text styles does the client or manager see, what are the limits of acceptable “combing” (can I change only the font sizes, or the fonts themselves too?). The designer did not have enough information, and because of this the task had to be redone, although initially it was uncomplicated and did not promise problems.

Decision. At first glance, it seems that a large amount of data is not needed to solve a specific small task, but the more the designer knows about the project, the better it solves problems – even the smallest ones. Here’s how it works.

Around any project – especially an interactive product such as a website, web service or mobile application – there is always some kind of cloud of meanings. Information about the project, about the client, about its features, about the state of things in the company. Scandals, rumors, nuances of customer relations are also here. This does not apply directly to the task, but explains the processes that occur to it.

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