Good designers don’t thrive on chaos

Musings from creative wilderness by Zarina Holmes

“Some people have more time than others,” according my sensei during my Japanese sword lesson. What he meant was, people who have calm attitude and composure could think themselves out of problems better than panicky individuals.

Whether a samurai or a designer, neither could perform well under chaotic instructions. It’s also unsafe and create opportunities for mistakes to happen.

There’s nothing a designer dislike more that constantly moving goalposts. Especially near the deadline. Why? Because it’s harder to achieve the aim this way.

I’m fine with the agile method, where incremental modifications are introduced in the project as you go along until it reaches its goal. This method is great for UI, software and some digital projects, because the internet is an ongoing work-in-progress – it never finishes and could always be tweaked.

However, many companies have mistaken the agile workflow with chaos and anxiety-driven project management.

You can’t apply it to everything – like campaigns, products and big reports, which have clear closing deadlines.

However, many companies have mistaken the agile workflow with chaos and anxiety-driven project management.

Every project needs to allow for time for proofing or checking over details. I recommend from three days to one week. It’s amazing how many projects I came across that don’t recognised the time needed for problem-solving and research.

Usually this happens among start-ups because they don’t recognise their workflow processes yet.

Please also make a habit of approving jobs in the morning instead of in the late afternoon when everyone is already tired.

There are substantial reasons behind a chaotic work process – internal politics, weak leadership, economic uncertainties, bad project planning, bad corporate culture and a sign of stress manifesting in one’s work.

When you find yourself in this situation, the best thing to do is to stop and step back to identify what causes the chaos. Try to see the woods from the trees. Maybe there’s a simpler way to solve the problem.

It will save everyone’s time and peace of mind further down the line.

Zarina Holmes is a Creative Director and Founder of GLUE Studio.
linkedin.com/in/zarinaholmes

Talk to a human face

Musings from creative wilderness by Zarina Holmes

The most ironic thing about the smartphones is that people don’t use them to talk using voices anymore.

Nowadays I received more voice calls from bitcoin salespersons than my friends. But that’s fine because at least I still get to meet my friends in person over coffee.

Today at work, we mostly conduct our conversations over emails and chats. However, at the start of a new project it’s better to organise a team meeting – if not in person, via voice or video call. After that it’s okay to follow up with emails or pinging people on Slack.

You are likely to solve complicated problems quicker by picking up the phone, because listening to someone’s voice and having a face-to-face interaction could soften and humanise the situation.

Conversations over emails can sound pretty cold and distant. So, you have to word them carefully as not to sound blunt or being misunderstood.

In more than one occasion, I have witnessed a simple problem escalated into a full-blown passive aggressive group email or chat threads – simply because the project lead hesitated to take the reign and pick up the phone for a quick chat.

Of course, we assume everyone in the team have the same level of emotional intelligence but in the real world, sometimes that’s not the case.

Ignore human interface at your peril

One of the worst communication examples I’ve had experienced from a tech organisation where the CMO didn’t even call a face-to-face group meeting in the beginning of a massive rebranding project. Needless to say, 12 months down the line the project was a total chaos, team members left one by one and the brand came out looking pretty average despite the expensive price tag.

You are likely to solve complicated problems quicker by picking up the phone, because listening to someone’s voice and having a face-to-face interaction could soften and humanise the situation.

It’s all fine to use Slack, Trello or Jira platforms to track progress – but if there’s no human interface holding the team together, the team will run into conflict and will be delayed at decision making.

Also, remember to apply compassion. Don’t underestimate that your colleagues are capable to empathise if you face difficulties at work or in personal life.

There’s a more open attitude about mental health issues at work today. Seek support from HR or talk to a colleague. That’s why we work in a team.

Organise a coffee catch-up or breakfast meeting once in a while to break the monotony.

Zarina Holmes is a Creative Director and Founder of GLUE Studio.
linkedin.com/in/zarinaholmes

How to brief a designer

Musings from creative wilderness by Zarina Holmes

Designers are simple people. They are never short of imagination and enthusiasm, but what they really appreciate is a clear instruction. That is the job brief.

On the outside, designers seem like carefree coffee-drinking lot. Secretly, they relish in being organised. I don’t know one designer that doesn’t put label on things or not fascinated by a Muji storage.

When you hire a designer, you are not simply hiring someone to make your brand pretty. You are hiring a right hand. A weapon wielder to execute your strategy if you like, to communicate persuasively with your target audience and solve the messaging issues that your brand may have.

When you hire a designer, you are not simply hiring someone to make your brand pretty. You are hiring a right hand.

It’s important for designers to buy into your vision to champion it. You need to explain that story by writing a good job brief.

So, what’s a good job brief? Most of it is common sense – to include details such as budget, project duration, timeline, background, objective and desired result.

Be organised. Because you can’t score without a goal.

You’d be surprised how many jobs that landed on my desk without a clear timeline and objective. In my opinion, if a job hasn’t got clear a deadline or objective, it’s not ready to be passed on to the creative team.

Some two decades ago when I started out in an ad agency – before project management platforms like Trello existed – the Creative Director will not accept a “job bag” unless it had a job number. Why? If hasn’t got a job a number, it means that the Account Executive hasn’t done his/her homework. It’s not filed properly. The job bag was literally a brown envelope stuffed with artworks and related research materials for the creative. These days it could be a Google drive or any cloud folders.

If a job hasn’t got clear a deadline or objective, it’s not ready to be passed on to the creative team.

Please take some time to gather your thoughts first. Get the relevant team members to agree on the brief before commissioning.

Zarina Holmes is a Creative Director and Founder of GLUE Studio.
linkedin.com/in/zarinaholmes