by Richard Bird
Our client design briefs are, generally, quite complete and fully understood. (When they are not, we follow our own survey form to facilitate writing a brief.) As a result, we are able to write a concise project proposal that outlines goals for the first step, expected outcomes and parameters for the following steps.
Our first phase creative explorations can then be quite broad. All options are viable concepts and fully address all the parameters listed in the project brief. Curiously, feedback sometimes avoids comment on what has been presented and, instead, focuses on what has not been presented.
When this happens, phase one feedback suggests a broader range of exploration, rather than a process to narrow the field through careful refinements. This is both counter-productive for the project as well as unprofitable for the designer; creating an impasse.
There needs to be structure in the way early concepts are evaluated and how feedback is communicated. From both sides of the equation, let’s look at how improve the effectiveness of Phase One evaluation and feedback:
Designer: Rationalize the Phase One Concepts
Though, it might seem to be apparent from the project brief and approved proposal, be sure that Phase One ideas are, one-by-one, supported with a written, objective explanation as to how they answer the parameters of the brief and why they are being recommended. Avoid subjective terms, such as, “we like.” Provide written reasoning as to how each concept achieves the goals agreed upon in the original brief and the project proposal. It needs to be in writing even when there is a verbal review, since the designer will not be present to support the concepts as they progress through the client organization.
Client: Evaluate Each Concept
Likewise, the client should respond in writing to each one of the concepts presented. What are the Pros and Cons, Positives and Negatives, Assets and Liabilities for each concept? (Avoid subjective answers, such as “we don’t like…”).
In this way, each concept will have a better chance of moving forward into a refinement step that is more rationally defined and the project will be less likely to expand and create issues with timing or cost. Even the feedback on concepts that don’t move ahead is valuable and will help to build better understanding of overall decision-making.
Concept Rationale and Feedback
Follow a simple, written framework to support each concept and facilitate more concise feedback for Phase One design presentations. A good way to do this is to include the concept rationale on the same page as the concept. Encourage the client to do the same on the return. Here’s an example:
Both Designer and Client must be disciplined to provide written rationale and detailed feedback. It is all too easy to allow familiarity to become an excuse for shortcuts.
Finally, remember that refinement steps are generally expected to narrow the field of options and not to expand on them. If the latter is happening, then it could be an indication that the phase one brief was not sufficiently detailed or the phase one concepts presented were not fully understood.