A Look At Process: Why?

!{border:1px solid black;}http://boboroshi.com/assets/2007/5/24/scream_why.jpg (Photo by Brooke, licensed under Creative Commons)!

I missed RailsConf this year, but made it in spirit in my quasi-appearance in Amy Hoy’s talk. Her presentation PDF got me thinking about how we do things at Meticulous. Between her pdf and talking to a new client today about teaching them our process, I figured I’d start writing it down.

So Where Do I Begin?

So you want a poster? Why? A website? Why? Ohhhhh you want Flash? DEAR GOD WHY?

Because.

Why Because?

Because. THIS IS SPARTAAAA!!!!

Seriously now…

The first part of process is educating the client that you are not a monkey. You are not a beautiful flower either, so don’t get your hopes up. You are a design professional. You provide design or communication solutions to a problem. Your solution can only be as good as your problem definition.

For you programmers in the audience, this is a no brainer. You have no requirements document? Oh this is going to be fun! But in design circles, all too often there are no requirements to be seen. Just “make me a website”.

Houston, You Have a Problem

What happens more often than not is that the client comes to you with a solution. They have a 32 page RFP that does not define anything except that there are way too many cooks in the kitchen and half of their jobs are riding on the success of the delivery of this RFP’s solution. What they don’t realize is that this is a project set to fail.

You are the solution provider. However, you’ve just been told what solution to provide. But alas, you’ve got rent to pay, food to put on the table, and OOO LOOK SOMETHING SHINY! Pretty quickly, you end up in presentations with 10 people and no agenda (and we all know those kind of meetings are teh suck) and you have to say “I’ll look into that” because telling one of the various “shareholders” in the room “no” means you’re an asshole and your boss will get a call later complaining that you insulted a program head of some irrelevant department who wanted their name on a tab even though they belong in a completely different part of the navigation and really it didn’t matter but they were upset and needed to lash out. GASP

True story.

Shareholders

Just using the word “shareholders” is wrong. It’s as if the project is some risky stock in which an individual will invest and later sell before it tanks and leave some poor sap holding the loss.

I’m not going to attempt to change the lexicon of the entirety of the tech industry, but let’s think about these “shareholders” differently for a moment. They’re people who know pieces of the problem. They believe they know the solution, but what they know is the problem.

“We need to communicate with our end users better.”

Now that is a problem. But what you’ll get is

“Let’s make a web 2.0 community site with minty fresh gradients and diagonal backgrounds for our users!”

Destined. To. Fail.

So I Gots a Problem

So your job is to stop the potential client dead in his or her tracks and say “Wait. Why? What problem are you trying to solve?” And usually, they will tell you something very ambiguous and seemingly unrelated to the solution they’ve requested. And through a few hours of discussion, you can generally help the client realize their true problem and place them on the path to a better life. Just don’t break out an Austrian accent and say “now tell me about your mother.”

Now, not all clients are this way. Many times you’ll have something where a client says “I need to redesign the skin of my website for x, y and z reasons.” And generally, they’ll be close. Because they know why they’re asking for the solution.

Onward, Brave Designer!

Now that you’ve got a problem, you can set about defining a solution for your client. Sometimes the solution is no solution. More often than not, you actually do have a project and you and the client run off into blissful wonderland. Well, at least until your first design critique. And then? Oh it’s on, bitch.

More coming

Next time, we’ll look at paper and how it can be your best friend ever. Yup. Better than your BFF. It’s your new BFF. And it’s name? Bum Wad. (UPDATE 12 Jul 07 the bum wad article is now online )

Photo by Brooke from Flickr photo page and licensed under Creative Commons

  1. Tomasz Gorski says:

    Thanks for very interesting article. btw. I really enjoyed reading all of your posts. It’s interesting to read ideas, and observations from someone else’s point of view… makes you think more. So please keep up the great work. Greetings

  2. Eny says:

    Surprise Customer8 Sep 11My mother’s sstier had a successful career in social work, and never married. She was very generous with my two sstiers and me, and our children. She liberally subsidized our collective education and contributed much to our general wellbeing.One of my team Members opened a retail account with me.She was taking the place of a similar aunt in her family.Beyond merely sending greeting cards to all the nieces, nephews and others in her family, she often included gift cards.We did experience a couple of ‘glitches’ in two of the early mailings, but corporate Customer Service is good and I was able to assist in correcting the discrepancies.Having thought that she would just send a few cards to her family members, I was surprised at the dollar volume of her business.She remains a valued client, and I will do whatever is necessary to maintain her loyalty.Doc Edwards, Keeping in touch is supportive.

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