I’m Not Psychic, I’ve Just Been There Before

We have a process at Do Good Design Co. Well, actually we have at least a hundred processes. Each is clearly defined, written in an article, outline or checklist in our internal wiki site. Need to interview a new client? Need to create a new project folder in Dropbox? Need to conduct a web design review? There’s a process written up for each of those, and many more.

Recently a new employee made an innocent deviation from the process. See, we had a project that actually combined 3 different logo projects for 3 different companies, into one project, because they all sat under the same parent company. Any time we complete a logo project, we create what’s called a “Closeout Package”, which includes all of the final logo designs in lots of useful file formats. So, logically, when we created the Closeout Package for this project, this designer put all 3 final logos, for 3 separate companies, into the same Closeout Package. Seemed to make sense at the time.

While I was doing my periodic review of our files (yep, there’s a process for that too) I noticed this inconsistency. Instantly I had a premonition. Two years from now, this client was going to call us up and ask for the .eps file for XYZ logo. “Sure thing,” our project manager would reply, “I’ll get that right over to you!” He would then go looking in all the right places in Dropbox. First he would go to the archive, then to the year of the project, then to the client, then to the branding project, then to the Closeout Package. But alas, that Closeout Package would not exist, because it was combined with some other Closeout Package!

For days, our Project Manager would search and search, all the while the client is wondering why in the world such a simple request is taking so long. Finally, the logo would be found and retrieved, but not without much wasted time and frustration. In reality it might be just 30 minutes wasted time — but that’s 30 minutes too much!

I have premonitions like this all the time. A client asks, “Can you just use placeholder text for the web design and I’ll get you the copywriting when it’s ready?” My eyes flutter back in my head like some gypsy fortune-teller and I explain, “Yes, yes you may choose this path, but I see many out of scope revisions and timeline delays in your future. Beware!”

Or a developer asks, “Hey, it looks like the client is pretty happy with the design, she said she will only have minor revisions. Can I just start programming it?” And I’m taken to a parallel plane of existence where I see fully programmed web pages being torn down and reworked after new revisions come in.

The design process is like a choose-your-own-adventure novel, where the answer is always, “Yes, you can do that, but….” In real life, though, decisions always come with a degree of risk. Maybe we’ll nail down the design without final copywriting to guide us. Or maybe after the copywriting is done, everything will need to be reworked. Is it worth the risk? Probably not. Let’s just hold on the design until the content is done.

So when someone asks me if we can adjust the process, I can usually tell them exactly what will happen in the future. It’s not that I’m psychic — it’s just that I’ve been down that road before. Occasionally, very rarely, some enterprising employee asks me a question about changing a process, and my premonition leads me to a happy place where efficiency and quality are actually improved. At times like those, we incorporate the improvement into the process and all future projects.

What is the meaning of this?

The next time you ask me a question about changing a project process, I swear, I’m not rolling my eyes, I’m just having a premonition of what’s to come. When we work together using a solid process, taking smart risks and learning from experience, “what’s to come” is reliably fabulous.