Whether you’ve witnessed the inner workings of an agency as a client, a vendor, an employee, or a TV viewer (hello, Mad Men fans), you’re undoubtedly familiar with The Big Reveal.
It’s that moment when the creative team unveils the fruits of their labor after being in heads down mode, often for weeks. While toiling in secret has a way of heightening suspense, it also increases the likelihood of totally missing the mark.
Below, Sarah, design principal at Modern Tribe, explains why a more collaborative, iterative approach to design is beneficial, what design files we share with clients (spoiler alert: everything), and how to make sure working sessions are productive.
The Impact of Agency-Client Collaboration
“I prefer to work with clients as I would if I was on their in-house team—collaborating as much as possible so when we get to that presentation moment, it’s not a huge surprise because we’ve been working on it together this whole time. Ultimately, we’re looking for opportunities to constantly collaborate and continuously present work. There may be opportunities to do this asynchronously, with screencasts or Slack, as well as scheduled weekly check-ins and more formal presentations.”
Our Approach to Creative Ideation
“Iterating allows us to try a number of approaches to compare and contrast with each other. As a designer, this can be one of the more fun parts of the process as you can take chances and stretch your creativity, knowing that we don’t have to commit to decisions right away. We love making clients a part of not just the decision making process but also the creative ideation. Through collaborative research and workshops and whiteboarding tools like Invision’s Freehand, we can all contribute ideas and sketches to inform visual or UX concepts. This means even in the earliest stages of the design process, we are creating work our clients will recognize, as their ideas and points of view are integrated in the work alongside our own. This doesn’t necessarily take away the element of surprise when showing fully realized concepts. Ideally, this level of collaboration fosters delightful surprises by bringing a collective, collaborative vision to life.”
The Benefits of an Iterative Approach
“Clients are much less surprised. We don’t burn a lot of time before we get their input. Clients also benefit because they’re engaged in the work. They feel a sense of ownership, which becomes helpful when it’s time to sell the work to senior leadership in their organization. And since they work so closely with the design team, they’re more equipped to rationalize the choices that were made.
“An iterative approach also makes designing a joy. I like being able to add a visual to a client’s thoughts by jumping into a whiteboard and sketching things out on the fly. It’s super rewarding to work this way because it gives you a chance to flex your skill set. You learn so much just from listening to clients talk about their field. You also get to have more meaningful dialogue about a client’s feedback. When you talk to each other in real time, you end up with better solutions and it’s hugely efficient. A good conversation can uncover more faster than commenting back and forth in Jira.
“You produce more ideas from iterative collaboration because you’re not treating the work as precious, just yet anyway. As a designer, there’s this pressure to have it buttoned up so tight there’s no way the client can say no to it. The beauty of iterative collaboration is you can pull back the curtain and reveal the mess of the work, and when you do that, you’re more comfortable with introducing inventive ideas.”
On Why She Likes Keeping Clients in the Loop
“There’s a time and a place for a big reveal. For UX work, you’re taking particular tasks and user goals, and trying to translate them into a solution for the client’s needs. And that’s really hard to do without their involvement, so I like jumping on a call to work through issues and develop the solution alongside the client. They know their audiences, and they’re experts in their field, because they’re in it every day.
“Brand and visual design require conceptual thinking and storytelling that might be more appropriate for a bigger reveal. But even with our more visual and conceptual tasks, like a brand identity exercise, I prefer to work up to the big reveal. If there’s a workshop that can be done to reign in visual style preferences, or stakeholder interviews where we can ask about type choices and so on, I’m all for it. Again, constant communication and really helping the client feel like they’re part of the problem-solving gives them a reason to believe.”
On Helping Clients Help Themselves
“Overall, the response to a more iterative approach has been very positive. Clients appreciate getting into the work quickly. Sometimes a client will come to us and they just haven’t talked to the right people in their organization to solve a problem. They have all the necessary stakeholders, they just haven’t had the time to get them all in a room and have a designer work through it with them, and we facilitate that. They end up feeling so relieved because they’re finally getting a chance to dig into the work and figure it out.
“If there’s any hesitation, it’s just around comfort levels. If you’re not a designer and you’re uncomfortable sketching, it’s totally understandable you’d be hesitant to on a call. If they don’t feel comfortable, I’ll drive, and they can contribute verbally. As designers, part of our job is figuring out the best way to get an insight out of someone. Sometimes that means handing them the tools and observing them work, and sometimes that means watching us work and giving feedback on the fly.”
On Sharing Files and Gathering Feedback
“We give clients access to everything they want access to—Figma files, prototypes, documentation. It just depends on the project and how much they want to be involved. We tend to give clients access pretty early, especially if we’re going to workshop anything or start a feedback loop on a particular design or feature. Then it becomes a series of check-ins as we get closer to handoff.
“For feedback, I prefer a consolidated and synthesized doc, ideally with priorities. But we’ll use whatever a client feels comfortable with.”
On What Sets Our Design Team Apart
“A curious mindset, capable of adjusting on the fly, comfortable receiving feedback, good at getting and giving feedback. Sometimes we iterate on something 10 different ways, so you really need to love what you do. Passion is definitely a requirement for the job. And as far as the iterative approach is concerned, we all have to be comfortable communicating. Or at least get comfortable being uncomfortable. Being persistent—not being satisfied until we know we’ve figured it out—that’s also key.”
There’s More Where That Came From
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