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5 Ways to Be a More Efficient Designer

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It’s an ugly fact of life, but time is money. To be a successful designer, you need to practice good time management – an area that often gets overshadowed by the newest web design trends, photo editing tricks, and so forth. The long and short of it is: if you’re not maximizing your time, you’re missing out on more project opportunities. To be efficient isn’t to be quick or sloppy; it is to be smart with your time. When you’re smart with your time, you can earn more money and your clients can save some of theirs. So, with that in mind, here are five ways to be a more efficient designer.

1. KNOW YOUR CLIENT’S WANTS AND NEEDS

It seems like a no-brainer – something obvious. However, I’ve seen many designers slave over the tiniest details in the draft stages of a design, only to see that draft get thrown out because what the client wants/needs was never settled on. There is definitely something to be said for showing a client a professional-looking piece of work – after all, they hired a professional. However, before you spend 3 hours building the world’s most extensive web banner, make sure your client wants an extensive web banner. Get them to sign off on a basic concept – then go ahead with the details. It is a huge waste of time – for you and your client – to work out every last detail of a concept, and upon presentation, the concept is thrown out. Plus, it’s demoralizing for the designer.

Another example of this same idea is to design an entire website prior to figuring out what sort of layout your client wants or needs. What happens if you build a nifty 3-column design. but your client wants a 2-column design? You’re back redesigning the site, when you could’ve simply asked the client beforehand and avoided the rework. Be sure to always communicate clearly with your client – understand their wants and needs, and then start on the project.

2. DEVELOP A PROJECT WORKFLOW

One of the biggest enemies of the efficient designer is scope creep – when the scope of the project continually gets larger and larger, and all of a sudden the double-sided brochure design has become a full-fledged set of marketing materials, and you’re locked in to your original quote and timeline.

So how do you avoid scope creep? Develop a workflow, and stick to it. Communicate this workflow with your client, and explain to them that your quote for their project is based on this workflow – any work above and beyond the workflow will have to be billed on top of the original quote. Having this open and honest communication with your client will help the project along, put both parties at ease, and help to avoid any surprises down the road. I also find it helps focus the project right off the bat.

A simplified version of our general workflow (we do modify it from time to time, depending on the project) is a ‘Meeting, Research, 3-Draft, 2-Revision, Final’ workflow. After the initial meetings and project research, we offer three different first-draft designs to the client (3 Draft). The client picks one to focus on, and suggests revisions/edits (1st Revision). We apply the suggested revisions and come back to the client with the new version. The client suggests any more revisions they might have based on this version, and we apply them (2nd Draft). We apply these revisions and come back to the client with the Final draft. We find that this process helps focus both ourselves and the client, keeps the project moving efficiently, and avoids scope creep. This in turn keeps the project on-budget, and everyone’s happy! So develop a workflow, communicate it, and stick to it.

3. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

Before you sit down to the ever-intimidating blank sheet of paper, make sure you know your audience. Not the client, in this case – the audience. Who will be interacting with what you’re working on? What’s the demographic? How will you grab their attention? Again, the goal here is to save rework. Let’s take two design examples on different ends of the spectrum. Say you’re tasked to design a WordPress blog for a site focused on Swiss-influenced minimalist design (like swiss-miss.com, one of my favorites). The audience who will be viewing the site will most likely be looking for a clean and simple design with good use of white space. But if you go off and start designing a super-busy grungy template with a thousand different Photoshop layers, your design won’t reflect the purpose of the site and won’t be what the audience is looking for. Guess what? You’re back on the ol’ ReWork Express – you’re being an inefficient designer.

Know your audience and figure out what they like and how to grab their attention before you dive in – it’ll save you time, and your clients will be happy (so will their clients too!).

4. DRAFT IN PAPER AND PENCIL

I’ll be honest – I’m not great at drawing. I mean, my stickmen are world-renowned and all, but they still won’t pass in the design realm. However, when in the preliminary stages of a design, you don’t have to be great at drawing. It’s quicker to sketch out a big banner, two column, fixed footer website layout than it is to open Photoshop, set your guides, block in some shapes, save it as a PDF and send it to your client. The idea is still communicated visually with paper and pencil – from there forth you can hop into your beloved Creative Suite and get to work.

Plus, with paper and pencil drafts, you eliminate the possibility of wasting time playing with gradients and blending modes and all those things you shouldn’t be focusing on until later in the process. You can figure out what direction you want to head in quickly, and then you can start working on the details.

5. DON’T REINVENT THEVECTOR SUNBURSTWHEEL

Just like everything, there are trends in design. Whether it’s the light-background sunburst design, or perhaps the letterpress text effect, chances are you’ve used them and you’ll use them again. So re-use them. It’s not cheating; it’s not being lazy. I’m not talking about reselling a web design to another client as a ‘unique’ design when all you did was change the header and background color – that’s unethical. But if a lot of your clients require websites that follow the same or similar format, design that site as a blank template and start from there in the future. You’ve saved yourself some time, and you’ve saved your client some money.

The same goes for Photoshop actions. If a few of your clients want that letterpress text effect, do it once and record it as an action in Photoshop. Next time, just hit play and you’re good to go! Or, perhaps you find yourself using a few of the same shapes (sunbursts, pixel patterns, etc) in your designs. Save them in a folder called ‘Vector Patterns’ or something similar, and soon you’ll have a budding library of reusable design elements. These sorts of tricks add up over the course of a project  – even if you only save yourself one hour, you’re still saving your client some money. Happy clients mean more projects, and more work for you overall!

There are many ways to be an efficient designer – these are just a few that I fall back on to help me. Remember, efficiency doesn’t mean quick. It isn’t so simple. Efficiency means effective use of time; it means avoiding rework. Most of the time, efficiency stems from clear lines of communication between the client and the designer, as well as the knowledge of roles and who is responsible for what. A great way to tackle all of these need-to-knows is a design brief – an article that I’m currently working on.

Anyway, I hope you found these tips helpful! Go forth and be efficient – and if you enjoyed the article subscribe to the RSS feed here.

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