I spent the weekend making invitations for a going away party for a friend. My mom is an awesome card-maker, and she had a gorgeous card sitting on the shelf last time I was there, so I decided that I wanted to use the design for my friend’s invitations. My mom and I have a habit of taking apart pretty cards or invitations we receive in the mail, always trying to figure out how the design works. So, true to myself (and my mom, I get it honestly!), I studied the design and came up with my own modification. Turns out, my modification took about 10x longer to complete than the original design. There were two tricks that I couldn’t figure out, and unfortunately, my mom wasn’t in town to show them to me. When she returned, I showed her my Saturday’s worth of work, and explained how I’d made my invitations. My solution was pretty clever, but her knowledge would’ve made the work much faster. So, what does this tale of design failure have to do with the office?
First, working backwards doesn’t always work! Sometimes you need to understand the steps at the beginning, and the logic behind them, in order to come up with an elegant solution. This is particularly true in branding. A lot of companies want to come up with some cool logo or concept, and then force the brand to fit that concept. But, it doesn’t work this way! You have to start at the beginning, take a look at the market and customer’s needs, then formulate the product and concept, then design the branding message and visuals that best represent your solution.
Second, use an expert, and use all the tools available to you. A professional designer taught my mom how to make the card I saw on the shelf, and had my mom been in town, she would’ve taught me. But even when she started showing me how to make the design, I wanted to forgo one of the tools, because I thought I could do it better all by myself. Turns out, using the tools made the assembly of the design much faster. Don’t assume that the experts don’t know what they’re doing, and don’t assume that the tools are actually a time suck. Sometimes, the process has already been optimized, and trying to re-invent the wheel is silly. This has been particularly applicable in my company’s attempts to customize an open-source CRM system “for free”. There’s companies with products that are fine-tuned, yet we keep trying to tweak a whole new solution! We’re not willing to use the tools available, so while it’s been a valuable learning experience, it has taken much longer to see results.
Last, you have to keep an open mind when trying to figure out the next best solution. My design style is somewhat haphazard when I first start formulating a concept. I need to see everything to start coming up with an action plan, and it’s pretty hilarious to watch. I walk in, pull out every piece of paper, ribbon, ink, and die cut that I think could possible work, and throw them all over the floor. I then walk around and start pairing the items that will work together, and tossing all the unwanted items into another pile. After several “random” culling sessions, the pile that’s left is what I will use to make the design. Though that process is haphazard and frenzied, I’m a machine once I’ve made the choices. I am laser-focused, and I don’t get sidetracked by other fun design rabbit holes (the time for tangents was during the pull and sort phase!) My mom, on the other hand, is very calculated in her initial design specs, and she only pulls the items that specifically match the specs. But, once she starts assembling the parts, she gets distracted by the modifications that she could make to her design. Our process is different, but when we work together, we try to keep an open mind. Our combined design styles generally turn out to be beautiful, and between the two of us, our experience usually helps us figure out a way to do it better, faster, and less wastefully. The same is true in business! You need to keep an open mind, and mesh decision-making processes to come up with the next best solution. Does one department throw everything on the wall and see what sticks? Does another hunker down the analyze the numbers? Can you combine the knowledge gained from both approaches to create a “whole is greater than the sum of the parts” effect?
My design fail reminded me of the importance of using all the tools, knowledge and experience available to me, both in the scrapbooking room and in the office!