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Design to Meet Business Needs

I have been reminded lately of the differences between art and design. There is an article on, which I think expresses the difference quite well. It states that “art asks questions, while designers answer them.” Fundamentally, design exists to solve a problem or meet a business need.

Sometimes we get lost on that fact, not only the designers, but the clients as well. Recently, my team was tasked with creating a handout for one of the departments. It probably wouldn’t be appropriate to go into the nitty gritty, but the basic task was that they had a sheet of information and they wanted it to “look pretty.” The client who gave me the job had a couple of ideas of what she wanted, which we discussed and then I handed it down to my team.

Then the client who gave us the job went on vacation. We started working with another member of the department and it quickly became obvious that they had two separate visions of what this project was supposed to be. Before long we had five different parties involved, giving feedback and ideas of what they wanted, which is a lot of resources and effort for a simple handout.

At this point I started asking questions that I should have asked in the beginning:

1)      What is the purpose of the handout? Is it to provide information or is it to assist in making an ask for a donation/funding? Something else?

This is where I should have started. If the purpose of design is to solve a problem or meet a business need, then it was imperative that not only I, but especially the client, understand what that need really was. I should not have made assumptions, but worked with the client to explicitly define it.

2)      Who is ultimately responsible for approving the content and design of the project? If you are unavailable, is there someone who can make decisions on your behalf?

Again, I made an assumption that the person I initially talked to was that person and that she would be readily available. I should have established a clear line on who to talk to when questions arose and proofs were ready for review.

Now, all of this is basically project management 101, but sometimes, especially when the job seems small, it’s easy to forget and skip ahead. This was a good reminder that these fundamental questions need to be answered and understood before anyone touches a mouse. In the end, it will save everyone a lot of time and effort, and ultimately result in a better product that meets your business needs.

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