Design Situations: Working Under a Tight Deadline or You Want That When!?

(“Design Situations” is an ongoing section of “Keeping Up With Barrage” in which Principal and Creative Director of Barrage Design Group, Adam Poser, addresses real-life design questions and problems for the young designer or non-designer.  If  you have a question or situation that you would like Adam to address, contact him at adposer@barragedesign.)

The Situation:

One of the recurring problems I see when young designers begin work for actual clients is dealing with projects requiring a short deadline. As most designers will attest, it’s not uncommon for clients to want their job completed yesterday, but sometimes the deadline seems almost impossible to meet given the scope of the project and deadline being imposed by the client. Of course, a designer always has the right to refuse any project offered to him, but sometimes that project will come from a long-time client that you don’t want to risk losing or a new client that could potentially provide significant future business. Given that, I’m going to spend this edition of “Design Situations” giving tips on how to remain calm and complete the project on time while feeling satisfied with the result.

The Tips:

1. Make the Client Understand

The first step towards successfully completing a job under a tight deadline begins with making the client understand what they are asking you to do. Some designers are afraid to be frank with clients, but it’s your job as a designer to advise and consult, not just produce the design. Unless you have a design savvy client, they likely will not understand the time intensive process required by design. Therefore, it falls on you to temper their expectations in this situation. If you take on a job without first making the client understand and expect less than your absolute best, then no matter what the results are, the job is likely doomed from the beginning due to unrealistic expectations.

2. Limit Your Conceptualization

The phrase “dive into the deep end” is quite appropriate when presented a tight deadline. While all projects require some time dedicated to conceptualization, it is imperative that, as a designer, you do not get caught up and spend too much time thinking about the direction of the project before starting. A tight deadline requires and demands that you allow the execution of the project to guide the end product. For some, this tip will be harder  to follow than for others. If you were able to make the client understand the limitations placed on you as a designer, then their expectations anticipate a viable and working product, not the best work you’ve ever done.

3. Perfectionist Need Not Apply

Most designers are rarely satisfied with their work. Much like fine artists, we always see room for perfection and rarely feel we’ve accurately represented our creative vision.  I am no different in this regard. I often find myself second guessing design decisions I’ve made in the creative process – constantly going back to stare at a section, second guessing an accent color used or wondering if that line is placed in just the right location. There is a time and a place to let your perfectionist rule. Realistically, managing a design project under a tight deadline is not one of those times. You need to make a conscious effort to remember that the clock is ticking and you don’t have the luxury of nit-picking your work to perfection.

4. The Client Can Contribute

Any task the client can do on their end allows you more time to work on the other elements of the project. When under a tight deadline, we always encourage the client to provide the body copy,  and get in touch with a printer to price out their printing options. Sure, they won’t do it as well as you could, but again, if you’ve hammered home point #1 then they aren’t looking for perfection and absolutely logistical control.

5. Judge Yourself Differently

Finally, upon completion of the rush project, it’s essential that the criteria by which you judge the end product differ from the criteria used when a tight deadline was not a major limitation. Remind yourself of the main goals of the project; being certain to include inherent limitations. Some of the criteria by which you should judge yourself include (1) whether you created a workable design within the tight deadline and (2) how effectively you worked with the client to quickly compile the necessary information for the design. If you judge a rush project by the usual standards you will ultimately be dissatisfied and unrealistic about the quality of work that can be achieved with short deadlines. This scenario will unfortunately play itself out with every tight deadline you undertake. By understanding and accepting that you created an acceptable, quality design in a short amount of time, you will grow as a designer and continue to hone your craft.


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