Collaboration between Designer and Client...
Can this make all the difference for a creative team of one?

Last month I attended Bristol Media’s Vision Conference - a really insightful and interesting event, delivering an impressive range of speakers, both creative and digital thinkers who offered their individual takes on the theme ‘Connecting Creativity’.

A thread that was touched on by a number of the speakers, was how to get the best out of teams of ‘creatives’. Keynote speaker Margaret Heffernan put forward the idea that there should not be seen to be creative people and ‘not-creative’ people, but that in a team everyone should be given the opportunity to input when developing solutions to problems.

I completely get that. But how does this work when there’s just you - a team of one?


Can an individual compete with a team, when working on creative problems?

As an independent designer, sometimes it can feel quite isolated, as if on an island surrounded by your own little bubble. I try remind myself to look up from time to time, to find inspiration from outside myself and ask others for input on my work… to lift that protective shield if you like. Personally, I know I need to become better at this. Otherwise, the tendency is for my brain to become over-loaded and a version of self-combustion is quite likely!

Bouncing ideas around with others is always a good thing. You know how it works, a comment or idea from one person can trigger other ideas from someone else and the end result is something that may never had occurred if you were working on your own. Or, you might be working through an idea and get stuck, talking it through with someone else can often really help get things moving again.


It strikes me that one option is to include your client in the ‘team’

As reference for this, also attending Vision was a client of mine, Lucinda Brook - a marketer in the process of starting up a new social enterprise, for which I was developing a brand identity. The fact we were both there (she is based outside of Bristol so face to face meetings aren’t necessarily that easy) presented a good opportunity for me to show my initial designs. However, the timing as it was, I wasn’t really ready to show my progress, I wasn’t completely happy with the stage I was at and what I was going to present...

Within the design process it is often the case that you hit a stumbling block or are struggling to create a solution you’re happy with. This isn’t always something creatives like to portray - rather that the process is effortless for them, that their creativity knows no bounds and that their solutions are ‘simple’. In all honesty, I’m not afraid to say that quite often design solutions are difficult, taking much time to consider and develop. I was at the ‘frustrated’ stage...

Anyway, in this instance, I showed Lucinda where I was up to, sooner than I would have under usual circumstances. What I found was that it really helped! Obviously, as the founder of the business, she had a clear vision on what she was trying to achieve and together we were able to discuss the point I was at and how to move things forward. Through collaborative and open conversation, I left feeling much happier about where I had got to with the visual approach and a much clearer idea of how to resolve the identity.

From my point of view, it didn’t feel like I needed direction, or the client to tell me what to do, just someone to bounce ideas with and to talk things through with someone who understood the project.

The alternative would be to ask anyone… friends, family, studio mates etc - often just the process of talking it through means you arrive at your own conclusions. The slight downside here is that other people are coming to the project cold and don’t necessarily have knowledge of the brief and the subtleties of what you’re trying to achieve, like the client does.


The role of the client

In welcoming a client to your collaborative team, I’m not talking about asking them to do the designing…

A good designer will take the lead, be proactive in putting forward ideas and implementing them, rather than being reliant on the client to be too directive. After all, you wouldn’t pay a mechanic to work on your car and then fix it yourself. But it is good to involve the client, and glean from them any relevant insights that may help in the development of creative solutions. They may also have initial ideas or steers - for example, on a particular style or approach they like which has the right feel for their business/audience - these are always useful starting points.

Clients are always going to give their opinions on your work, why not embrace it and actively encourage them to input? I like to think that clients of mine feel listened to and part of the process.

I wanted to get a client perspective on the reality of working collaboratively with a designer, so I asked a couple of previous clients of mine a question…

How much input do you ideally like to have in creative projects?

" Personally – I love creative and know what I like and don’t like so I think it’s important to be involved in the process. A collaborative approach, in theory, at least stops time wasted pursuing an avenue that as a client I fundamentally don’t want and am likely to reject later down the line. The all important step is the brief – providing a brief that without being prescriptive, offers as much colour, background etc as possible, a springboard for ideas about what as a client I’m trying to achieve. I also like to be involved in first base ideas – it helps bring clarity to the brief and what we’re trying to achieve before the designer has wasted too much time. Having said that – I don’t want to constrain creativity so it’s a balance. Essentially – I think front loaded involvement is best to get it all going in the right direction."   
Lucinda Brook, One Less Footprint


"As a marketeer I like to create a clear, sharp brief when I bring a designer on board to help them understand my vision and goals. However, I would always choose to work with a designer who is able to bring something extra to the table. I like to feel that they are an extension to my team - they can expand on my initial thoughts and offer some excellent creativity and imagination to help bring the project to life."   
Lucy Newall, Ravenspoint Marketing

So, collaboration at the early stages is key - the brief, and input at initial design stages. And also to make sure that for the client it feels like you (the designer) are on their team, on their side, helping them make things work.


Coming from a different angle, I also wonder...

As a client, why would you choose to work with an individual designer, if the most creative work is deemed to come from teams?

These are the reasons I came up with, but I’d be really interested to hear any other thoughts...

1. Cost

Design should never be sourced purely on price, but it is a factor that freelance or independent designers will often have lower overheads than larger design agencies, and so may be a more cost effective option.

2. With an individual, you know who you’re working with

The key is obviously to find an individual designer who ‘gets you’ and what you’re trying to achieve. This previous post offers some tips on finding the right designer/design agency for you > 8 Steps to Choosing the Right Designer or Design Agency for You

3. Potential for working collaboratively

I can’t speak for other independent designers, but as discussed above, I like to involve the client in all my projects, so that they feel like they have a voice and opportunity to input their ideas (that’s not to say I will always act on them) but they can be considered, discussed and options presented.


Do you have experience of working with individual designers and also teams of creatives ? If so I’d like to hear your thoughts, positive and negative, which worked best for you?   >  Email Me

And creatives working on your own, how do you get around instances when you get stuck with creative problems ?   >  Email Me


Well, that’s my take on trying to bring a collaborative approach for a designer working on their own, specifically relating to creating design work for clients. Collaboration can obviously come in many other forms, and is essentially more obvious within permanent teams or individuals who pull together for a particular project, but that shouldn’t stop you - Go Collaborate!