How blue is blue? Does it have a tinge of green in it? Can it be more like the ocean at midday? Maybe it’s more of a cornflower blue. A little less saturation and then more toward the purple…
In a creative or web development process, there are many things to communicate, some clear as day, some vague as the night. As a purchaser of creative services, you need to know that there is a large nebulous area between your decision to hire a creative firm and your final product. As much as you know what you’d like to see in a project, it is only a faint precursor of the outcome. Even if mind reading were an option, there are oodles of details that simply can’t be worked out before a deep dive in the project.
Therein lies our opportunity as creatives to impress you and to build what has never been built before; therein also lies our challenge. When it is done right, the results are wonderful and praiseworthy. When it is done wrong, there is frustration and disappointment. So the stakes are high.
As a whole, the creative industry manages to get things right. The internal focus of Birch Studio is to build a process that allows us to get things right more consistently than the average firm, within any industry. When we get things right sooner than later, we enjoy a better relationship throughout the entire project. That leads to better results for all of us.
We’ve talked with colleagues big and small and everyone has the same issue which essentially is this: We did the same thing with Client A as we did with Client B. Client A’s project went extremely well and Client B’s didn’t. So what’s the difference?
In the standard arrangement, it comes down to how two or more people can create a working relationship on-the-fly. In most cases, the answer is that Client A’s personality was a better match for the project and/or the creative firm than was Client B’s personality. In cases where two parties want to work together for mutual benefit, the main source of friction comes from a lack of communication. In turn, poor communication gets in the way of great creativity.
It’s not surprising to find that. After all, there usually is a very small amount of time invested in getting to know each other before the engagement is set. After that, you need to get up to speed quickly on how each other sets priorities and communicates in order to get the work done. We typically spend upwards of 10% of our project time meeting and consulting with clients to explore and understand their requirements. To become a better strategic design and branding partner, we need to understand those requirements at least as well as the client does.
Beyond the personality match, there are additional structural challenges that must be addressed. Creative professionals work within certain constraints that strongly affect the entire creative process and relationship with clients.
Constraint #1: It is the business of a designer to navigate through the twin demands of aesthetics and practical application.
Graphic design, web design, user interface design and information design are all practical arts. That is, their fundamental role is to communicate information in a compelling and attractive manner. There are some professions that focus purely on information and others that focus purely on aesthetics. The combination of the two is unique to the communication arts. The art comes in when we are given twice the amount of information we had space for, or we need to reduce an e-commerce checkout process from five steps to three. As such, we have multiple masters. Those multiple masters don’t always play well together. It takes the highest level of creativity to overcome this gravity.
Constraint #2: Our advice as professionals must be reconciled with client preferences.
Through training, research and experience, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt what level of quality works in the marketplace. However, as the party that hires a creative firm, the client has a legitimate expectation to be pleased while being assured that the solution provided is one that meets the business objectives.
For all of the above reasons, we collectively have spent hundreds of hours developing the Birch Process.
The Birch Process
Our three goals for every project are 1) to meet the client’s business objectives, 2) to give the client something they are pleased with functionally and aesthetically, and 3) to create something that we are proud of enough to put in our portfolio.
The aim of the Birch Process is to pave the way from our first meeting to the finished project. It needs to be simple, robust and repeatable: simple so that all parties understand each step, regardless of their level of involvement or previous experience; robust so that it can handle variability from one project to the next; repeatable because repetition is the only sure way to mastery.
Birch Studio has used this maxim as a guidebook and highlighted steps along the way so that each of the pieces can be discussed in sufficient detail and tied up before moving on to the next step. It’s like swapping out a magnifying glass for a microscope just when we need it.
Some parts of the Birch Process are designed to convert meeting minutes into quantifiable expectations. We don’t say “make it more blue”, rather, make it Pantone 2935. We don’t accept the instruction to “add a contact form”, rather, “add a form that collects first name, last name and email address, make them all required, with a minimum of two characters in each field, and put the contents of the form into a database for the site administrator to access.”
Other parts of the Birch Process are designed to soften the huge amount of anticipation that builds in the time between your “go ahead” and our first draft. It is the biggest single leap in any project. And more than any other phase of the project, it’s the one that lays the foundation for what’s to come. We literally get everyone on the same page very quickly and efficiently with visuals rather than words. Simple statements like “make it look more modern” can be interpreted a hundred different ways. When we have three samples of what in particular you mean by “more modern” however, we can triangulate very quickly and land pretty much where we you expect us to be. We know that you will have an opinion about the work we will create for you. Our goal is to get that opinion out of you sooner than later so we can spend more time tuning the details and less time trying to find the right direction.
The Birch Process focuses on finding out about our clients quickly and leading them through a decision making process so that they can be informed, and ultimately, happier clients. This allows us to reliably create value on an ongoing basis.