Ever had an experience where you realized your creative had gone totally off the rails? That a project turned out to be X when it was supposed to be Y? Perhaps a time when you revealed a final product only to realize it didn’t look anything like what your team had originally set out to create? Don’t worry… you’re not alone. It happens to agencies and in-house teams alike. So how is it that a project can stray so far from where it began? And how can this happen so frequently?

It all comes back to the starting line; the kickoff, the launch phase. See if you can relate to these four examples that illustrate how projects can be derailed before they even begin.

1. Isolated Innovations Teams

While many organizations have intentionally built out a sexy “innovation team” or “innovation lab,” it’s not uncommon for those teams to operate in a vacuum, producing incredible results but often away from the strategic center of the brand. It’s like building the world’s best rocket without talking to the astronauts or mission control. It happens all the time. Solution? Marketers and Innovation teams need to be at the table together, from the beginning and throughout of the process. While the goal should still be a perfect end product, innovations teams should be in lockstep with their marketing partners—working, failing, and reworking together to get to the best result for their customer/consumer.

2. Leaders Solving Too Soon

As in most cases, half the challenge of producing effective results comes down to crystalizing the original problem as succinctly and thoroughly as possible. Yet in the arms race of revenue and production, senior leadership can often rush into a solution before the problem is fully baked. Solution? Leaders must commit to listening more in the beginning and trusting their team to allow for the right solution to take shape instead of forcing it prematurely. The creative process is just that—a process—and it exists for a reason: To allow answers to develop naturally from the creative team whose job is to know their audience. Shortcuts are worthless when you have to keep circling back.

3. Focusing Only on Price

While time and money limitations are a constant, it’s not uncommon for project stakeholders to become myopic about price and budget, and spec their solutions around cost alone. This is “design-from-a-budget” and it never ends well, or at least produces snooze-worthy results. To combat this mindset, have budget guardrails so price is a variable and consideration–but not a shackle. Allow reasonable flexibility for maximum creativity. Oftentimes that extra spend to bring a great idea to life leads to an exponential ROI and brand impact.

4. Specs Over Users

The last example of designing in a vacuum is when standard and technical specs dictate the solution. In other words, designing-to-a-blueprint, which many believe to be necessary, but is often used as a crutch to go with something safe and known – you’re familiar with the same boring banner ads and landing pages. Again, the focus should be on the end user and the desired results. For creative and strategic work, there are a lot of ways to get where you want to go. Specs should inform but not dictate.

At the end of the day, a commitment to a design-led philosophy at the beginning of a project is how to mitigate against the horror stories above. By focusing on an empathetic, user-oriented, results-focused process, everyone can strive to deliver on brand, on time, and on budget.

Listen, understand, then make. Your cart and your horse will both get where they’re supposed to go.

Ryan Hall

Ryan Hall

Director of Brand Strategy

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