When groups of highly imaginative, creative minds are brought together by a design project, incredible things can happen. But the art of managing complex projects like these can be enormously challenging for all involved.
A typical design project requires the collaboration of a number of different groups of professionals, all of whom tend to come to the table with a specific creative vision of their own. And let’s not forget, there are deadlines and client expectations to take into account too, before we even start to consider any feedback that needs to be acted upon as the project runs.
Design project management isn’t always easy. It requires a distinct set of skills and the experience and knowledge required to use them effectively. Having a robust design project management tool can also help in what can be a highly pressurised working environment. Ultimately, good project management is essential to the success of any design project, and can often prove crucial if teams are to get the best out of the creatives they have.
In this article, we’ll explore design project management in more detail, to explain how it works and how it can be used to help creatives reach their true potential. Read on and you’ll soon be confident in managing even the most complicated design projects.
What is design project management?
The term design project management refers to the management of creative projects, like the design of new branding and logos, or the redesign of a website.
Projects like these will often fall under the responsibility of a number of different departments. They therefore require careful project management to ensure that the end result is delivered on time and on budget - while also meeting the expectations of all stakeholders involved.
Project managers work with design teams to manage time and personnel, as they plan and organise the running of the project. Managers also look after the resources at their team’s disposal, ensuring that creatives are well equipped to make the most of all resources available to them.
What is different about project management for design teams?
Project management isn’t a new idea, of course. It’s widely used in all kinds of industries to equip teams with the tools they need to collaborate and work in a more efficient way. But project management for designers is slightly different to more general project management, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, design is subjective. And that means that when the final project is delivered, it can sometimes be difficult to say with complete certainty whether a project has achieved what it set out to achieve.
The subjective nature of design also makes it trickier for teams to incorporate any feedback they might receive. It can make many processes more complicated and time-consuming, especially for those working in graphic design project management.
The thing is, design project management differs from typical project management because design projects themselves are different. Take the initial brief, for example.
Quite often, design projects begin with a vague brief and very limited information. That’s why projects like these will usually develop over time, as feedback from different stakeholders is taken into account. Design projects therefore tend to require a far higher number of revisions before they reach a conclusion that everyone is happy with, making the job of the project manager harder still.
Design project lifecycle
The lifecycle of a well managed design project will typically fall into three main phases. Take a look at the three phases of a project lifecycle below to see how structured project management works for design teams.
1: Planning and preparation
Planning is a vital part of any good project management strategy, and it couldn’t be more important for design projects.
At this stage, teams need to consider the goals of the project and the expectations of the client. Project managers should be thinking about what they need to deliver a project’s goals, bearing in mind resources, workforce and budget restraints.
If managers have planned well, phase two should be a simple one.
At this point, teams will be busy working on their assigned tasks, collaborating as they do so. Project managers will then take responsibility for ensuring teams are communicating effectively, and that catch ups and meetings are being held regularly.
The work of a project manager is never done - even if the project has been finalised and everyone is happy with the end results!
As the project ends, managers will be gathering and organising assets for future use, and sharing feedback with designers and stakeholders. Before the project closes, managers will ensure that all assets are easily accessible and available in all formats that future teams might need.
Tips for successfully managing design projects
Managing a design project is a juggling act. Great project managers understand how to balance the limitations of the project with the creative ambitions of their team, while also championing collaboration and teamwork to get the job done as quickly as possible.
Take a look at our top tips for successful design project management to see what goes into the making of a great design project.
Know your business requirements
Find out as much as you can about the business you’re working with, to gain a thorough understanding of what they’re really looking for from the project. Think about the company’s brand identity, its audience and the pain points that drive them.
Set clear expectations with the client
Make sure expectations are clear from the very start, to avoid any last minute changes in direction. The more you know about what your client is hoping to see, the better your chances of creating something that wows them from the first draft.
Manage designer and client expectations
Use a centralised platform to allow designers and clients to communicate throughout the project, and prevent communication overload. Doing so allows for greater flexibility, and encourages teams to work together from an earlier stage.
Realistic goals, team, budget and timelines
Be realistic about your goals, bearing the limitations of the project in mind. Make sure there’s room for flexibility if any unexpected challenges arise.
Make time for actual work
Assign timeframes for tasks to be completed, again being realistic about what can be achieved within specific time periods. Don’t overload your team, as you’ll leave them with little room to manoeuvre.
Include extra time and plan for the unexpected
Always allow extra time for unplanned work. No design project ever sticks 100% to its initial plan, so it’s always worth being prepared for last minute alterations and other hiccoughs.
Balance creativity and useful structure
Structured planning is essential to all design projects, but teams must also have the space to realise their creativity and use their imaginations. Balance is key.
Popular design project management methods
Design teams can make use of a number of popular methodologies, all of which are proven to help teams maximise efficiency while still allowing space for creative thinking.
Take a look at some of the most popular management methods for design teams below to find out more about how these methodologies work and what they bring to design projects.
This collaborative approach to project management works particularly well for design projects.
The workload is split into a series of shorter chunks, which allow opportunity for revisions and testing as a project progresses.
Agile project management reduces the risk of a project progressing too far for edits to be made at a later date, and means that teams can easily act upon feedback as they go.
A form of agile project management, scrum is a methodology where teams work in what’s known as sprints to move a project along.
Sprints tend to have a specific focus, which will usually be a single task or a small group of tasks. The timeframe for each sprint is fairly short, with each one typically taking around two weeks.
A visual variation of agile project management, Kanban is brilliant for design projects.
In this style of project management, teams have full visibility over the stage that projects are at, and tasks are also displayed in a visual way via a series of boards. Tasks move through the boards until they reach completion.
Unlike some of the other methodologies we’ve talked about, Waterfall project management is more limited in the flexibility it provides. However, it does provide other benefits, and is brilliant at helping projects progress.
This traditional approach sees teams work through a set sequence of tasks. Each one must be finished and signed off before the next can begin.
Use specialist tools to help with your design project management
Specialist tools make design project management simpler and more effective than ever before. Tools like Hello Ivy have been created with design projects in mind, and come equipped with everything a design project manager needs to get amazing results first time.
With Hello Ivy, teams can make use of a single, dedicated workspace where they can share work and ideas, request feedback, manage tasks and keep everyone in the loop. Planning, designs, project and team communication is all easily accessible, and a discussion board and live feed can be used to move projects along.