Design as Collaboration
For many professional designers, their goal is to create the one ultimate solution that requires no client feedback on the design itself. Many would even argue that clients have no place providing feedback on the actual design because they hired you as a professional and it is your job to provide only a polished product. The metaphor of a plumber/doctor/niche professional is often brought up as an example to say a plumber would not consult you about how to fix your pipe; the plumber would fix it because it's the plumber's job to do it, and she or he has the expertise. While that holds true in many instances, design straddles the line of technical profession and art, and each designer falls in a different place upon that spectrum.
Having trained as a printmaker during undergrad, my approach to the creative process has most often been within the context of a shared studio setting. While everyone in the studio has their own goals and projects, tips are shared, feedback is given, additional hands help when an actual print is made, and often ideas are shaped by this very interaction. There is a unique energy that everyone benefits from in a collaborative atmosphere, and though most of my work is now done in a room by myself in front of a screen, I welcome the opportunity for collaboration to enter into the design process for the right project and in the right way.
While some projects are very straightforward, or must rely heavily on my professional opinion, much of the work I do benefits from client engagement and feedback at strategic stages. For example, I design websites specifically for creative people, who have vivid imaginations and strong ideas of how they want their work/business/image portrayed in the online world. They may not have specific knowledge of design principles, but their senses tend to be heightened as benefits their own profession. I try to honor this in my design process, especially when branding is involved since it is meant to showcase personality, and that is often revealed more clearly during the process of designing, and the end result tends to be better when the client is given something to respond to and engage with early on in the process.
In the fall, I had the opportunity to design a website for Loyd Rieves, who produces, mixes, and writes music, and is founder of The Study where all the magic happens. Read on to learn more about the process and hear from Loyd himself!
When I first talked to Loyd, he didn't have strong preferences for a specific look, but he had a few websites in mind that emulated some of what he was trying to do. But his main goal was for visitors of his website to get a feel for The Study itself, as though they were visiting it in person. He also wanted to highlight his work and the types of services he offered in a quickly accessible way. He had a lot of photographs of his space, which gave me a way to get to know the space and think about how best to showcase it.
Photograph by Katie Snyder Photography
While I often design a header or logo image that the rest of the design will then feed off of, for Loyd's website in particular, I spent a lot of time thinking first of the navigation and structure of the site, and how it would feel to encounter various sections. I created a simple header image with Loyd's name and the study to fill the space, and shared it with him early on to give him something to respond to. It's easy to ask and answer questions at the beginning of a project, but sometimes we don't know our full thoughts or ideas until we have something to react to.
Though we had talked a lot about the website's goals, it wasn't until viewing the working layout and filler logo that Loyd was able to give voice to additional ideas and characteristics of The Study that might not come through in pictures, or that he wouldn't have thought to mention right off. Through this initial sharing, I learned how important the books were to the setting of The Study (you can read more about Loyd's Study here), and incorporated that in some of the graphics on the website, as well as background textures.
As you can see from the initial graphics to the final, working together closely during the design process not only lead to a design Loyd was happy with, but an ideal design solution informed greatly by the collaborative process. I especially enjoyed getting to know about how Loyd works with his own clients, because though we are in different industries, we both enjoy working with other artists and helping them realize a vision in a way that best suits them.
While I finished Loyd's website last fall, I haven't had the chance to share it, so I wanted to showcase it here, as well as give you the opportunity to get to know Loyd, how he works, and his take on the design process. I'm happy to share a short Q&A with him here (my questions in italics).
Tell me a little about your business and why you decided it was time to update your website.
I'm a Songwriter and Producer working out of my home studio. I write with other artists and produce the songs either as an album, a demo, or for use with TV Licensing and Publishing companies.
It has been a word of mouth business for me, so I wanted to have something visual to associate with my business, something for people to interact with and be able to contact me.
What role does collaboration play in your business?
I find myself collaborating in nearly every step of the creative process. Usually I will write a song with someone, which is an art in itself. A major part of that is to be able to balance each other's instincts as both creators and consumers. I bounce off my instincts as a writer with their instincts as a listener, and vice versa.
Then I will bring in musicians to play the different parts. I could choose to play many of the instruments on a project, but usually I find the collaboration between my vision of the song and the vision of the players makes it more authentic. A piano player will do things that I wouldn't think to do, and when you get a group of musicians in a room together to play, the song comes to life much more quickly and naturally.
As someone who works with other artists, what did it feel like to be a client, rather than the person guiding the project?
It was actually very enjoyable. I'm learning that a huge part of being productive is being able to delegate. Again, everything comes to life much more quickly and naturally when you hand over a task to someone who has more experience in that area.
What was your vision when you first set out to redesign your website? Did that change or become clearer along the way?
I had sort of a collage in my head of all the different websites that I liked of people who are similar to me. As it progressed, it began to take its own shape and we ended up with something that provided information that flows naturally into the experience of working in the studio, which is everything I had hoped for and more.
What was your favorite part of the design process?
I really only had abstract ideas of what I wanted, but I knew the feeling I wanted to have when I finally saw it in front of me. I enjoyed sharing the mess in my head and seeing it become organized.
Do you have any advice for someone looking to update their website or rebrand their business?
Definitely browse through the websites of people in your industry and make notes of what you like about the experience. Have fun with it, and try to merge those experiences into something that characterizes what you have to offer.
What are you most excited about in your career right now?
I spent most of 2014 writing with some really great artists, and this year began recording some of my favorite songs from that process. The record is in the final stages of mixing and I'm getting really excited to be able to share these songs in the next few months. You can listen to two new songs from the project on Noisetrade.
If you live in the Atlanta area, you'll find Loyd has a collaborative process with the musicians who work with him as well. Check out his website and get in touch if you are in need of a talented songwriter, producer, and artist.
If you're a creative entrepreneur interested in collaborating with me on a design project, click here to get in touch.