Steps for Successful Design


New design projects can be fun and exciting. Fresh content, new colors, solid designs that reflect the brand you’ve worked so hard to establish. But design projects can also run wild without careful planning in order to deliver the right end-product on time and within budget.

I work on a lot of design projects and if I had to guess, I’d say at least 60 percent are still printed pieces. And I’ve been around long enough to know what works and what doesn’t when it comes to planning and getting design projects off the ground successfully. Budget can be a huge factor, but so are things like your timeline, the folks you have working on the project and what your ultimate goal is for the end result.

In my eyes, if you get the following five pieces in order before embarking on your next design project, you’ll be golden. (The following suggestions pertain specifically to printed design projects, but they can be modified to meet the needs of other design projects as well).

1. Budget

Here’s the deal: It is really hard to give clients a quote on what things will cost without a sense of how big their mailing list is, how large they’d like the printed material to be (size and page quantity) or if we’re talking digital vs. off-set press. Before starting a printed design project, consider your budget. A good designer will also work with you to offer you cost-effective options (such as digital printing vs. off-set) and size suggestions. It’s not fun to figure out at the end that the designed piece is going to cost twice as much to print or mail than you originally had anticipated. Whether you use an in-house designer or agency, be forthcoming with your budget so you’re not scrambling to fix things at the last minute.

Also, be realistic with your budget. If you mailing quantity is non-negotiable and you have a small budget, you may need to print digital. If you have a smaller mailing list or no mailing list at all, you may be able to print off-set and make your piece larger and/or full-color.

2. Timeline

There are a variety of factors that contribute to design timelines and typically, the faster turnaround, the higher the cost. If you have the resources to do so, plan out your design projects (or any project, for that matter) ahead of time. Utilize editorial and production calendars to backdate things from the date you want the piece in the hands of your audience. Take into consideration whether or not the piece will be mailed and at what rate (bulk, standard, first class), how many days will be needed to prep files for print, and how long it will take to go through the initial content and design proof process. Below is an example of a production calendar template I like to use:

Production Calendar Example

3. Purpose

There have been a few times where I’ve worked on a printed design project only to be sticking in multiple URLs, QR codes or other links to websites and additional electronic information. Cross promotion is great, but make sure you’re considering the purpose of your printed piece. If your goal is to reach an audience with limited access to online tools (or no affinity to using them) keep your electronic links and pushes to a minimum. Other areas to consider with regard to purpose:

  • Is the piece designed to educate, entertain, or promote?
  • What is your call to action, what do you want your audience to do/feel?
  • Who are you trying to reach (and is this the best way to do it)?

4. Editors

You will want multiple eyes on your design projects–from aesthetics to grammar and fact-checking. Decide who makes the final decisions on your piece and prepare your editors before the projects begin. Their schedules will play a role in that timeline listed above as well. My suggestion is to keep your editing team to a minimum. Decide who your key decision makers are for the project and keep them in the loop. Everyone will always have an opinion and see room for change, be mindful of that as it will affect your timeline and ultimately, your budget.

5. Evaluation

It seems like every “x steps for…” article has an evaluation component. As they should. Print materials have gotten a lot of flack with social media, e-marketing and mobile campaigns pushing through. You may be perfectly correct in knowing your audience well enough and the purpose of your piece to warrant keeping it in printed form (or possibly a print and electronic version). Don’t wait too long to evaluate your piece, however. Figure out what success looks like and track your piece accordingly. Talking with your audience is key. In cases of newsletters and other scheduled publications, audience and readership surveys can be beneficial to evaluating the success of your piece and the value it has to your audience.

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