Graphic Design

Defining your design process

Sometimes you just need to put your process into writing – especially if you’ve been operating without one. Defining the design process is not only helpful for us as designers, but it’s also helpful for our clients so they know what to expect along the way.

Working with another designer for a wide range of clients with no formal process documentation, we found that time was being wasted with late content edits that could probably have been caught up front. Jobs were taking a lot longer than they should because not all stakeholders were included in the project until there was a design proof, which meant lots of edits and redesigning – sometimes scrapping the proof and starting over from scratch because the content would change so much. We could probably save a lot of time and effort if all stakeholders weighed in and signed off on the content before we even began the design.

We laid out a pretty straightforward design process:

This new process isn’t a radical change from the way we had been working, but the goal was to reduce the number of edits we were seeing around stages 5-6. With that in mind, the biggest adjustment was in step #1 – asking clients to have their content reviewed and approved by all stakeholders in advance. This gave our clients a visual overview of how things work, what they should expect, and what it is expected of them.

Utilizing Google Docs, multiple stakeholders could review, comment and edit simultaneously, working through those major mistakes amongst themselves in one place. The goal: have all the kinks worked out ahead of time and start designing with clean and happy content.

The process above is intentionally simplified and is pretty standard in my experience (design plus 2 rounds of revisions). It may not be the best fit for everyone. You may need something more detailed that is specific to the type of work you do or your preferred style. But this is a good base for anyone who needs to put their process into writing.

From General to Hawk-Eye: Expanding my skillset

After I left the Kmart account behind in Chicago I went back to Detroit, my husband and I moved to a new place, and – during an impromptu vacation in Florida – I received a call to interview with a local marketing communications firm. I landed the job and was assigned to the General Motors Product Training Library project as a graphic designer.

Not only was this a great team of people to work with, but there was an excellent structure in place of expectations, roles and responsibilities, and documentation to help learn processes and standards. Because of this, I always came to work knowing exactly what needed to be done and when.

I learned about the print production process and what to look for when signing off on proofs. I learned about building extra time into our schedules to account for unexpected edits in order to still meet project deadlines. I learned about AP Style guidelines for content and how a client's style guide can override AP Style.

One day I overheard senior team members discussing the need for a new proofreader. With everything I had learned – combined with my natural obsession with consistency – I felt I could do the job and wanted to challenge myself even further. I approached the Creative Director to see if he would give me a shot. He agreed to giving me a proposal to proofread and, once I was finished, he evaluated my work and said "I'm going to call you hawk-eye." My role expanded from that point forward.

I continued my graphic design duties while also proofreading nearly every project: brochures, publications, training guides, window clings, banners, proposals, letters, cover art, invitations and more. 

My husband and I were eventually ready for a big change: a cross-country move to Raleigh, North Carolina. I left the marketing firm, but didn't say good-bye. I remained a copy editor for three-and-a-half more years, working remotely on a freelance basis. I loved doing work that fed into my natural instincts and skills. But what I loved most was the opportunity to continue working with one of the best teams on the freaking planet. 

I loved working with Nikki! Her positive attitude, creativity and organization are second to none. Luckily, I had the pleasure of working with her as both a graphic designer and a copy editor. She met every deadline with ease, accuracy and efficiency. Her attention to detail is unparalleled!
— Angie S., Art Director

How I Became "the General"

It was my first job out of college. I landed a gig as a graphic artist at an ad agency whose biggest client was Kmart Corporation. (I'll never forget my very first interview when I showed my design portfolio full of college projects, which included a newspaper layout with a story about how Kmart had filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy... The hiring manager noticed the story in my portfolio and said, "Kmart. They're our client." Talk about embarrassing. Yet they hired me anyway.)

I was thrilled to receive the job offer yet nervous to start. I joined the offshore account on a team of 14: a creative director, art director, production manager, traffic coordinator, editor, two account executives and seven graphic artists (including myself). I learned the processes and workflow of an agency setting and thrived in its fast-paced environment. We had ads due every week for four offshore markets: Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

We'd receive our job bag at the start of a project, complete with assigned pages and hand-drawn mockups. We would build the pages based on the mockups and client-provided content. We would hang the pages in a conference room and do what we called "Walk the Wall" – a chance for the entire team to look at every page and mark up mistakes. We would update pages and they would go through an editing process and a few rounds of client reviews. Once pages were approved, they would be sent to print (or in the case of the Puerto Rico ads, they would be translated to Spanish before going to print).

I observed other roles on the team and learned how to look for mistakes ahead of time to reduce markups from the editor. I learned what needed to be perfect versus what needed to be let go in order to meet a deadline. I gathered a good understanding of everyone's role on the team even though I did not perform those functions myself – and it came in handy.

Little by little, team members were laid off. Our team got smaller and smaller until we were just a team of three. Three graphic artists. No more creative director, art director, production manager, traffic coordinator, editor or account executives. Just three graphic artists. Yet somehow those missing roles still had to be filled.

The three of us would often rotate some of these functions, each week taking on different responsibilities: sketching page layouts, assigning pages, assembling job bags. We continued to do our Walk the Walls with the help of creative directors from other teams in the agency. Then even more people were let go.

I eventually found myself doing a lot of this work on my own, as well as communicating directly with the translator and sometimes even the client. I began sitting in on meetings with directors and managers to give updates on the offshore account. I wanted our projects to be just as successful as when we had a team of 14, and to continue to meet deadlines without skipping a beat. I became known as the point of contact for the team, and was eventually dubbed "the General" by one of the agency's senior copywriters and it stuck.

At Meridian she became the point person on our Offshore Account in a relatively short time span. Versed in both writing and design, Nikki quickly established herself on the account as one of the best and was looked to as the primary contact.
— Robert P.

The day then came where those of us who were left were called to a meeting where we were told that the agency would be closing and that – unless we were able to move to Chicago – we would be losing our jobs. Kmart would be merging with Sears, moving to Chicago where Sears was headquartered, and our work would move to Sears' agency, Ambrosi Advertising. I was devastated, but I kept pounding until my very last day.

New employees were hired to take over the account at Ambrosi and were brought in to cross-train with those of us who were left – and by that time, I was the last [wo]man standing on the offshore team. I trained three graphic artists (and even the new production manager!) for six weeks, traveling to Chicago for part of that time during the transition. 

I was a newlywed at the time and relocating to Chicago was not an option for me. Plus, I decided it would be in my best interest to go someplace new and develop new skills.

And that is how I became known as the General.

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So long, Chicago

This photo was taken as I left Ambrosi Advertising on my very last day with the Kmart account.