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What is something you think about when you start a new project?

There are 2 things #

I always look for an opportunity to build trust with the client/collaborator/team member that goes beyond pleasant introductions. I like to use an icebreaker exercise[^1] to find out some unexpected info about the other people on the end of a Zoom call. Without fail we end up treating each other better throughout a project.

With a good icebreaker, you can find out about: communication styles; personalities; and shared interests. Also, it happens almost every time, we will find some unexpected inspiration for the project. For example we might use an icebreaker like What would you put on your custom license plate. My custom license plate might say LEGO® DAD. This is because I love building things and spending time with my daughter. I could tell a story about how we built the Disney Castle and then went to go see it recently at Magic Kingdom. When telling this story, I am actually letting people know that building and making things is part of my identity. That client has also been given a meaningful and memorable story that connects things.

The second thing #

Just as important, find out what problem really needs to be solved. A client may be asking for a specific solution like “design me a poster.” But, it is the job of the designer to investigate what actual problem is being solved. Its possible that a poster is not the best way to get at the business needs at hand. Yes, of course, we will make you the poster. But we also see an opportunity to design a comprehensive brand, a fresh marketing campaign, or something truly innovative.

It’s important to set aside some time to do the intake interview separate than the kickoff. It's a straitforward meeting and I have a standard set of questions that I use every time. These I learned at Noble Desktop Workshop. This guy, Nolan Haims, taught a workshop on Presentation Skills and Powerpoint that included a similar set of interview questions and I still use it to this day. The questions include below is about presentation design, but have found that the material is broadly applicable to many types of creative work – from information graphics, web design, video, and more.

This interview is no substitute for some real user research – but it is a great starting point that saves a lot of pain down the line. Have you ever experienced a multitude of revisions or a project that just fell apart? This pain can be remedied by a good intake interview.

Intake Interview Questions: #

  1. What are your business goals (answer in a perspective of a target user or a metric we can measure)
  2. Who are your primary audiences (teenagers, animal lovers, teenage mutant ninja turtle enthusiasts)?
  3. In what environment does that audience interact with you, product, or service?
  4. Describe the goals of your audience and how much time they have. Is the information they need actionable or informational?
  5. Describe the bad today (A) and the better tomorrow (B).
  6. What ideas (possible solutions or hypothesis) to you have already? (let’s list 3)
  7. What is your call to action (Bumper Sticker, or basic elevator pitch)?

Don't forget #

  1. What is your timeframe? Is there a major event that we can time the completion with for the most impact?
  2. How will we measure success?

Next steps #

  1. Gather some examples of other things we like (I call this a scrapbook and not a competitive analysis because Design-isms)
  2. Provide, in the intake or right after, all the sources of data, everything is useful to the designer.
  3. List the next steps and send intake to the client to confirm that we heard everything correctly.

That’s it, the most important things I think about when starting a new project. I’d like to thank the graphic design students at Hostos who recently asked me this question during a class visit.

[^1] note to self: create a new blog post with a list of great icebreakers


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