Top Tips for Managing Design Projects

Working with creatives and designers often takes a different approach from working with straight-laced 9-5 professionals in a typical work setting. You must be flexible to manage their work styles and quirks with finesse and communicate and collaborate well to produce the best possible result.

Delivering successful design projects requires careful project management, which often includes allotting free slack time to allow all pieces of your design project to fit together beautifully. This article teaches you all about design project management. We’ll cover:

  • What is a design project?
  • What are the five phases of a design project?
  • Top tips for managing design projects
  • The best design management tools

Let’s get into it. 

What is a design project?

Design projects cover all types of creative work, from designing a logo to drafting a website structure. They can be straightforward, requiring only a simple brief to complete the work, or complex, requiring multiple teams and input to complete. Although design projects are built on a creators' work, they must meet expectations and incorporate feedback from stakeholders who are commissioning and using the deliverable

Types of design projects

There are many types of design projects depending on a company's needs and industry. A healthcare facility, for example, would have very different design needs from a professional services agency

A small company may have only one person running, managing, and delivering its design projects. In contrast, a larger establishment may have people in specialized roles, such as website designers, graphic designers, product designers, and brand consultants, handling aspects of its design projects. Let's take a look at five common types of design projects. 

Branding, logos, and identity

Brand identity design projects create a cohesive look and feel for everything a company puts into the world. This type of design project incorporates colors and images with the brand name to create a unique, memorable look. Branding, identity, and logos are important because they help consumers identify a brand. They also help businesses build trust and credibility.

Websites

Website design projects incorporate words, colors, and images to create an online home for a business or brand. These projects don't just need to look good; they must also consider how users interact, engage, and patronize the business. Website design projects bring together web and mobile designers, user interface (UI) designers, copywriters, and creative project managers to create engaging pages that are easy to use, responsive on all devices, and fit well with the brand. 

Product design

Product design projects work on creating new products to meet a business goal. It's all about conceptualizing and bringing new products to life to satisfy customer needs. Product design influences packaging, brand identity, and customer experience. These types of design projects focus on understanding the customer journey and satisfying their expectations.

Print design

Print design projects include creative work intended as a physical copy. This may be as small as a business card or as big as a billboard. Print design remains a powerful medium for businesses to reach customers, despite the continued adoption of digital content. Common print design projects include branded stationery, brochures, pamphlets, flyers, and posters. 

Publications

Publication design projects may be digital, print, or both. These are multi-page documents, such as books and magazines, combining text and visual media to tell a story or convey information. Digital publications often include interactive components such as hyperlinks or embedded features that drive engagement.  

What are the five phases of a design project?

A well-managed design project goes through these five phases: 

1. Initiation

Every design project starts with the initiation phase, in which the project is conceived. Sometimes, the initiation phase means presenting the project's business case and getting senior leadership buy-in. Projects may also be initiated at the top, in which case the request is passed down the chain of command to the creatives who will do the work. Having a strong project initiation phase is critical to achieving a successful outcome. Product initiation also includes gathering basic information about a project, including the goals, timeline, and budget.  

2. Planning

Information from the initiation phase is fleshed out into an actionable plan in the planning phase. Here, project managers create a detailed timeline and assign tasks to individual designers or the design team. The entire team may come together to discuss metrics for success, potential risks or schedule conflicts, expectations for team communication, and non-negotiable due dates. Ensure everyone is clear on the project objectives before moving into the execution phase.   

3. Execution

Execution is where most of the design work happens. Wireframes for the project are developed, reviewed, and approved before creating more detailed mockups. The initial prototypes allow the creative team to get a feel for the product without getting attached to a particular theme or concept. It is common for design projects to require multiple revisions during the execution phase. Communicate the process for this to the team. They need to know how many revisions to expect and what counts as successful project delivery.    

4. Monitoring

Tracking and monitoring a project usually takes place alongside the execution phase. This phase ensures timelines are being met and the project stays within budget. Monitoring also implementing risk and change management strategies as needed. Ensure your designers and external collaborators have access to the tools, resources, and media files they need. Design project management software helps to view and monitor the entire project easily. Prioritize approvals and sign-offs from key stakeholders to ensure they’re satisfied with the project progress. 

5. Delivery

This phase marks the completion of the design project. Involve the project owner and sponsors to ensure the completed work meets their expectations. To conclude, the design team may have a review or debriefing session to discuss what worked, what went wrong, and what can be improved on their next design project. 

Top Tips For Managing Design Projects 2
Photo by Theme Photos on Unsplash

Top tips for managing design projects

Now we get to the meaty part of managing design projects.

How to create a design project plan

After initiating a project, it's time to create a plan. Project managers or team leads typically spearhead the project plan creation, with input from the other team members. Design project plans clarify how to get the work done and overcome roadblocks that crush designers' creativity.

First: Establish the project timeline. Design projects range from just a few days or weeks to months. Once you know the project due date, work backward to establish deadlines for different tasks, e.g., submitting copy, reviewing wireframes, and incorporating stakeholder feedback. 

Next: Assign tasks with details such as description and due date so each team member knows what to do and when. If you're working with a dispersed, remote team, get confirmation from each team member to know they have accepted and understood their tasks. Ensure all content, media, or documents created are stored in an accessible place. This prevents bottlenecks and enhances team collaboration. You can use document management software for this purpose, though smaller projects may be easier with a simple solution like Google Drive. 

Finally:

  1. Check resource allocation against the project budget and expectations.
  2. Include meetings and check-ins with the team and stakeholders to ensure progress continues at the appropriate pace and prevent unmitigated scope creep.
  3. Set up clear communication channels and manage your project in one place. 
  4. Your design project plan may include presenting the finished project to sponsors and stakeholders. This could be done using a slide or video presentation for digital projects and printed samples for printed projects. 
  5. Include a review and debriefing session with team members to note any deviations from the design project plan and improve teamwork.

How to manage and organize design projects

Managing and organizing design projects effectively requires someone to own the process from start to finish. This person ensures everyone understands and completes their assignments on time and within budget. Three critical aspects to consider in organizing and managing design projects are:   

Communication 

A clear communication plan is essential for any collaborative design project. The project manager should set standards for the communication channels the team will use, how frequently they'll communicate, and how to share feedback. Your communication plan doesn't need to be complicated. Here's a simple example: 

All team members must check in via Slack daily and share their focus for the day. Everyone reviews the channel daily and notes any concerns or comments as a threaded response. Any additional information or conversation related to the project should take place in the #random channel, not as direct messages.

File and asset management 

When working on a design project, it's easy to accumulate and lose files, images, and media assets if there's no dedicated space to share them. Your design project plan should include instructions on where the team stores documents and shares files throughout the project. Use a document management system or project management software to keep things streamlined. 

Another important aspect of file management is establishing naming conventions for files and documents. This may be company, industry, or team-specific, making it easy for everyone involved to get basic information about a file quickly. Common components for naming files and assets include the project name, file name, creation date, or creator name. Here's an example of what a file and asset management plan might look like: 

All files, documents, and other assets related to this project should be stored in the "Project Name" folder in the company's document management system. File names should include the name of the asset and the date it was created. 

Change and version management

Many design projects are iterative, meaning that many small changes are made over the course of the project. It's important to track the changes for two reasons: 

  • Everyone can access and is using the most recent version.
  • A design can be rolled back to a previous version if necessary. 

Version management can be established by having team members name files using version numbers, e.g., 1.0, 1.2, 1.3, etc., or the date created. 

The system used is less important than making sure it is used consistently. Here's what your change management plan could look like: 

All design work should include the date on which it was created as part of the file name. If changes are needed on any asset, the file should be copied and given a new name with the updated date. 

Best design management tools for managing the design process

Successfully managing a design project requires the right tools and software. Three essential categories of design management tools are:

Communication tools

Communication tools enable team members to stay on the same page, regardless of their work location. They can ask questions, support and give feedback, and stay updated as milestones are checked off. The go-to communication tool for many businesses today is Slack, which allows group channels and one-to-one direct messaging. 

Timeline management tools

Timeline management tools give team members a clear understanding of when milestones are due and the entire project to be completed. This may be as simple as a list of due dates in a shared document for small projects. Bigger projects need a more sophisticated timeline and project management tool like Wrike. 

Depending on your project scope and size, you can choose a tool that works best for your team's needs. Use Wrike if you appreciate the idea of merging project milestones and deadlines seamlessly into each team member's digital calendar, e.g., Google Calendar.

File and resource management tools

File and resource management tools ensure project briefs, content, images, digital resources, and other assets are stored in a centralized, accessible platform for all team members to use throughout the project. 

Design projects generate a lot of files. It's essential that the whole team can find what they need quickly, easily, and independently. 

How to use Wrike as design project management software

Design project management software like Wrike's creative project management software helps design teams unleash their creativity with its clean, collaborative, and secure environment. 

You can create timelines quickly and view your project in multiple formats, enabling everyone involved to choose the best way to interact with upcoming targets and deadlines. Wrike has a built-in communication and feedback process, making it possible to have all comments and edits on a particular file or media asset organized in one place.  

For similar projects or those with repeatable components, Wrike's creative templates make it easy to recreate a process that's been proven successful. Are you ready to develop better design project plans and execute them in a secure space for all team members? Start with a two-week free trial of Wrike today.

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