ANATOLY IVANOV / METHODS / DESIGN PROCESS

Both photography and design projects depend on the client’s subjective appreciation of aesthetics.

But while photography, in essence, elicits a “like it / don’t like it” response, design complicates matters with considerations for marketing strategy, product positioning, corporate culture, information architecture, end-user interaction, usability, ergonomics and other, often very pragmatic and utilitarian, parameters.

That’s why efficient and effective working methods are even more crucial to successful design projects than to photography projects.

But a single design process would not suit all design projects. Design projects differ by media, scope and client involvement.

In my experience, print design projects, such as advertising and brochure design, require the simplest and shortest processes. Brand identity projects, such as logo and typographic systems design, position themselves somewhere in the middle of the complexity / duration scale. Web design projects demand substantial energy and time inputs, both from the designer and from the client.

1 / PRINT DESIGN PROCESS

The print design process is relatively straightforward:

1.1 / Prologue

1.2 / Graphic design

Iterations of:

until agreement.

1.3 / Production

2 / BRAND IDENTITY DESIGN PROCESS

Brand identity systems combine logos, corporate colors, design grids and typography to express the essence of a company. The complexity of such fundamental projects depends on the scope of the company, so I tend to either use the simpler print design process, adapt the more robust web design process, or mix the two.

3 / WEB DESIGN PROCESS

3.1 / Complexity and the unknown

Today, a web site essentially mirrors the real-world company on-line, with all the real-world detail: web sites have evolved from virtual brochures to virtual group-personalities.

Everything goes online. Values, history and vision. Ideas, services and products. Relationships with customers, investors, employees and press. Even a one-person business hardly ever sums up to a simple page.

Because a web site represents the company in such detail, choices about what and how goes on-line involve a lot of strategic decision-making. I have witnessed several web design projects redefine the client’s core marketing strategies, and sometimes, even the product itself. That’s the reason web design projects last for months and require a very collaborative approach.

The intangible nature of the internet complicates matters even further. It is difficult to evaluate the features of a web site before we can actually use them. Often, ideas of features appear after the web site goes live.

And of course, we still have to deal with the typical challenges of design. What do users really need? How does design solve real-world business challenges? Who, in a company of 500+, makes aesthetical decisions for everyone else? How do we plan and quantify design, an elusive creative process?

All these parameters and questions create time and money consuming complexity and the unknown.

3.2 / Two ways to deal with complexity and the unknown: predictive vs adaptive

3.2.1 / The common approach: deny the unknown with detailed predictions

The natural human reaction to uncertainty is to make predictions, develop a plan and then follow through, step by step:

3.2.2 / My approach: accept the unknown with adaptability

My web design process accepts the unknown as something that we cannot change or control. Inspired by the ideas of agile programming, my web design process adapts to uncertainty, on the go. I redirect the energy needed for predictions and control into creation and experiment:

Results:

3.3 / How does it work?

My web design process flows through 2 systems:

  1. macro-level: project stages
    (black bars on the sample project schedule Gantt chart below)
  2. micro-level: project tasks
    (blue, orange and green bars on the sample project schedule Gantt chart below)

Note: detailed explanation of the Gantt chart follows after the graphic.

3.3.1 / Project stages

3.3.1.1 / Prologue

During the prologue stage, we:

3.3.1.2 / Interactive scenario

During the interactive scenario stage, I build a functioning web site that is very close to the final version. The interactive scenario is an XHTML web site accessible on-line that:

Results:

3.3.1.3 / Graphic design

During the graphic design stage, I conceive the look of the web site, its graphical user interface, using form, color, images and typography.

Results:

3.3.1.4 / Technical implementation

During the technical implementation stage, I combine the graphic design with the interactive scenario.

Results:

3.3.2 / Project tasks

Project tasks subdivide project stages into manageable blocks of work and duration.

My flexible win / win system of project tasks allows to plan, assess and adjust the total duration and budget of a web site design, at any point in the process.

The project tasks system relies on 5 concepts:

3.3.2.1 / Man-days

The creative fee makes up the bulk of the total project cost. The total amount of the creative fee depends on the number of man-days:

3.3.2.2 / Task types

All tasks of a project fall into 3 categories:

3.3.2.2.1 / Administrative tasks
3.3.2.2.2 / My tasks
3.3.2.2.3 / Collaborative tasks
3.3.2.3 / Adjustment of task duration to influence quality and cost
3.3.2.3.1 / My tasks
3.3.2.3.2 / Collaborative tasks
3.3.2.3.3 / Budget extremes

At the 2 budget extremes, the client can obtain:

  1. Lowest budget:
    • A web site that is designed by me without any client intervention.
    • My tasks only (orange).
    • The client either likes or dislikes my design.
  2. Highest budget:
    • A web site that takes a long time to build with frequent modifications asked by the client.
    • Collaborative tasks only (green).
    • The end-result is a web site that satisfies the client to 300%.
3.3.2.3.4 / Budget middle ground

The most sensible approach lies somewhere between the 2 extremes.

3.3.2.4 / Days package – a fixed price contract commitment

I think that starting such a long-term project without at least a rough idea of a total budget is a bit scary. So during the prologue stage, we decide with the client the duration of my tasks and the duration of collaborative tasks. Which gives us the overall number of man-days and the total cost.

I apply progressive discounts for long-lasting projects. So the longer the project, the lower the price per man-day.

As we negotiate using a win / win approach, no one is forced to accept the first proposal. We stay open and find a balance between:

In practice: we sit together and try different combinations in a project management program that instantly outputs the project duration and cost.

Once we have agreed on a total number of man-days, I commit to a days package – a fixed price / fixed man-days contract:

3.3.2.5 / Beyond the days package
3.3.2.5.1 / What happens if the client requires more days than we have scheduled in the days package?

I understand and anticipate the client’s wish to build the best web site possible. Even though we have agreed on the optimal duration of collaborative tasks, I leave to the client total freedom to extend them and to request any number of revisions and modifications.

Beyond the days package (fixed price / fixed man-days contract), I apply my day rate used for the days package:

My 19 years of experience in web design confirm that clients tend to underestimate the time needed for collaborative tasks. I therefore usually advise to anticipate and extend the collaborative tasks when agreeing on a days package (fixed price / fixed man-days contract).

As we work together on the web site, the client and me develop a feel for how long it takes to implement this or that feature or modification. We can therefore frequently estimate the needs in extra man-days before proceeding further.

3.3.2.5.2 / What happens if the actual project takes less time than we have scheduled in the days package?

I admit that I have never seen this happen in 19 years of working on web design projects. But if it does happen, I would prefer to reimburse the client all unused man-days.

3.3.3 / Emergency exits

Web design is a complex, lengthy and costly process involving a lot of human interaction. We may disagree to a point when we prefer to end our collaboration.

However, I would feel really upset if you had to throw this considerable money and time investment out of the window.

So my web design process features inbuilt emergency exits:

3.3.3.1 / Gradual payment

You pay as you go, at the end / beginning of each project stage.

3.3.3.2 / Rejection and termination

I leave to the client total freedom to reject the interactive scenario or the graphic design or the technical implementation and terminate our collaboration.

In such case, all previous payments will remain permanently acquired by Anatoly IVANOV, but no other payments, such as for non-initiated stages, will be asked.

3.3.3.3 / Reuse possibility

If you wish to reuse the work done up to that point, I would gladly license the usage rights if:

3.4 / A complex answer to a complex problem?

Yes, my web design process may seem more complex than the traditional approach, because I embrace the inherent complexity of web design.

But the detailed description of my web design process actually takes more time to read than to implement and use.

What’s amazing is how the process feels nimble, natural and trust-infused to both the client and myself.

Moreover, we always know where the project is and how much it costs.

Does it work? Yes, it does. Even the page you are reading now is the result of my web design process. You can also take a look at other web sites I have built in my design portfolio.

4 / MORE QUESTIONS?

I am always eager to answer your questions and discuss the details of my design processes: contact me.

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