Strategic Design | marketing & branding thoughts by Nick Rice

Dynamic marketing, branding & design strategies that span the gap between business & creative.

Creative Constraints

Johnnie Moore's post on constraints got me thinking about limits that clients naturally put on projects. It always surprises me that no one likes to talk about budgets or deadlines up front. Especially considering that those two very real constraints drive 99% of all marketing projects. After all who is going to pay an agency to work forever with no goals or defined invoice amount?

The true genius of a creative person is finding the best solution available given project constraints. It's not unreasonable to renegotiate deliverables to fit within constraints - and that goes for client expectations as well as agency desires to produce top notch materials on every engagement.

It's hard to fault a designer for wanting to do the best job possible on each and every assignment. Unfortunately the business world is one of realities more so than possibilities. The trick is doing the best job possible under the deadline and budget restrictions. That's hard for a lot of creative directors and producers to wrap their heads around. You have to make conscious design decisions that meet the project/brand goals while staying on time and budget.

As an agency, we have to set client expectations up front about what is possible within given project constraints. With margins thinning, it's a fine line to walk between customer satisfaction and agency profitability. And I don't think that's a bad thing. The days of multi-year retainer client/agency relationships are gone. I've heard a lot of mega-agency people talk about retainers as if they are an open bucket of money without defined deliverables or deadlines. In reality, retainers are just multi-project engagements under contract with one agency. You still have the same constraints as one off project work; you're just not fighting off other firms for each job.

We have to learn to embrace constraints. Use them as fuel for out-of-the-box creative thinking. Great work comes from finding unique solutions while meeting all goals (project objectives, client satisfaction, timeframe, budget, agency goals and designer expectations - probably in that order). Budget and timeframe should determine level of effort on a sliding scale. A seasoned design professional will know what is possible when they understand the constraints. After that it's a matter of aligning client & agency expectations with those constraints and everyone involved making purposeful decisions to stay on target.

technorati tags > marketing, communications, advertising, level of effort, constraints, retainer, projects, budget, deadline, project management, designer, client, agency, creative

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