6.2: Working with Others (Inside and Outside the Team)
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Phase 2: Working with Others (Inside & Outside the Team)
When you think about creating a major project, one of the major hurdles that you’ll encounter is communication—how do you communicate with the folks you’re going to be working with? What are going to be the ways you communicate and what rules will govern that communication?
Generally speaking, the idea that too many cooks can ruin things holds true for design projects. Too many goalposts and too many folks with power can make things get crazy. Because of that, you want to have a well-structured workflow that will solicit feedback from stakeholders in a productive way while allowing your team to get work done without being constantly second-guessed and overridden.
One major step you can take is to establish a concrete communication channel and a point person for each major group of stakeholders. Communication can be routed through this channel and these individuals, preventing chaos and overload. It can also help if your workspace for deliverables and other content isn’t accessible to the stakeholders—you don’t want something that you’re not ready to share getting shared.
As far as file services and the like, take stock of what features you’d need and what is available and secure or preferred. For example, if you’re doing something that is primarily text-based, you may want a service that allows real-time commenting and responses to comments with an editing interface. If you’re doing something primarily graphical or that will be printed, you’ll want to make sure your files can be shared easily and accessed quickly. Adapt to your situation.
Chat solutions like Slack and Teams can also be helpful, but be aware that you don’t necessarily want an open channel between your team and the folks you’re working for. The design process can be a messy and chaotic experience to those on the outside that don’t understand what iteration looks like.
One of the most powerful tools that you can leverage when working in multi-person teams is going to be the style guide, a document that allows you to decide what will be the canonical choices for any and all design and textual variations. Style guides are used for visual design as well as for editorial work, allowing you to put into writing your final decisions and preferred practices regarding the word choice and the visual look of a given project. They’re immensely helpful, especially when a final deliverable is the product of a large team working for multiple stakeholders.
Style guides are usually formatted as reference materials and are designed to regulate what the communications of a given organization are going to look like and feel like. Having a cohesive visual style as well as a cohesive editorial style allows for regular information and consistent representation of the organization. For example, most universities have very particular ways that you can present a school or department with the university logo/wordmark. This is designed and guarded in such a way that when you see the particular official combination that is approved, it looks like an official university text. The same also holds true for how to abbreviate titles and positions.
In the corporate world, style guides are used for consistent brand imagery and for consistent internal and external communications. Starbucks is famous for their web style guide and Boeing is famous for never changing the name of a part, allowing mechanics to always know what they’re talking about and working on. Practically speaking, a style guide lets you know what is going to be okay and not okay when working in an organization and it allows those in charge to put into place their desired design choices in a relatively transparent way for those in the organization doing communication work.
In some cases a style guide may reference an external system like the Chicago Manual of Style. A preferred dictionary might also be used, often the Merriam-Webster Dictionary in the US. In these cases, the organization is allying itself with a standard that is larger than one particular group or company. This can also be the case when an organization works primarily in an area where the style is dictated by formal groups associated with the work, such as legal teams using standard legal annotation.
When creating a style guide, you’ll tailor the guide to the situation. A comprehensive guide will often cover official word marks, logos, color combinations and color codes, typographical choices, layouts and templates, as well as editorial choices such as abbreviations. More targeted guides may limit themselves to just visuals or just text.
Below is a brief one-page example of what a style guide might look like, especially if you go for a plain guide that focuses on getting information across quickly:
In the example guide, you have information on the feel/ mission of the company first off. The mission statement is often used to set a tone and goal for communications. This can also be true of projects and campaigns. Next you have the official type choices in a limited format, displaying the choices at the size and format recommended. Next you have the official presentation of the logo and the wordmark slogan. A wordmark is often a text-based representation of an organization without any extra graphical elements. From these examples, you can know exactly what choices you’re going to need to use when you work for this organization.
In addition to missions and typography and logos/wordmark, you can also encounter colors and layouts in a style guide. For your own projects, these can be extremely helpful because they can be a way to quickly communicate your design ideas without getting into specifics. See the example here for what this might look like.
In the example on the right, you’ll see specific color swatches are presented, color combinations are suggested or required, and a little bit of information is given about color usage. This is the norm in many guides, and while this guide only includes RGB codes, many official guides would include CMYK to make sure colors are consistent across mediums. The templates that you see simply suggest the overall shape and form in this limited example, but they can get much more specific. The business card on the right is closest to a concrete example.
A style guide really should expand and contract in content and scope depending on how you want to use it. The goal here is that you can communicate to folks the specific ways that you want to share information and how you want to present your project/organization. In our case we could almost go all the way into a design brief, another classic type of project-oriented document, but for our purposes we’ll stick to the style guide.
The final expression you may see that I’d like to show an example of is the editorial style guide, a guide that suggests that wording and textual choices that will show up in your documents. In group writing situations an editorial style guide can be useful to make sure you’re keeping a consistent tone and word choice throughout. See the example on the next page:
In the above example, you see a discussion of tone, specific references for how to talk about members of the organization, and guidelines for discussions of outside groups and the current promotional campaign. The above is an abbreviated look at the ways that organizations often set particular guides for how official communications are worded and how specific groups and processes are referenced. Depending on the extent to which an organization is looking to create a readily-identifiable voice, the choices and power of an editorial style guide can be limited or extensive.
Think about the style guide as the place where you’ll make the tough calls once. Decide as a group and with the input of stakeholders what your official colors, images, approach to text, and all other design choices is going to be and then standardize them in the guide. The guide becomes the place that decisions are made and recorded. This can be especially powerful in settings where you’re the leader of a team of writers and need to exert control without the need to micromanage everyone and everything.
Your style guide may not be finalized by the end of Phase 2, but you should at least get one started. As you go, update the version of the style guide and make notes as to what has changed in each version—this will give you a clear idea of what has happened and why as your project has developed.