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Hey, designer. Kevin McCloud would hate the way we’re running our projects

Since the pandemic hit, my husband and I have developed a ritual of sorts. A cozy escape from the uncomfortable reality of 2020. And 2021. And 2022. And 2023. And, yep, 2024.

Whenever he’s not on shift, we put our girls to bed, grab a snack, and settle in for an episode of Grand Designs. It’s one of the only shows we can agree to watch together — The Bear, Peaky Blinders and Survivor being the only exceptions.

While Wade loves the episodes where the owners pull off something magnificent—a truly grand design—I prefer the episodes where the owners are a little unhinged, juggling a small budget and zero building experience. The best ones (the ones most destined for disaster) feature the owners opting out of hiring a project manager and deciding to run the show themselves. It’s incredible. The North Devon Lighthouse Revisit will be, forever, one of my favourite pieces of television viewing.

Recently, I was talking to a colleague in the creative field, and we ruminated that we often allow our clients to do exactly what these Grand Designs couples do.

Stick with me here.

The evolution of a client-initiated rebrand

The client — who usually has no design experience and very little marketing knowledge—decides their brand needs an update.

Cool! We love to see it.

They put together a list of things that need updating — from their website to their social media posts—and then get to work assembling a crack team to get them there.

Designers.

Copywriters.

Digital marketers.

Photographers.

Videographers.

PR consultants.

Brand strategists.

Social media managers.

Once they have their team in place, they move on to briefing. They brief everyone separately, set their own (somewhat arbitrary) deadlines, and line up a series of stakeholders who will need to approve every asset.

From there, they project manage the entire rebrand, communicating with each team separately, and passing messages from one team to another.

Here’s where it all starts to take a North Devon Lighthouse-ish turn.

With the client at the helm, messages get lost in translation, briefs don’t match up and big, important bits of the project get missed.

The design team doesn’t get the right photos to pull off their vision — so they’re forced to work with what they have.

The copywriter is surprised to see that the copy has been chopped and changed by the design team — so they fire off a few changes and hope someone sees them.

The marketers can’t find anywhere on the website suitable to send hot leads, so they settle for the homepage and hope things change in the future.

Finally, the whole thing goes live in a sort of half-hearted way. It’s probably well over budget. The client isn’t over the moon with the final result, but figures it’ll do for now. None of the creatives involved feel good about popping the project into their portfolio.

This happens again, and again, and again.

And we just… let it happen.

What would Kevin do?

“A big project will drain you night and day, but the ride need only be as hard or as easy as you make it … People have got to get over the fear of not being able to trust others. I come across people who are very successful in their own sphere, and really believe they can do it all themselves, but they can’t.”

Kevin McCloud, Host of Grand Designs (Source)

If Kevin McCloud were making a TV show about our industry, I think he would tell us to stop letting clients take the reigns of a creative project.

We’ll treat them as experts in their field, of course, but not in ours.

We’ll ask for the names of the other creatives who’ll be involved in the project from the start and make sure we’re all on the same page with the same creative direction.

We’ll create big goals for the project, and ensure all feedback and revisions are in line with those big goals — not the whims of a powerful stakeholder.

We’ll let one team—probably the design team!—take the lead and work our magic to fit in with their vision.

And then, my friends, I think we’ll start turning this ship around.

How to take the reigns on your next project

If you’re a designer, then hopefully you’ve been nodding along as you’ve been reading this post.

Here’s what I’ve learned over the past decade as a copywriter: someone needs to take control. If they don’t, the client will naturally step in and start project managing. Usually badly.

As the designer, you are in the very best position to do exactly this. You are usually the first person that clients approach when they need a rebrand, and they’re often more than happy to take your suggestions onboard.

Rather than letting your client source and manage their own creative team, you can recommend your own. Even better, if they freelance or white label for you, you’ll be able to act as a united front with a cohesive creative direction initiated by your team.

Plus, you can add a nice fat margin to their services to cover your time spend project managing. Because, let’s face it. You’d probably end up some emergency PM-ing anyway.

Fat margins. Tasty projects. Delighted clients.

Need we say more?

And, if you ever need a copywriter to get onboard and get motoring? You know where to find us.