Lovegrove Design & Photography, Tiverton, Devon Deadlines...Friend or Foe? |
Deadlines Friend or Foe?
Mar 2012 20

I have been thinking alot about deadlines recently….everyone knows that a designer’s life is ruled by timescales and deadlines but it struck me that not everyone is as used to working within a timeframe in the same way as I am. So I wondered what advice I could give to help others reach their targets.

I have worked in both an advertising agency environment and in more recent years within a design studio at a large printers. I have therefore plenty of experience of working under pressure. The switch to the printers studio was admittedly a massive shock to the system. Designs have to come quick and it’s crucial to work efficiently, often juggling lots of tasks and deadlines all at the same time. The demands were intense, the deadlines tight, the hours often long and the expectations were always high.

So how do I feel about deadlines?

Well it’s true that they get a bad press and can often be described like a dirty word. In reality though a deadline can be a helpful tool if used correctly. It can help you to prioritise your workflow and focus the mind on the task at hand.

A useful deadline HAS to be realistic and achievable though otherwise it can have an adverse affect on your concentration. Applying undue pressure on yourself or having that pressure imposed by others can leave the brain with the consistency of porridge, stifle your creativity entirely and send you into a spiral of panic that is unhelpful to you and more importantly your client.

So when discussing deadlines NEVER agree to something that you fear you are unable to achieve. It’s counterproductive. Clients appreciate speed, they love to feel that they are your number one priority but it’s always better to allow a little extra time for yourself so that you can confidently meet your deadline and always deliver one time. Agreeing to a tighter deadline may sound impressive to begin with, but if you fail to meet that promise the damage to the relationship with your client is hard to rectify.

Always take into account what I like to call….”The Screw Up Scenario”, (actually I have another name for it, but that’s not suitable pre watershed!). The Screw Up Scenario is all about foreseeing the unforeseeable. Take into account ALL the possible things that could affect your ability to meet your target.

1. Will the client be available when I need them to check proofs and discuss design alterations?
It’s pointless to agree to a tight deadline if your client will be spending days on the golf course when you need them to approve your work and you can guarantee they are unlikely to volunteer such information, so find out. Working with a client to a deadline is a team effort and we have to make our client take a certain amount of responsibility in order to be able to meet their demands.
The same applies if you are working with subcontractors or suppliers. Find out their availability. Work with them, don’t make your deadline their problem by agreeing to an unrealistic timeframe and demanding they oblige. That’s not how to get people to pull out the stops for you and create a good working relationship.

2. What if the client changes their mind?
You can get all the way through the design process, get close to sign off, only to be tripped at the last hurdle because the client’s wife or next door neighbour has expressed a concern over your design. So take this into account, it happens more often that you may think. Allowing some cool off time so the client can live with your design for a while and be absolutely sure they and their colleagues, neighbours, aunties and whoever are completely happy with the direction you are taking them.
The design process is a journey, with twists and turns and bumps in the road….so just like you plan a road trip, allow enough time to reach the destination safely.

Don’t allow yourself to be distracted.
Organise and prioritise your deadlines, and once you have done that…stick to it. Don’t take on anything on embark on any tasks that will jeopardise the likelihood of you delivering on time. You have predicted how long a project will take, taken into account client behaviour and made a judgment about the order of your workflow, so why increase your stress by allowing yourself to deviate from a well thought out strategy?
This may sometimes mean having to say no to a valued client, but with careful consideration and gentle client management, that doesn’t have to be a negative thing. Be honest with your client. Give them an alternative completion date that you CAN meet. Nine times out of ten they will agree to your deadline because they like your work and trust your judgement…..why wouldn’t they?, you have effectively managed your previous deadlines and never let them down.

Ok so we all know that the world isn’t perfect and there will be occasions that you will have to pull out all the stops, put in the long hours and meet an immoveable deadline, but if you have effectively managed the rest of your workload then you will have the capacity to take on such a project and keep everyone happy with your performance.

Just ensure that not every deadline requires such a marathon endeavour and you will successfully educate and manage your client’s expectations of what is achievable and learn to love your deadlines…..well some of them anyway ;-)

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