Full disclosure: I am not a designer.
But I’ve worked with lots of designers. As part of in-house marketing teams, with an ad agency working with clients, at a newspaper working on weekly deadlines, and also with contract and freelance designers.
And I know one thing that designers really hate: Unsolicited feedback on their work.
So don’t worry, I’m not going to offer feedback on your work (can this be prettier?) but I will offer a few suggestions on your workflow. And there’s a big difference there.
Your workflow encompasses not only the tools you use, but the processes you use to get the work done.
Workflow suggestions aren’t challenging your design aesthetics; they are suggestions on how you finish and bring that aesthetic to full completion.
Another way of saying it is to think about your work habits – especially in how you communicate, interact and facilitate feedback from your clients, stakeholders or even your fellow colleagues: such as copywriters, marketing managers, marketing operations or your digital teams.
And one thing that’s indispensable in facilitating better team communication is your project management tools.
1. Better Organization
Sometimes project management tools get lumped in with other common tools, like product design (Invision), mockups (Sketch) or document collaboration (Dropbox).
One major difference between those tools and project management is that a project management system gives you organization.
You can set start dates, deadlines, subtasks and connect your work to other related tasks. Those tasks can be stacked into projects to give you a central place to connect your work.
For designers, this is key for putting all the pieces of your project together. Dropbox may be a great place to list your comments, but what about keeping up with deadlines?
What about fitting your work into the campaign timeline?
Granted, you may not be in charge of the project, but being aware of how your work fits into the larger plan makes you a better colleague.
2. Smooth Communication
Another way that project management tools help designers is with team communication. And sometimes the best communication isn’t with a well-placed emoji (though that also can work).
In project management software, you can use a few visual cues to help you with your work.
For instance, users can set priority flags in ClickUp to indicate whether a task or project is high or low priority.
You can also set statuses to let you know the stage of its progress – such as In Progress or Update Required. These simple status messages give you a quick picture of the work that needs to be done, and you can even sort by those statuses to help you prioritize.
3. One Location
Think of project management software as your central hub for connecting to your other tools. Project management software is the place for your Adobe Creative files, stock images, layout templates, Word docs, Invision links and more. This is where you can connect all of your files for your marketing teams and creative design teams.
Why this way? It’s a lot easier than uploading and sending email attachments to your supervisors or to the client. (Yes, with project management software you can invite guests or set certain user permissions).
Once access to your files is consolidated, it’s easier for communication and reviews to happen because it’s simpler to access.
4. Creates a Record of Feedback
Ever had a client or boss approve something only to call it back a few weeks later?
You may not believe this, but they may have forgotten why they approved it in the first place. Project management software keeps a record of tasks and comments to help your colleagues catch up and remember.
It also provides a place for others to chime in, keeping ideas and comments nicely threaded instead of distributed across the inbox or random Slack channels.
You can also keep the details of your project here from start to finish – including the contracts, proposals, early drafts and mockups all the way to the finished deliverable.
5. Create Clear Deadlines & Track Progress
The best design tools usually don’t have deadlines, subtasks, milestones and timelines attached to them. It’s all about concentrating on the work. But a project management tool takes care of those elements and the workflow. And it’s easier to track your progress and update your team with statuses, comments and more. You can also set start and end dates and then receive reminders before a project starts or before it’s due.
6. Identify Potential Problems
This relates to the point above. Designers can gauge progress and see how projects are moving with project management software. This helps you as a designer or one of your colleagues see bottlenecks or identify any hang-ups that may delay your work. This could include getting the right files or copy or aligning your work with the campaign launch dates.
And this is a benefit for you too. If you’re recording your work in project management software, your team lead or manager will be aware of how much you’re working on and adjust your workload.
With project management software, you’re on the same page with your team the whole way through.
You probably don’t want another tool in your tech stack. But think about what you need to do.
As a designer or creative, you’re responsible for not only the artistic vision, but also the projects, tasks and specific details that go with each one. You’re probably also responsible for corresponding with clients and managing a certain part of the work, especially around deadlines, formatting and incorporating feedback. The best way to simplify your workflow and possibly reduce your number of tools is with project management software.
Project management software is only daunting if you make it that way. The next step is to evaluate tools and find the one that fits your team the best. There are lots of free project management software tools that are simple to use (I recommend ClickUp, but I’m biased!). But it’s worth investing the time and energy to make one work for your team and design projects.