By John Meyer and Sara Sturtevant
Behold, the typical client-agency partnership: We’ve all been there. Everyone is excited at the kickoff, eager to build the next leaning tower of awesome together. The project moves forward and teams go back to their respective corners while the magic commences behind the scenes. The agency dives into the creative process. And if you’re the client, you get to wait in anticipation for the first design review. Finally, with much build-up, the agency brings forth the grand reveal. Sometimes it’s a hit (and there is much rejoicing!) But other times it’s a miss and it’s back to the drawing board, leaving both teams wondering what went wrong and feeling a little emptier inside.
There’s a simple solution to this situation. Communication, you say? Close. The answer is taking communication one step further to a place where both client and agency are acting as though they work on the same team for the same company. Because they do, and it’s yours.
I’m talking about real collaboration. Not just getting “input” and “incorporating feedback.” When agencies and clients work together in true partnership, a gestalt effect takes place. And the User Experience result for your customers (and your bottom line) can be astoundingly on point.
Here’s a glimpse of how Closed Loop approaches collaboration and what can be achieved when agencies and clients work together as a team:
#1 Stronger Ideas
When the entire team participates in each project from the very beginning, the creative process gets started much more efficiently. As a client, you only have to explain what you need once, instead of starting over with the basics every time a new team member is brought in to do their part. Your first-hand knowledge of your products, services and audiences is invaluable for quickly zeroing in on the range of potential solutions we can explore. Then we, as designers, can tap into that insider knowledge and have real conversations with you from our very first interaction. This creates a much stronger foundation for producing ideas that align with your business needs.
#2 Faster Iteration
It’s important to vet ideas, early and often. We like to build the foundation with participatory brainstorms and workshops, and then follow up with rapid cycles of iteration. Sometimes we show initial concepts at the paper-and-pen sketch level. We’ve even had group remote sketching and paper prototyping sessions. This early and frequent involvement means that we avoid over-producing the wrong ideas. And that can shave days, or even weeks, from project timelines.
#3 Open Innovation
Your company may be looking for an agency to freely develop ideas that push the edges of your comfort zone. But even when we’re exploring new ideas, consistent full-team involvement means that everyone is able to follow the creative leaps as the design evolves. Collaboration like this keeps us on the right side of the boundary, even as we push it outwards.
#4 Smaller Course Corrections
Creative briefs and kickoff meetings are good for aligning visions and expectations – at first. But going into radio silence between the kickoff and the first unveiling of the designs allows slight differences in interpretation to turn into alarmingly out-of-touch results. In a collaborative process, regularly sharing early ideas keeps everything on course and you see steady progress towards the end goal.
#5 Deeper Understanding
Conveying all of the thinking that went into a final design in the space of a single meeting or a PDF deliverable is not ideal. When you, as a client, are involved in the process from beginning to end, it’s much easier for you to see and understand the reasoning behind design decisions. More importantly, it makes it much easier for you to share and explain those design choices to others within your organization who may not have been as closely involved.
#6 Mutual Ownership
When we collaborate, you can say “We put this together with Closed Loop,” not “Closed Loop put this together for us.” The difference is vast, and it has a powerful effect on how other internal teams and stakeholders perceive deliverables. In our experience, mutual ownership makes it easier to generate good-will and buy-in. Plus, the internal teams we work with are rightfully recognized and credited for the improvements made because of the project.
Years ago, we made a commitment to create a new kind of client-agency partnership; one that is open, transparent and truly collaborative. Since then, we’ve found that this approach leads not only to a more cohesive experience for the team, but also an exceptional end-product. The impact? Better user experience for your customers and a competitive edge for your business.
Originally published on the Closed Loop Blog February 2, 2015.