Working on a Successful Team Project

Today, I’m going to tell you about my recent experience working on a design project with a group of designers … and how you can benefit from what I learned.

Now you might be asking yourself, “Why would I want to work on a group project as part of a team? Doesn’t that mean a smaller payday for me … and less opportunity to showcase my own skills?”

Not at all. Group projects are the best way for clients to accomplish major projects with ironclad deadlines. These projects can be too big for one designer to tackle in a reasonable amount of time. So clients delegate them to a team of professionals.

If you were to try to tackle big projects like that on your own, you’d actually be limiting your exposure in the design marketplace. You’d be working solely for one client instead of working with others and getting your name spread around.

And as you make your way in this career, you’ll find that many of your best referrals will come from other designers who are too busy to accept more projects. By working as part of a team, you are, in fact, showcasing your skills to professionals who can boost your career better than almost any other group of people.

But working as part of a design team comes with its own set of guidelines. Here are the four that I found most useful for making our project a success …

  1. Practice patience.

    Yes, patience. If you are doing a project on your own, you don’t need to be patient with yourself. But as part of a group, you all need to “get in sync” with each other to understand the goals of the project and what it will take to get there.

    As the project continues, you’ll be working with people with different work styles, different approaches, and different ways to communicate. The differences are neither better nor worse. They are just different. Accepting that requires “give and take.”

  2. Get on the “same page.”

    If, say, three designers are working with you on the same project, you all have to end up with the same design for the various elements. The best way to accomplish that is to use a common template. By template, I mean an agreed-upon design that meets the client’s special needs or requirements – with all pages the correct size, headers and footers in place, and placeholders for page numbers.

    From the beginning, one person should be designated to put together the template, with input from all the design collaborators. Of course, the client needs to approve and sign off on it.

  3. Use the template uniformly.

    Everyone has to use the project template in exactly the same way. This usually means the template designer needs to write out a detailed explanation of the components of the design and layout.

    For example, the template designer might explain when to use certain paragraph styles, how to place graphic components for uniformity throughout the project, and/or how to place “writable notes” in the final PDF. Taking care of these little things upfront will avoid problems later.

    Without agreement among the designers on how to use the template, you might end up with two of the six chapters of the project looking ”slightly different” … which would not please the client.

  4. Use the same software version.

    Another thing to consider is the version of the layout software that the group will be using. Obviously, everyone needs to use the same software. You can’t have some of the designers using InDesign and some using QuarkXPress – even with converters. The converted designs will not be the same.

    Everyone also needs to use the same version of the software … or be able to save their work in that version. If, for example, the group settles on InDesign CS2 as the standard, your InDesign CS3 software probably won’t work, since you can’t save InDesign CS3 files in earlier version formats.

    And unless you use OpenType fonts in all stages of production, you should all use the same computer platform (Mac or Windows). Using other font formats (TrueType or PostScript) can create problems when trying to work between the two platforms.

One last comment: When working with the team, I loved the sharing of ideas and techniques that went on. This doesn’t happen when you’re working solo on a project. It’s a great way to expand your knowledge and learn how to do things faster and more efficiently.

So if you have the opportunity to work as a member of a design team, do it! And when you do, keep this in mind:

  • Have patience with others.
  • Make sure the team works with an acceptable (and practical) design template.
  • Make sure the team has detailed instructions on how to use the template – and that everyone agrees to stay within the design template parameters.
  • Double-check the version of the layout software that each team member is using.
  • Take notes so you can remember all the new tricks, techniques, and ideas you learned from your teammates.
  • Most important … have fun!
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Published: March 27, 2008

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