Five Keys to a Successful Working Relationship With Your Creative Counterparts

Guest Post By Patrick Walsh, VP of Design, Tonic Design Co.

Patrick Walsh - HeadshotThanks to technology, much has changed in what PR pros can handle as “part of a day’s work.” Now, public relations professionals are as likely to be adept at HTML as they are with Photoshop – a far cry from the days when media pitches were the only creativity they were allowed.

However, sometimes “hacking” it just doesn’t cut it. So when you need to outsource creative and design elements for your public relations programs, what should you take into account for a successful working relationship with your creative counterparts?

  1. Look for a personality pairing.

Successful partnerships are those where personality and work style mesh.

Are you naturally cautious and require a deeper understanding of data prior to making a decision? Then look for a firm that has the research capabilities to provide you with the clear view necessary to inform your decision making process. On the other hand, if you’re looking for game-changing disruption and innovation, select a firm that employs the people and process required for fearless creative thinking (as we’re doing with our Tonic problem solver challenge).

Keep in mind, a good design firm will do its best to balance these scales internally to be able to meet as many client needs as possible (just like a good PR firm). However, their core strengths are typically easy to identify with just a small amount of digging.

  1. Practice due diligence.

When vetting new design partners, ask to review some of their past work. Focus on the projects that seem most relevant to your needs. Ask them about how they solved the problem that was in play, what they learned, and what the final results were.

It’s not always critical that the firm has worked with companies identical to yours. It’s more important that they have unquestionable experience in the same problem spaces and channels that you will be working in.

  1. Have a shared understanding of your mutual goal.

I cannot stress this strongly enough: Design created without empathy, without a researched understanding of its intended audience, is simply decoration.

When design is intended to achieve a business goal (and nine times out of ten, it should be… see #5 below) seek a firm that can explain in plain language how they iteratively research their work’s effectiveness. Ideally a design firm will be frugal with your budget and look to make minimum investments, to ensure their effort is proving itself effective before traveling further down their intended path.

  1. Are they problem solvers?

The right design firm will be highly adept at solving problems. Make sure you take advantage of these problem-solving skills by bringing them your design problems vs. your design solutions.

Creatives are trained in how to look at problems from many different angles to find a solution that is unique and unexpected. It’s by following this process that you can create a customer experience that will “surprise and delight.” On the other hand, the more “solution” you bring to your design partner, the less creative thinking you will receive from them.

  1. Tell them what you hope that design will do for you.

Both sides of an effective design relationship are managed through the clarity by which expectations are set and managed. A good design partner will ensure that they are doing this for you, but make sure you are being clear about your metrics for success as well.

If the working relationship isn’t meeting your expectations, make sure you’re able to clearly articulate why their efforts aren’t producing results in line with your expectations, and tell them early. Many pieces of a design relationship are easily adjusted over time – such as personalities and skills – but you don’t want to wait it out if your project’s success metrics are at risk.

Follow these five rules of thumb, and your creative partnerships will be set up for success from the get-go.

Vice President of Design at Tonic Design Co., Patrick Walsh has dedicated the past 20 years to the creation of a better human experience through more meaningful, natural technology. His specialties include design management, brand management, design research, and building and nurturing multi-disciplinary design teams. Passionate about UX and Lean & Agile methods, Patrick has used these techniques throughout his career to build effective solutions for healthcare, financial services, government, fashion, and consumer electronics companies.