Mitigating Failure

We are constantly inundated with commercial and brand messages from the time we wake up until the time we go to sleep — from the logo on your shower head to the sign on the front of the door at your favorite local coffee joint. As digital technology has continued to grow, brands have the ability to reach a much larger audience than ever before, but the real power of a brand still lies in their ability to communicate brand ethos through products, branding, and social channels. To stand out in all the noise, brands are forced to be creative with the way they leverage their physical and digital brand image.

Working as a producer for the past couple years, I was fortunate enough to get experience producing everything from event tents, promotional materials, and annual reports to billboards, POS, and van wraps. After working on big brands, I learned how much goes into creating and maintaining a brand while trying to be innovative and sell through creative, out-of-the-box ideas that will attract new consumers.

Working with a big brand, you design within guidelines while working to creatively represent a brand, a lifestyle, and an experience. While some of the things I produced solely required standard production from pre-determined specs, a lot of the jobs we worked on required custom printing specs, custom manufacturing, and custom installation. The cost to remedy a mistake? 20–30k. So, how can you mitigate failure? As we say, take things into your own hands and cover your ass. You can’t rely on your printer to ensure the color is correct or your custom fabricator to get the installation exactly right or even your production artist to get every single typo, but you can mitigate failure through process, teamwork, and the resources available at your fingertips.

Details are everything.

Details, details, details. Print is challenging because it’s permanent. Once it’s printed, it’s final and there’s no going back. Of course, we’re all human. Mistakes happen. But that typo you had on page 50 of an annual report screams at you, the low res pic that was accidentally used on page 12 ruins the visual nature of that page, and the 10% shift in color you see on page 24 pisses your client off— it’s those small things that keep you up at night. It’s true, as designers we’re trained to see these things and the public probably won’t notice, but your peers will. It’s the details that take good work and make it great work.

Create process.

Process is key. There needs to be process. Your team needs to brainstorm, get approved concepts, create layouts, change pictures and typography, fix typos, adjust logos, and change copy all before the layout hits the production department. Once the layout has been approved, then production checks resolution, placement, colors, kerning, margins, fonts, adds bleed and crop. And, to add to the complexity, you’re working with a creative director, designer, art director, project manager, media planner, and copywriter all who have different schedules and are working on 10 other projects for 5 other clients. Yes, there’s a lot of moving parts which is why process and teamwork mitigate failure. For us, it was an intense review process where the decision makers would review and approve work at every big step in the process. Obviously everyone works differently and meeting everyones specific needs is nearly impossible, but creating a design and review process that includes client and internal review to reduce mistakes while stopping inefficiencies and managing expectations proves to be one of the biggest challenges.

Be resourceful.

Everyone talks about having a mentor — someone who is there to coach, critique and direct you. I would take this to a next step and say hitch your wagon to someone that inspires you. Take advice from someone that makes you question reality and time, stretches you to think outside the box and not accept the status quo, pushes you to take chances, doesn’t ridicule but rather helps you learn from mistakes, and will stick up for you, not throw you under the bus, when shit hits the fan. An inspirational mentor will not only celebrate your successes, but be there for you through the failures. Failure is only a failure when you don’t learn from it. If you fail, get off your ass, work harder, and don’t make the same mistake again. On the other hand, many mistakes that stem from carelessness and lack of attention to detail can be avoided. Take the time to think. That is what they are paying you for. Think about what you’re doing before you do it.

If you need it, ask for help. If you can figure it out, Google that shit. If you know how, do it. Your value to a company is in the way you think, not in how you can push papers. Don’t just forward me an email complaint from the client, I don’t know what to do with that. Read it, analyze it, and come up with possible solutions. Don’t just accept a mediocre concept or piece of work, review it and analyze it and think about how you can add to the concept with your skill-set — whether your on the media team mapping out billboards or a project manager writing the project scope. Think about how your actions and decisions now will affect those downstream in a month. Think about the business goals and ask why. Okay, you got a creative brief and the client wants to run a print ad in Outdoor Magazine, but is this really the right magazine for their brand ethos? Is it in the projects scope? Is it the right demographic? Why are things done the way they are? How can we change our industry? What are the political, technological, and ethical problems in our society? What are the design trends? Keep asking why until you have all the information you need to produce exactly what the client needs, not necessarily just what they want.

As designers and creative thinkers, we have an innate ability to affect the way consumers view a brand — from the color and typography to the content and design. Brands rely on materials we create to meet sales, marketing, and company goals, extend their brand, and reach consumers. Meeting these goals only comes through smart thinking, creating business efficiencies and reducing the risk of failure. As a creative, think about actions you can take personally to reduce your risk of failure and create better work. Believe in yourself, and your work.

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