The First Quarter Inch — Developing Project Guidelines

Life is like a yardstick. In some ways, the easy part is the last 11¾ inches. The hard part is often the first quarter inch: getting organized and defining goals. Don’t cut corners on that first quarter inch, for it often moves the project from good to great.

Many of our clients have clearly defined guidelines and goals already in place which helps Bluewave deliver well-designed projects and meet deadlines without difficulty. If the guidelines are fuzzy, projects often become difficult to execute and require more work phases and multiple revisions.

The collaborative process. Fuzzy guidelines can still lead to successful results. In fact, the collaborative, iterative process with multiple revision cycles can be a valuable tool to help move the project forward, enabling clients to achieve clarity through a trial-and-error process.

The main disadvantages of this style are higher costs and longer timelines. It is not wrong to work this way, just inefficient. Some clients come to prefer this approach, and rely on the insights and solutions that emerge from revision cycles. Others, however, have specific delivery deadlines or budget constraints, so the collaborative process doesn’t work well for those projects.

The guideline-led process. How can you keep costs down and achieve quick results? Spend time on that first quarter inch, and develop guidelines to address questions that inevitably arise during the course of work. You will eliminate the gray areas for both yourself and the design team, and help the designers understand the project, the user, the goals and the needs. Clarity promotes hitting the bulls-eye sooner.

Guidelines help the BlueWave team provide the highest quality designs in the shortest amount of time. What guidelines are needed? Below are some questions to consider. If you can answer even some of these questions, we’re ready to start. If not, we can discuss how Bluewave can assist with gathering answers. Alternatively, we should look at using the collaborative process described above.

The first set of questions are straightforward and easy to answer. The second set contains the more difficult questions, ones that address needs, goals and expectations. This set of questions stimulates thoughts about “This is where I should be,” “This is my kind of solution,” or “This feels right to me.” Working at this higher level can often create the difference between a successful project and one that is marginal, or worse, totally off-track.

Easy-to-answer questions

  • What is the assignment?
  • Who is the main contact person for the project?
  • What is the budget? Are there billing considerations?
  • What is the schedule?
  • What is the background information?
  • What are the program objectives?
  • What is the venue (tradeshow, kiosk, etc.)?
  • What is the key message that needs to be communicated?
  • What are the desired results? Are there any audience action items?
  • What content will be provided to the audience? When?
  • What materials or resources are available to aid in design research?
  • Any specific artwork or other media that should be used?
  • What is the desired length of the program?
  • Will it be animated? interactive?
  • Will you require music or narration?
  • Are there any technical considerations or other requirements?
  • Will the program require “real world” testing?
  • What are the deliverables? Specific media?
  • Who will need to review the program?

Questions that may need further exploration

  • Who are the primary, secondary, tertiary identified audience groups? Any other audience groups?
  • What are their goals?
  • Why do they form a group?
  • What do they have in common?
  • What is a list of cognitive characteristics that defines these groups?
  • How much time do the users have to reach their goals?
  • What are the environmental pressures exerted on the users while they are trying to reach their goals?
  • What is the product’s desired learning curve and proficiency level?
  • What is the brand positioning?
  • What are other benefits that need to be communicated?
  • What should be the tone or personality of the program/product?
  • How will the success of the program be measured?

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