How to run a design meeting
Designers value meetings. Discussing a project face-to-face with the decision-maker(s) is gold. Problem is clients are just so busy — meetings are often the bane of their life.
The added difficulty is that most designers aren’t taught how to run a meeting efficiently (start promptly, stay on track and achieve an objective) and effectively (include the right people for a specific purpose and help them get to a tangible result).
It’s not about chairpeople and minutes, it’s about respect for those attending. This week’s article might help…
Why ‘run’ a meeting
We need to manage meetings because they can quickly go off topic and waste everyone’s time. It’s not just about sharing information, there’s much better forums for that.
Meetings are to group selected people for a focussed discussion around a specific purpose.
Done well, meetings are more efficient than a long email conversation; quicker than a slack decision and more collaborative than a two-person conversation.
Meetings are costly
Meetings are expensive – for you but especially for your client.
Designers leave a meeting saying that went great, it was only scheduled for 30 minutes but we kept them for two hours. Clients leave the meeting asking themselves how they will recoup the 90 minutes lost from their day.
Many designers view meetings as an opportunity to get more work. Be mindful it’s also an opportunity to get more work by proving you can run efficient projects.
Ask for a meeting by explaining why you want to meet in person, what needs to be discussed and who you suggest should attend.
The meeting agenda
An agenda doesn’t just make you look organised, it gives a meeting purpose and allows participants to prepare. It’s about managing expectations.
Even if it is only two discussion points supply an agenda complete with:
- a list of participants
- the meeting objective (taken from the project objective)
- time allocation (I allocate time next to each discussion point. It not only helps keep the meeting ontrack it’s an early red flag if the meeting will possibly run overtime. If that’s the case you can make a decision how to deal with the problem early.)
- a timeline around decisions.
At the meeting
You called the meeting.
It’s your meeting.
Don’t assume your client will run your meeting.
Wherever possible, position yourself at the head of the table or the front of the room.
Aim for an informal, collaborative meeting by starting the meeting explaining why you are all gathered, how long the meeting will take and what you want from those attending. If you have key decision makers attending, manage their expectations. Tell them why they are the right people to be in the room.
- Give them scope for decision-making. Outline why you want their feedback: for example ‘I have confidence in my design skill but need your sales and product expertise’.
- Explain design is an iterative process and you are open to their feedback: ‘I want feedback early to ensure it fits brief, to improve the outcome and keep to deadline’.
- Suggest avenues/scope of feedback, relating them back to the attendee’s zone of expertise. This will avoid the ‘I don’t like red’ feedback often given when a client is unsure of the feedback required. More about that later…
Don’t spend valuable time repeating the brief. The What client’s think survey showed that was some client’s pet hate. Instead, include it as a summary of key points in the agenda.
Take notes or ask to record the meeting to ensure you have an accurate account of any decisions made, then share your notes shortly after the meeting.
Respect your client’s time and make sure they also know your time is valuable.
Short sharp meetings encourage participation from everyone and keeps everyone focused on you and not their phones.
Never run a meeting longer than the time allowed. That means watching the time and moving the meeting along where needed. It’s where a time allocation on an agenda is of value. If running out of time, suggest other ways some items may be discussed (for example on slack).
Help your client give you the feedback you want
There is no ‘how to be a good client’ short course. Clients are myopic – they are (rightly so) focussed on their problem and their business. If fact, there’s every possibility they’ve had months or years working on their problem before calling you.
A designer’s role is to help clients understand what makes for a good design solution and why.
No-one wants to be embarrassed, so by default clients will lean into their personal likes, dislikes and lived experience to give feedback because they’re areas they have confidence. Problem is, often we’re not designing for the client. We’re designing for their market and their audience.
Help the client give the feedback you want by reminding them of the design objective and how their expertise is relevant. Be clear about the feedback you need, and if not immediate, when it is expected.
Finally, clearly state your understanding of the meeting outcomes; what you will do with that information and the next steps.
Meetings are a great way to showcase your confidence: in approach and project management expertise. On the other hand, an inefficient, unfocussed meeting can not only waste time it can also make a designer look incompetent. Not a good look for someone handling a large budget.
Co-founder Design Business Council.
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About Carol Mackay
After 30+ years running a graphic design firm, Carol pivoted from client-focused projects to consult to the design industry.
Carol’s special power has always been an ability to use design to translate difficult to understand or complex messages. She believes design brings clarity to complex issues. From clarity comes understanding, and understanding leads to knowledge.
As a designer she used those skills with clients like The Magistrates, County and Supreme Courts; Ombudsman schemes and Emergency Service agencies. At DBC she uses the same skills … she helps designers de-mystify the complexities of managing a small business.
Outside of DBC Carol mentors graduates and is a Board member at Never Not Creative, a community of creatives pushing for change in the creative industry.