When we tell people that we work for a “full-service digital creative agency,” we’re often met with looks of confusion. Admittedly, our industry has not been around very long and most people have no idea what we do, but it can be a tough question to answer concisely. So in the interest of preempting the puzzled looks and lengthy explanations, we’re presenting a series of posts detailing the day-to-day lives of each member of our staff.
Senior Staff Meeting
We start each Monday with meetings designed to help us all get on the same page. The first of these is a senior staff meeting where myself, our senior developer and our owner discuss things like business objectives, client relations, and workload. We’ll plan strategy, use our task management and time tracking software to evaluate performance and generally try to forecast our upcoming week. The goal is to provide a weekly analysis of how the company is running at the most basic levels.
We then move on to a traffic meeting with the full staff to discuss the status of client work, review timelines and set goals for the week. Project managers typically lead this discussion and my role is to be aware of the status of all of our creative work. This allows me to create my own to-do list as well as work with developers and designers to keep their workflow on target.
Creative Staff Meetings
Once the week is planned out on a company-wide level, there’s usually a lot of catching up and planning with other design and development staff to go over specifics. I might review a design, or the latest build of a website. Often times we give each other things to do, ask questions or set meetings for later in the week.
My philosophy is that no great work is done in a vacuum — which is to say that to be an effective creative, you always need to be keenly aware of the world you’ll be bringing your work into. That means doing your best to stay on top of technical advancements, design trends and a whole host of cultural factors. So I try to devote some time each week to reading blogs, websites, Twitter feeds, etc. that keep me informed or inspire me. These resources represent a variety of fields including design, fine art, technology, video, food, music and fashion. Hopefully, diligent attention to research of this kind translates into better ideas down the road.
As the Art Director, I am responsible for the overall direction of our design work regardless of who it is completed by. But, because we are a small company, I do actually roll up my sleeves and do a good portion of the actual design work myself. So during the afternoons, I might spend a few hours working on a website design, or a logo or a storyboard for one of our clients.
Information Architecture/ Wireframe Meeting
Our belief is that good designers work as much with their brains as they do with their mouse, and so we place a great deal of importance on the work that takes place before one pixel is moved in Photoshop. One of the key points of any interactive project is the process of outlining the information architecture and translating it into wireframes to be used for creating comps.
There are myriad fancy digital tools created for this purpose, but I like to just gather the PM, developer and designer in a room and work through ideas on a large chalkboard. It allows us to work in a loose and collaborative way that seems to let people be less precious with ideas. Any idea can be erased or modified easily, and people can physically share the space in order to work together. At this stage, I try to facilitate the discussion and lean heavily on the perspective of each of the other people in the room to guide the work.
Business Development Meeting
Another part of working for a small company is that there’s rarely someone dedicated to business development. At our company, this responsibility is primarily handled by our owner, but I am occasionally brought in as a sounding board, or to help provide ideas. Meetings like this may also include discussing spec work or marketing efforts.
As a designer/art director working in interactive, there is a much greater emphasis on animation and motion graphics. All of our design staff are capable of doing motion work, and this leads to a high level of integration between things like content, video and interface design. For many projects, I create the animation or motion sequences. This may include things like video titles or animation for an iPad app.
Web Analytics Strategy
For a lot of our work, creating it is only half the battle. We often have a role in the promotion or outreach. One of the things I do most frequently in this vein is analyze web traffic in order to develop SEO or paid search strategies. This involves evaluating user behavior, goal performance, traffic sources and other metrics. We use this data in order to help us do things like write copy, optimize web pages, or allocate PPC funds.
I did a lot more work with copy when I was working in advertising, but it does play a critical role in much of our current work as well. In terms of message development, the two are similar. However, the interactive component adds some significant differences. People tend to read interactive content differently, and as you write, you must make sure to provide an experience in which users can navigate coherently. You must also account for things like SEO, dynamic content, page scrolling and other interactive-specific factors.
We review and discuss design work internally before sharing it with clients. Sometimes this may just be myself and another designer. In other cases, it may involve developers and project managers. We try to evaluate the design against the project goals and other documentation as well as recommend modifications.
At various points in a project, these review sessions also involve presenting designs to clients. We try to walk them through our decision-making, then take notes and discuss feedback that will inform the revision process.
Our developers are wildly talented, so this is not something I have a huge hand in. But I do try to actively participate in ensuring that our working sites/apps are as close to the original designs as possible. So I may go through a site and touch up CSS or make slight modifications to HTML. In other cases, I may be working to optimize media or helping to create graphic effects.
Client Meeting Prep
A global client list and the marvels of modern technology mean that most of our communication is via phone or internet, but we do meet in-person whenever possible. Since face-to-face time can be limited, we try to be as organized and efficient as possible. This means planning and creating notes or meeting agendas. Occasionally we will use tools like Keynote to build presentations.
Even in off-peak periods of projects, there is still usually enough design work to require a few extended sessions per week. Because uninterrupted time can be difficult to come by, I usually try to split this work by a period that involves another member of the team or a client. For example, I may finish work on a few designs Monday, share them with a client on Wednesday, and then work on the revisions on Thursday.
Occasionally we host meetings at our office, but most often we are trying to catch up with busy people. So meetings usually involve travel to the client’s office. A lot of the time this means travel within the Chicago area, but there are also times that we may fly to places like New York, San Francisco or Washington, D.C. Meetings can range from a casual lunch to lengthy presentations or brainstorming sessions. We really value this time as it often gives us insight that we use to significantly improve the quality of our work.
In many ways, this is the single most critical thing that we do at Manning. A proposal contains the kernel of an idea that has the potential to shape our work, our relationship with a client and the direction of our business. Every project has to start somewhere, and it’s essential that it’s given the best chance to succeed. Creating a proposal involves research, brainstorming with the rest of the staff to develop concepts, outlining objectives, audience profiles and budget projections.
Our company has its roots in video production, and it still plays a significant role in much of our work. We shoot a variety of places and subjects such as military vehicles in the Nevada desert, factory workers in Indiana or interviews with scientists in Philadelphia. Each shoot has its own unique challenges, but my role is typically to oversee that the video we’re capturing matches up to the concept developed back in Chicago.