and the entire team is in the meeting, ready to discuss why the project went off-schedule and out of scope. Except Brad, who’s “running late from a client meeting.” Classic Brad.
Our project manager says, “Shea, let’s start with you. The design portion of the project took twice as long as it was supposed to, and went way over budget. What do you think was the cause?”
“Well,” I begin, “it’s the first time we’ve done a project like this, so I think…”
“Let me stop you there,” Brad interrupts (he just joined), “we’ve actually done about 10 of these in the past few months, and we’re planning on doing a lot more. Why didn’t you just follow the process we went through the last 9 times?”
Well now I feel dumb.
“I… didn’t know. Why didn’t anybody tell me?” I reply.
And now everybody feels dumb.
To templatize, or not to templatize? That is the question.
Anybody who’s ever been in a situation like the above, or heard about such a situation, will have the same response: “That’s just bad communication.” But what does that really mean?
It’s obviously a host of things — lack of planning, lack of process, disorganization, inexperience, and so on. And it’s really hard to solve for all of that at once. But as it turns out, there’s something that kind of does solve for all of it.
That something is a template. And templates within that template.
Now, it doesn’t make sense to templatize everything. The big, complex, random tradeshow swag design request you get once every 3 years might not need a template. But anything you’re trying to really make a business out of — anything your company is doing over and over again? That certainly does.
So what are we talking about here? Photoshop files with pre-populated digital ad dimensions?
Yes! And so much more.
Templatizing design files is one thing; but I’d argue that templatizing design expectations, and especially workflow, is more important. Let’s dip our toes into these 3 areas.
1. Templates for workflow
For most design teams, templates for workflow are going to have the largest impact on project speed, consistency, quality, and cost.
When I say design “workflow template,” I’m really talking about a standardized process for progressing through steps in a design project. The reason it’s a “template” is that it’s something your team should launch and use every time you work on a specific project or deliverable. This template should include design steps, review steps, design edit steps, meetings, and presentation steps, and more, as well as rough time estimates for each step.
If your design team has lots of different types of projects and deliverables, you should have a workflow template for each different deliverable. If all your company does is design websites, you should probably at least have a workflow template for a small business website, one for a medium sized business, and one for a large business or enterprise.
These workflow templates will not only serve as checklists and assignment lists that ensure a project stays on track, they’ll also allow your team to refine and optimize your design process over time as you get a more granular view into what steps work well or need improvement.
It’s key to use some kind of centralized project management system (we use Teamwork) to house and launch these workflow templates, and make sure all project team members have access to current project workflows at all times. Having the schedules (via step or task due dates) included in those workflows goes a long way in setting expectations, which is actually the subject of our next recommendation...
2. Templates for expectations
If workflow templates are used to establish the “how” of the design process, expectation templates establish the “who, what, when, where, and why.”
These are usually documents or forms used for gathering and organizing information specific to project requirements — e.g. creative briefs, persona sheets, and even mood boards.
Somebody on your project team is probably gathering timeline, creative idea, audience, competitor, and marketing strategy requirements early on in the project process. And somebody on the design team probably creates additional information gathering tools (like mood boards) at some point too. There’s no reason this information should be inconsistent or live as responses in email inboxes — each batch of information should have its own template. And guess what — each template can and should be used and linked within workflow templates!
Getting your team on the same page, in a consistent way, using consistent tools, sets a project up for success from the start and minimizes errors and inefficiencies throughout the design process. And bonus! You'll help manage brand consistency this way as well.
Once you’ve clearly defined expectations and process, you can start to maximize your efficiency with asset templates.
3. Templates for assets and deliverables
Last, and often least, I recommend creating templates for copy creation and production design files.
The only reason I say that is because the productivity gains from templatizing expectations and workflow greatly outweigh those of templatizing assets. A couple extra hours spent creating a file from scratch is nothing compared to missing a launch date because of rework due to a lack of review steps.
The good news is: it’s rarely either/or!
If your team has recognized the need for templatizing, you can probably get different roles working on templatizing different parts of your design operations. Have a couple of designers focus on incorporating colors, fonts, dimensions, icons — Adobe Creative Cloud Libraries if you can — into your ad, video, and web file templates; have copywriters work on corresponding copy package templates for different product types; have your lead designer/creative director work with project managers to establish workflow and expectations templates.
Consistency and quick launch time for production-level assets adds up quickly, so it’s definitely worth spending a little extra time creating templates for them.
And if you’ve got a team of really talented or experienced designers and project managers, asset templates might even be a higher priority than workflow and expectations templates, as those individuals may reflexively employ more streamlined processes.
What are you waiting for? Start templatizing!
Times a wasting, and it’ll save you time!
You can get as detailed as you want with your templates; but the more detail, the more work it’ll be to create, and the less flexible it’ll be to use. Try to keep templates light-weight if possible, while still containing enough substance to help somebody else (or yourself) hit the ground running.
And don’t be afraid to update and add to — or even slim down — your templates. The point is to create something that makes the repetitiveness of the design process faster, so writers, designers, and teams can focus more on creativity and quality.
If you’re interested in other ways to boost your efficiency, check out our post on some other practices and tools we use to save time and focus on the important things.