Tackling Design
Scalability in a
Global Organization

For two years I worked as an in-house graphic designer for Oracle, a global IT corporation, aiding campaigns across 3 continents. While the PR, Marketing and Recruitment departments traditionally outsourced design work to agencies, I tried to establish myself as a free, alternative asset producer and consultant. Suddenly, I was faced with a large and ever-growing demand for work.

Here's the lessons I learned and how I scaled beyond what a single person could create.

Get all the information you need before starting.

First things first. A lot of clients, internal or otherwise, have a habit of requesting work on a project as soon as it has been given a go-ahead. Most of the time, this means that there's important information missing that is relevant to your understanding of the project, such as objectives, key message, audience, channels, not to mention the copywriting itself.

Establish a briefing procedure through which you can ask all the questions you'd like to be answered before you start working. Even if they can't answer all of them, it forces the project owner to think about these things and put them into a coherent format. While phone calls are okay, actual documents are better because they both offer the time for them to think and they help you out because you can revisit it at length any time you want.

Take control of your workflow and work pipeline.

While every person is at their most efficient in different ways, there are certain things you can do to maximize productivity.

Set aside times during the day where you check email, such as every 3 hours, and ignore anything not urgent in between. Schedule calls and meetings at the beginning of the business day as much as possible. Try and excuse yourself from meetings where your presence is irrelevant. Establish a document management policy for yourself, so you can find everything fast and easy. Schedule regular breaks.

Your work pipeline is very important, so make and keep a priority list for your projects and update it regularly (bonus points if you make it transparent to clients). Learn to say no to new work when you're already overbooked.

Develop frameworks and templates to cut down on production time.

You can't keep constantly producing new graphics; the concepting and exploration part alone take up too much time. Try and take previously applied work and adapt it to new contexts.

If you have a product line or campaign set that you keep returning to, create a visual style specific to it and then simply convert it to every medium and deliverable required. At the same time, if you have a set deliverable format (e.g. client testimonial, newsletter) that you produce across multiple projects, create templates for which you only need to change the visuals. Frameworks beat more work.

font install guidefont install guide

A quick .gif guide to installing a font file.

Educate clients on available self-service resources; alternatively, create them.

If there's a set of things you do for clients that they could easily do themselves, such as downloading photos from a database or checking out a catalogue of previous design work, invest time and effort into showing them how they could go about it on their own.

If there's no existing way to do that, but you could save time in the long-run by creating the option yourself, then by all means go for it. For example, write / design a guide on how to download the photos, or host the catalogue on a Dropbox folder which you only need to link them to.

You should always pay attention to what kind of requests you get and identify where you can streamline them in order to both free up your own work and reduce turnover time for your clients. For repetitive work where design complexity can be kept at a minimum, you can even create self-service templates, which brings us to our next point:

Empower clients to create on their own.

This is the big one. There is always a set of deliverables—such as testimonials, quote snippets, press releases, job descriptions, and so on—that only really need small elements such as the photo and text changed. For this purpose, templates can be designed and made to look great, and then they can be imported into simple programs like PowerPoint or Word, from where the previously mentioned elements can be edited according to a set of guidelines and then exported as .png or .jpeg or .pdf files.

Be sure to include a healthy set of best-practice examples, along with guides on how to use the templates that's as simple and intuitive as possible (such as .gif files or step-by-step presentations). Make sure that not only is there as little actual designing for them to do (e.g. aligning things, picking icons, etc), but that the option itself isn't present, aka, the design and branding parts shouldn't be editable at all.

Keep an eye on what comes out of this at first (you can request the first few pieces to be emailed to you for approval), but as soon as they've shown they've figured it out, leave them alone to create.

NOTE - always check with the central brand team if doing this is possible and approvable.

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A fully-editable Word press release template, exported as a .pdf file.

At the time I parted ways with the company, I had left behind around 25 different templates that could be used by anybody who could follow the guides. Over 50 people were actively using them. In total, I would estimate they had created, on their own, somewhere around 2500 deliverables for a wide range of projects.

As more and more people learned about these options, new people would become creators on their own, and future designers in that position would continue to scale the output capability.

Sometimes the solution to more work coming your way isn't to restrict yourself to what you can deliver, but to explore the possibilities of expanding your ability to create. Scaling doesn't only benefit the organization, it also gives you the time and space to work on projects where you learn more, can have a higher impact, and ultimately position yourself in a more strategic role.