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Process-driven creativity: What the future of work in brand design looks like

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What exactly are the benefits of new technology to the creative team? Productivity, workflows, defined processes - not necessarily something we would automatically associate with creativity.

Yet, for Darren Evans, Design Director at The Engine Room brand consultancy, rolling out a new collaboration platform was the unexpected key to their success, allowing them to unleash their creative energies, expand internationally, and become an even better partner to their clients.

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“Restriction breeds creativity” might be an old cliche, but it remains true in certain cases. Faced with the challenges of the pandemic in early 2020, businesses in the design industry found themselves in a tricky position.

Despite the global uncertainty and general upheaval, the entire sector eventually became extremely buoyant as brands struggled to find new ways to communicate and stay relevant.  There were higher than ever expectations from clients as they struggled to get their voices heard through the chaos.

From an internal perspective, design businesses had the added challenge of managing remote work. Some international organisations had previously used work platforms to support them with hybrid working, but for agencies, the pandemic ushered in a totally new era of digital transformation.

This was the case for The Engine Room, the Yorkshire-based strategic brand consultancy I founded in 2001. We now have two decades’ experience in helping businesses of different shapes and sizes make a positive impact through design. With a diverse portfolio of clients across markets including healthcare, professional services, and manufacturing, one of the key selling points, but also one of the challenges, of the business has been project management.

As a business of just a dozen people, our team prides itself on providing not just a service, but a real, genuine partnership based on mutual trust and reliability. We’re a small company, which has always been a relevant factor in our story. With only a handful of us, the way we work is by nature extremely collaborative: everything needs to be a conversation that we can keep track of. 

An enormous part of the value we add is the ability to manage projects effectively and to give clients confidence in our supervision of processes. The team needs to keep every plate spinning and ensure the quality of projects remains consistent throughout. Alongside the creative delivery, we are also in charge of admin responsibilities, as we do not have a client services support function picking up the pieces behind us.

Monday.com

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Even before lockdowns, we had been thinking about a modern, easy-to-manage solution for project management. Production planning in particular is a forever challenge in the industry, which is enormously deadline-driven and, consequently, contingent on every team member knowing exactly what the expectations are and how they are contributing to them.

When we could not be in the same room anymore and became unable to coordinate internally in real time, we realised we really needed a customisable platform that can help us keep track of every aspect of client work.

For us, the challenge ran deeper than finding a messaging tool or a task tracker. The platform had to adapt to us and allow for flexible solutions that accommodated the creativity inherent in - and crucial to - our work, all the while providing visibility both internally and externally across projects.

When one of our clients introduced us to monday.com at the beginning of the pandemic, we found it offered both the flexibility and the structure we needed. As Design Director, I am absolutely embedded in the creative aspect and have that front of mind. At the same time, myself and the whole organisation of The Engine Room are extremely process-driven, too.

It is the backbone of our operation: from working on rebrands with large global clients, to managing regulatory work in the healthcare industry, every aspect of our business relies on the creation of a strong process that can be easily managed and overseen by a handful of people.

The digital transformation journey

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In creative professions, there can be a tendency to see process as a systematic force that stifles free-flowing, productive creative energy. We often think that the two go against each other, that by becoming more efficient in the processes, we lose the creative spark of our work.

While implementing monday.com, we realised the opposite is true. A reliable, trackable process, in fact, is the foundation on which creative ideas can rely. For designers especially, improving daily processes results in better clarity of mind and a stronger ability to focus on creative projects - the part of the job that we most enjoy and are the most passionate about.

In more platonic terms, adopting this platform has allowed us to automate and systematise our workflows and do more with the same number of people and the same amount of resources we previously had. Before adopting a collaboration tool, we had hundreds of emails flying around everywhere, and it was difficult to keep track of it all while managing different projects in the team.

With the platform, we have total control and oversight of everything and can focus on the job at hand. When discussions open up around amendments, that is shown clearly on our shared (internal and client-facing) dashboard, as opposed to an interminable succession of emails with everyone chipping in at different points. We can now easily access files in a shared gallery, providing a universal source to all of us at the same time.

Thankfully, we don’t have to be programmers ourselves to create the perfect tool we need: the template-based no-code/low-code platform allows us to tailor the platform to suit our requirements. Essentially, the business runs on the work operating system, and we designers lead the projects, now that we have time and brainspace to find and grasp inspiration.

One of the proudest achievements of the past two years was made possible by the digital transformation journey we went on. The smooth collaboration our new system allows us to achieve has unlocked further potential to work globally.

The way we now organise ourselves and manage our work resulted in us becoming the lead European agency for one of our biggest international clients who works with multiple agencies. We can now keep track not just of our own workflows, but open up a discussion between project managers and designers in different parts of the world, too.

With monday.com, we have scaled the business and successfully taken on large projects for global clients, all the while maintaining our workforce and sustaining the efficiency of our delivery. Crucially, we now have a system that is flexible and creative, and capable of running the work we do in an intelligent fashion and allow us to collaborate globally across our projects.

Header image by Jesse Boyce

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