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How to inspire and get the best from your design team

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Keeping a team of designers inspired may be a daunting task.

Creative minds all coming together to achieve the same goal, yet all with different traits and creative backgrounds. Sometimes getting the best from your design team is as easy as pulling a rabbit out of your top hat – except you don't have a top hat, and your magician skills never went farther than fast-shuffling a bunch of cards at the very best.

December 2019 posed an interesting challenge for graphic designer and creative director Kristos Georgiou, as he travelled to Turin, Italy, to help inspire and run design/branding workshops in town. There he met Planet Smart City’s team of designers, flowing in from Italy, Brazil and UK.

Is managing and inspiring a team of designers a bit like herding cats? How do you tap into their talents and keep them flowing creatively, whilst managing to adhere to a prescriptive brief?

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Be relatable to stimulate their creativity

To survive in such a competitive field, it is the teams who constantly enrich themselves and work on new skills and perspectives who prosper. They need to be challenged and take risks but also need to listen and learn from others and look more closely at themselves.

It is therefore important that you share your own experience. As a seasoned designer trying to inspire others, be relatable, open up and also listen. Show them that you are aware of the world, share your ideas and exemplify your own insecurities and shortcomings as well as your strengths and skills.

Come out of your comfort zone and show them that what comes naturally to one doesn’t come naturally to another. Energise them – creativity needs energy and when individuals and teams are energised and inspired, their work will benefit.

Creativity needs energy

To help them explore their own personality, task them with creating mood boards to highlight four core values about themselves. As designers, we don’t always understand ourselves, but this exercise makes them evaluate themselves and is further reinforced by then sharing it with others.

As the facilitator, you should create one for yourself, making you relatable and demonstrating that even those with experience need to re-evaluate and share their core values from time to time.

Use personal experiences to inspire interest 

We work more effectively when we are interested in what we are doing and let’s face it, not all design briefs stimulate us or appeal to our own personal interests. It is our job to encourage designers to utilise their own personal experiences and perspectives to identify ways of engaging with the brief so as to inject energy and enthusiasm into the project.

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Keep your eye on the ball (the design brief!)

Once you are given a brief, it is critical to read and understand it and keep your eye on the ball throughout the design process, regardless of what you really think of it. Designers need a direction, and this is what the brief provides, but it’s too easy to go off piste once you start your creative journey.

We need to ask ourselves: do we want to be beautiful or remembered? These are not the same things; we might come up with the best ideas, but do they answer the brief? We need to remind designers that what they deem to be ‘right’ may not be the vision of the client and this is one of the most common and fundamental mistakes designers make.

Study the work of others and learn from it

We are lucky enough to be surrounded by brilliant and diverse work from successful and inspiring designers and we need to take time to study how and why it works. Equally, there is a lot of work out there which doesn’t work and it is important to look at this and evaluate why. 

In many cases, showing case studies to a group of students/designers stimulates heated discussion, often dividing opinion on whether the examples are a success or failure. Whether it is the colours, font or images, incite discussion. Use this opportunity to get them to evaluate why something either does or doesn’t work, and give them a platform to share their opinions.

Encourage teamwork by trying to agree on a solution that may not appeal to all but answers the brief. The work needs to be memorable and encourage each of them to work through a process from analysis of themselves to analysis of others, and finally, what works for the brand they are representing.

By Kristos Georgiou, creative director at Sparkloop.

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