Journalists, Designers, and Clients: Best Practices for Working as a Team

by Anni Murray 10 months ago Filed Under: Storytelling

Visual.ly has a vibrant, dynamic marketplace full of clients from a staggering variety of industries. As a result, journalists and designers have to be versatile above all else: able to craft a narrative image that perfectly meets the expectations of the clients.

Here is a user’s guide for the Visual.ly journalist or designer – a how-to for successfully navigating the marketplace to deliver excellent client experiences alongside excellent visualizations.

Articulating the Vision

Every project is an exercise in vision actualization. Each client has a vision. Sometimes it is very specific, which makes writing and designing the infographic relatively easy. And sometimes it’s nebulous, based on a slippery concept or set of criteria that are only vaguely defined. In every case, it’s the journalist or designer’s first job to understand the vision. When the vision is clear, understanding involves doing good research: reading the creative brief, researching the company, and asking clarifying questions. When the vision is murky, understanding requires something more.

Use your research to suggest specific ideas that the client can accept or reject. This helps you narrow down the field of expectations, to hone in on something actionable. If the client continues to waffle, it’s okay to explain why it’s important to have clear parameters before launching the outline or design. This protects you, the designer or journalist. Since the Visual.ly process has two revision cycles each for outlines and design, it’s imperative that the first one get you more than halfway towards your goal.

Constant, Clear Communication

Any collaborative project requires clear communication, and Visual.ly projects are no exception. The more articulate you are when describing your intentions, explaining your creative vision, and asking questions, the more likely you are to create something that satisfies the client’s needs. Pay particular attention to grammar and punctuation. This is a professional communication and, since it’s mostly text-based, how you write directly impacts your reputation with the client and in the marketplace (for obvious reasons, this is doubly true for journalists).

Attentiveness

Sometimes clients are prompt. They answer questions right away and post feedback immediately after an outline is uploaded. But sometimes they delay the project for days or even weeks while they find additional data, schedule internal meetings, or just get swamped with other company business. Consistent, periodic, polite “checking in” posts remind the client that you’re still there, ready to proceed (once every few days is sufficient). If you don’t hear anything in a week, alert your project manager.

As frustrating as it can be to wait for a client, it’s never acceptable to make a client wait for you. As a freelancer, your currency is your attentiveness and reliability. Being available is one of the easiest ways to demonstrate your seriousness, and one of the best ways to get hired for future projects. When you are available, your client can’t complain about deadlines. This is another practice that protects you and your reputation. It also increases the likelihood that your client will make your project a priority and that you will meet the deadlines on your timeline.

Define Your Role

In many cases, clients aren’t familiar with how the Visual.ly workflow typically proceeds. They don’t necessarily understand that the journalist’s outline comes first, the design second. They may ask the journalist design questions, or come to the designer with concerns about the copy.

When a journalist is assigned to a project, she is assigned for a reason. Typically the copy is complex, the vision is multifaceted, or extensive research is needed. If you are a journalist, make sure you respond to every copy-related question, regardless of to whom the question is posed. On the flip side, if you’re asked a design question, defer that question to the designer. Hazarding an answer may only confuse the client, adding a layer of obfuscation to an already complicated process.

In order to keep roles carefully defined, you must constantly monitor all project communications. Don’t ignore client messages because they happen to be directed to other members of the team. Read everything and respond promptly whenever it is appropriate to do so. Remember also to respect the people you’re working with. Stepping on toes sparks hard feelings even between the most professional freelancers.

Handling Problems: Offer Multiple Solutions

Since the Visual.ly design process is tightly scheduled, it’s important to handle problems quickly. If the client is unhappy with a paragraph of copy or with a particular graphic, offer two or three alternatives rather than just one. You can use the project center to float ideas before you upload a complete draft. Clients appreciate having options, and are more likely to articulate their preferences when they see multiple possible solutions.

Anni Murray is a writer, editor, multimedia artist, amateur mycologist, and biology student. She is currently working on Prism, a speculative science fiction story cycle. All opinions expressed in this article are her own. Follow her on Twitter.