When a new team member joins Madeo, they usually get surprised when they hear the specific order of what we work on within a project. After they try it, they never go back. We thought we would put this process in writing and share it with other designers, project managers, marketing managers and partners. The title and examples here focus on websites and apps, but we think this approach can apply to many types of projects.
This specific order of what to work on is intended to help turn complex collaborations into an interesting and digestible series of challenges. It also cuts down on long meetings, moves projects along faster, helps teams work better together, and encourages collaborations that make everyone feel energized from start to launch. If you make projects or products yourself or hire teams to make them with you, hopefully this can help with your next collaboration.
Forget the “first impression”
Too often, we see people jumping into big and complicated areas of a project way too soon. We hear of early workshops and presentations being too focused on a user’s “first impression” and from there, if it is a website, it would go to the homepage almost as the very first thing to discuss, wireframe, design and to present. Then, “less important” parts of the website would follow.
In many ways, it is natural to want to see the first impression that audiences would see. A designer might get excited about working on that to establish a direction for the rest of the site to follow. The same applies to apps. You might want to go straight into talking about and working on a home screen or dashboard that introduces users to the different sections of your app.
Our advice would be to let go of that. Start small. Forget the first impression. Work your way up, from smaller building blocks to areas that aggregate and showcase them, almost in the reverse order of what your users would experience. Users tend to go from bigger landing pages and features to a more specific page, then onto a more specific section, going deeper into the content and interactions. We start with the deepest and smallest aspect, get a strong grasp of what it needs to do, then go one level higher, until eventually we master what that first impression really needs to do.
Don’t take on too much at once
When you work your way up, you don’t just go from what is easy to what is hard. Easy and hard can be subjective. What we recommend is that you identify your smallest building blocks and try to work on them first, one at a time, then bring them together to create larger ones that rely on them.Let’s assume you are creating a website to promote your different services and products. Don’t start with the homepage. Don’t even touch the categories of services or products. Start with an individual product page. Focus on what that page needs to do for just one product. If you could go even smaller within that page, go ahead and start there.
This approach encourages you to work with the least number of considerations, questions, and unknowns at a given time. In the website example, the focus of working first on one product is to encourage getting a full grasp on everything about it before going through the unknowns of how it would fit into and relate to other parts of the website. This way, when you move up to the homepage, you would have already discussed, designed, and mastered all the components that would go into it.
When you get the components done first, your work will change from creating them to curating and editing them in relation to one another. When you go higher up to larger features, you would discuss the balance between the different elements, but you wouldn’t have to go into each one from scratch, which is what we mean by taking on too much at once.
Enjoy shorter meetings
If you take on too many topics and unknowns at a given point, you might end up overwhelming each workshop and meeting. Whether you want it or not, each meeting would inevitably get too long because there are too many things to go through. If you have multiple teams collaborating — between marketing, strategy, design, and engineering — the influence of what you decide to take on at a given point can quickly multiply.When teams work through individual components, that means fewer items on each subsequent meeting’s agenda. Quicker meetings keep everyone energized, productive, and ready to move on to the next piece of the project. This pace also influences the project’s overall momentum and keeps projects moving, which ultimately helps them get done in less time.
Embrace the learning curve of a project
If you reflect on making any past work, you might notice that everyone collectively gets much better weeks or months into it, compared to their first week. People warm up, learn, and improve over time, both individually and as a team. Their shared project knowledge develops over the life of that work. They also get better at working together on that specific product or project, and overall, they eventually master it as they work more on it. So, avoid putting the hardest challenges early on and let your teams get there one step at a time.
At Madeo, we work in a very integrated approach with our clients, where we sometimes even take on company team roles and collaborate every day with client staff. Our partnerships can last for years. So, in this example, everyone at Madeo knows the client company inside out and has worked with the company’s staff over many projects. But, we still acknowledge that within every project, there will still be a shared learning curve.
Don’t save the homepage to the very end
Yes, you want to go from smaller to bigger, but make sure you allow enough time for what is critical and challenging. It is great to tackle these bigger features when momentum and collaboration is at its peak. You want to use that moment to excel, so don’t wait until the very last minute. You don’t want everyone to feel too rushed. Instead, make a list of all the smaller, inconsequential pieces of the project. They are the ones that should not affect or inform bigger aspects. Save those for the very end. In a website, this might be the contact page, terms of service, or other standalone pieces that do not influence other parts of the project.
Try this order with different phases of the project
We use this approach as a blueprint and we apply it within different phases of a project; whether it is the initial discovery, strategy, design, or engineering. We don’t prescribe it too much, but it has become a clear guide that people use for their own parts of a project.
For example, when we conduct discovery calls in the beginning of a project, Madeo strategists avoid starting the conversation by asking big questions. Questions like, “Where do you see the company heading in the next 5 years?” are tempting to ask, but they can also be tough to answer without some context. Instead, a strategist would start with something easier and more tangible to discuss. If the response is clear, the next question would build on it with a bigger question and so on. For example, they would ask about the specific products and services scheduled to launch in a few months, then next year’s plans, and eventually the next 5 years. This way, the strategist would know where the company is headed, but it would come out of a much better conversation between the two of them.
On the team, we have seen illustrators decide to start with the simplest and smallest artwork, building their style from there, then move on to complicated ones that have more considerations. When it comes to copywriting, we never start off by writing the brand’s main tagline. We start with simple captions, labels, headers, and other content that gradually builds the brand’s voice.
These are a few examples, but the general rule is to apply this approach when it can help make the process more seamless, enjoyable, and helpful for collaboration.
If you have never approached your projects this way, give it a try and share your experience with us. If you get stuck, send us questions.
Illustrations by Catalina Gutierrez