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Insight/ Strategic Planning

Exposing The Creative Process: A Lesson From Charles And Ray Eames


by Angela Craven
User Experience Designer

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When a company is trying to solve a problem outside of its area of expertise, key stakeholders embark on a quest for the agency that is most capable of delivering an impressive final product. Once hired, it is commonly understood that the agency will work behind the scenes to create a solution that meets the needs of users as well as the business. But how often is a client able to see and understand what happens between discovery and final delivery? More importantly, why should a client care?

The answer might be best explained in a recent documentary about the husband and wife design team, Charles and Ray Eames, titled Eames: The Architect and The Painter. The film tells the story of the Eames’, their chaotic creative process, the successes it inspired, and the impact they had on contemporary design and design thinking. Charles and Ray are most widely credited for designing the Eames Lounge Chair (still in production and in the permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art), but their contributions span architecture, user experience design, industrial design, art, manufacturing, film and photography. They were known for exploring ideas in unconventional ways and had no qualms being transparent about their process because they knew it brought them successful results. Companies such as Boeing, Westinghouse, Alcoa, Polaroid and the US Navy hired the Eames Office to apply their creative problem-solving expertise to a variety of business problems.

Fast-forward forty-plus years and often the creative process is hidden from clients. The expectation, in the digital world especially, is that design deliverables should be buttoned up and beautiful at every turn. After all, clients are busy people with their own responsibilities and usually prefer something polished to react to, even if they or the designer do not yet fully grasp the complexities of the design challenge. This way of working can lead to missed opportunities for both designers and stakeholders. We’ve all experienced a client review where a first round design is presented and the client has a negative reaction. They might mention a problem that wasn’t previously expressed. Or maybe the design doesn’t incorporate their perspective or seem to fully address their business goals. 

But what if the client could provide the same feedback sooner? Including them in your process shows the amount of thought going into your work. This builds trust and allows clients to add their own input, or voice concerns at a point when they can be addressed more easily. Early feedback can help the team arrive at useful and innovative solutions in an efficient manner, ultimately maximizing the budget. This collaboration can take many forms. It could be a regular touch-base meeting to review concept sketches. It could be an ideation session where the client and designer are co-sketching. It could be a workshop. Or it could be regular white- boarding sessions.

Has a client been particularly quiet in certain group settings? Follow up with them offline; they may share creative ideas and feedback more readily one-on-one. Encourage them to send their own research that can be applied to the project. Of course, not all feedback or ideas will be embraced and used in the design, but it’s up to us as designers to incorporate input that best supports the user and business goals.

Staying ahead in a demanding, fast-paced business world shouldn’t mean hiding the creative process. By exposing the imperfect along the way, as Charles and Ray did, we can build successful, polished end products that both clients andagencies have a hand in creating

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