You’re done with another freelance design project and have time to take a break. Final artwork and invoices are out and you’re ready to kick back, pour a drink and collapse into a Netflix marathon. Right? Sure. As long as you’ve done your project off-ramping and debrief.
The legendary designer Massimo Vignelli said, “There is no design without discipline. There is no discipline without intelligence.”
Think of the off-ramping process as part of an intelligent creative practice. Make it mandatory-just another part of the process. De-personalize it so you can take an honest look at the project and your finished work. Think of debriefing as a necessary step to make you a better designer and a better business owner.
When you’re drowning in a project, you end up focusing on survival and you develop a narrow field of vision to get through it. There isn’t time for introspection. Late nights, mad scrambles, the occasional temper tantrum or weeping in a corner—we get it. It’s hard when you’re a freelancer and there are no project managers waiting to swoop in and restore order or take the brunt of the client’s demands.
When you’re swimming along nicely, you don’t want to rattle the situation with questions or over-thinking. It’s always a treat when things go better than expected and your first instinct is to just go with it.
When the project is finally done, you don’t want to revisit it. Who would? If things went really well, it’s easy to move on. What could you possibly learn from perfection? That’s where the discipline comes in.
A solid, informative off-ramping process will help you improve your skills and your business in a very deliberate, thoughtful way. Albert Einstein said “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” This part might not be fun or creative, but it is intelligent.
So what should you consider and include when doing a project debrief (often called a post mortem, but why make it more depressing?). Write it down for reference and to clarify your thoughts. The process of writing it down might also reveal things you didn’t expect. Here are a few tips you can use when developing your own written debrief process:
Pushing yourself through these additional steps after a long design project might seem like an unnecessary chore. But it is the conscious, disciplined decisions we make that make us better designers, and ultimately, more creative business people too.
By the way, the above applies to almost any sort of project or company really—not just design studios. What sort of process does your team employ to identify, record, learn, and improve from projects? Please share your ideas and tips in the comments!