Speed to Proof


INTRODUCTION

Design is a conversation. The sooner you as the client see your ideas come to life, the faster we as your agency can start talking about work that impacts your business. Speed to Proof™ is the agency philosophy we’ve developed to support this conversation.

Your business moves at a fast pace. Lengthy agency processes are a legacy of a different era before digital marketing, where testing and iteration took months, not days. In today’s business environment, lost time is lost opportunity. The longer you spend getting to an end product, the more it actually “costs” you. 

As a client or stakeholder waiting for the solution, the longer the wait, the higher your expectations climb, and the more perfection you anticipate seeing. This can lead an agency to operate from a place of fear as they are creating, needing to spend time not just producing the end product, but investing hours in fortifying the argument to prove its “rightness.”

You’ve hired an agency for a reason, they have a set of skills you don’t have and this often comes with a vocabulary you don’t speak. Bridging the communication gap is a key factor in ultimate success, but neither side has the time to learn the language, so how do you start communicating faster?

HOW IT WORKS

As an agency or designer engaged in creative problem solving, there are hundreds of decisions to make, each with its own ramifications, and the circle contracts more and more with each round of decisions, until you arrive at a solution. This path dependence only increases as you spend more time solving the problem, often to the point that you lose sight of the original question you were solving for. You could spend an eternity trying every variation or you could only ever go with your first instinct and miss a better option. Speed to Proof™ balances these extremes. 

The most critical part of the Speed to Proof™ process is bridging the gap from ideas and strategy to execution. This starts with very clearly defining what success looks like for the project with the client. We always set an expectation that we’ll be making a lot of decisions quickly based on an initial discovery session and using our expertise to fill in the gaps. If we can get to a place that is about 70% “correct” for a first proof to the client, that is a win. Define the deliverable, define good enough, and deliver a meaningful amount of work so minimal imagination is required in the initial client review. 

Internally, we set timelines and stick to them, which is always easier said than done. Our keys to success in this area include narrowing scope, building mental walls, and identifying tomorrow programs to stay honed in on the most critical work. Getting organized at the start allows you to spend brainpower on creative thought, not file organization or finding an asset or tracking down an email. Focusing decision making where it matters enables speed. 

Once we’ve identified the starting line, finish line, and deadline, work can begin. We start by asking lots of questions, both of the client and of each other as a team. Always asking for what you need, an opinion, a clarification, a second set of eyes. This enables us to generate lots of ideas quickly and then narrow down mercilessly. Only the best ideas make it to the first client review. 

WHY IT’S THE RIGHT APPROACH FOR US

Speed to Proof™ isn’t for everyone and it isn’t about unreasonable deadlines, it’s about taking the exact amount of time you need and no more. 

Taking this approach allows us to set our team up for success. No one likes to fail or to struggle, especially when chasing the ever elusive “perfect” product. Setting a 70% there goal gives the team permission to be imperfect. By adding parameters to creative work, you can define timelines and create urgency, without undue pressure.

It also gives the client space to react honestly to the work, giving them permission to have an opinion, in a more directed way. You’re not asking if they “like it”, you’re having a collaborative conversation on how to get to a finished product that solves the original agreed upon definition of success. 

Don’t mistake this process for MVP. It’s not a minimum or a compromise or good enough. It’s about engaging the client and the agency team in the project in a meaningful way and giving everyone ownership and agency in the final result. 

Marketing and design are about communication. Why shouldn’t the process to arrive at these products involve effective communication as well? The ability to bridge the communication gap starts with Speed to Proof™, creating a longer lasting and more rewarding client/agency relationship.

IS IT READY?

Bonus Speed to Proof™ Checklist—a couple simple steps to evaluate “done”:

  1. Do you have message/audience alignment? Know who you are speaking to and ensure they’ll get the message.  
  2. Are there 1-2 obvious takeaways for the end user? Always invite them to take the next step. 
  3. Would someone with no context understand? Take a step back to be sure you haven’t lost sight of the goal. 
  4. Have you addressed all the original asks from the client? Repeatedly refer back to the (clearly defined) original asks for the project.