Four resources to consider when starting a project

~ 10 December 2008 ~

This morning, prior to a meeting with a client, I wrote down four resources I typically consider when embarking on a new project. I posted these to Twitter and received a few replies requesting I expound a little more.

Herein I expound.

1. Precedent: Who’s done it already and how? I honestly can’t recall a time a client has come to me with a new idea “that had never been done before” and that in reality had never been done before. Perhaps my experience is an anomaly, but every project I’ve ever embarked on had already been attempted, in full or in part, by someone else. This is almost always a good thing. It means there’s a well of precedent to draw from, and that yields a few helpful questions: What have they done well in executing an idea similar to my client’s (or mine)? What have they done poorly? And what opportunities does this create? What do we have to compete with?

2. External data. This is fairly straight-forward. What information is available about the market? The audience? The user? Trends? Where do I get this information? How much of this data will the client provide, and how much will I have to seek out on my own? How much will it cost me or the client to acquire the data? Costly names come to mind, such as Forrester, Gartner, and comScore, as well as inexpensive names such as Google Keyword Search. Even costly firms such as comScore provide free press releases containing valuable information.

3. Internal data & knowledge. Lots of options here. First, any company that has been in business for more than a couple years likely has plenty of data somewhere on hand about the market, its business, and its customers. If the company is diligent in housing this information in a shared repository, it’s painless to acquire. If not, individual interviews with key employees who have gathered this data are vital. Second, nearly every company has one or more “experts” on staff. Arranging even just 30 minutes to chat with these experts can offer valuable business data for your project. Third, whereas external data is typically past-tense (already been gathered by someone else), internal data can be future-tense, gathered by staff or acquired (at a cost) through contract work per the demands of the project.

4. Educated guesses. As I said on Twitter, I often find this resource most valuable. After all, all the research in the world won’t tell you how to design it. Good work requires guess work. This is why the field of design is often an attractive and well-compensated one — it takes smart and talented individuals to gather the necessary data for a project, internalize it, and then give it life through our work by showing how we propose to meet the needs of users and the business, as suggested by the data. And that, my friend, requires plenty of good guesses about what we think will be the right approach. Data always has been and always will be a lousy designer. You, on the other hand, are not.

Even though I’ve been at this project thing for more than 10 years now, I still get butterflies in my stomach when starting a new project. So much is unknown. There are doubts about whether or not I can figure it all out and provide a solution that’ll be successful. However, that’s why I wrote down this list on a whiteboard today (we’re beginning a new project). I’ve got some great resources to draw from. I just needed a little reminder of that.



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1   Andrew Hedges ~ 10 December 2008

I can relate to the butterflies feeling. For me, it has a lot to do with “blank page syndrome,” the same one you get when you start a writing project. The 4 you offer are a great starting point for getting over that initial hump.

2   Grant ~ 10 December 2008

Great list. I agree, one’s own intuition or gut feeling is part of what makes or breaks a project. It’s the reason people hire great designers or developers. For me, it also makes a great barometer for potential new clients. If I don’t get the vibe that they’re willing to trust my intuition, then usually they won’t make good clients. It’s not that they have to agree with me or trust me without explanation, but I need to know they’ve hired me for my expertise, and not just my skills.

3   Kimh ~ 10 December 2008

By this time, if it’s thought of, it’s already been done. Definitely the best lesson I learned while in school. That and, Google is a fantastic resource.

4   Aaron Irizarry ~ 11 December 2008

Nice List!
It is a great starting point.
Doing research is so key, I love the interaction with people, (when the opportunity for internal research arises) hearing their passion for what they do.

Thanks for a great starting point I do believe that these will be going on my whiteboard.

Aaron I

5   Michael Aleo ~ 11 December 2008

Gosh, I was going to write this EXACT list, but you already did it.

Great tips! :)


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