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Entrepreneurs & Leaders Insight: Jonathan Smiley

ZURBian employee mantra: 'We’re here for each other... We try to make our work environment frictionless - removing unnecessary bureaucracy, pointless meetings'.

Partner and Design Lead Jonathan Smiley started at busy US digital agency ZURB in 2008. The ZURB team (ZURBians) is a close-knit team of product designers who help companies design better websites, services, and online products.

ZURB work closely with clients to understand the precise mission of the product design and development in a very Gorilla Theory-esque manner, and so Jonathan was happy to give some insight into his views on project managers and project success metrics.

1. What steps do you take to avoid delivery disasters in projects in a busy digital agency?

Frequent checkins, dedication to quality of craft, and a solid process all help avoid these types of issues. Additionally, we're maniacs about getting client feedback, ensuring they come along with us every step of the way. That way decisions are owned by the client as well as by us.

2. What have you found are the common issues in bad apple projects that deliver late (or not at all) and cause loads of stress?

Oftentimes this can be caused by poor communication, especially early in the project. Assumptions about goals, deliverables, or the eventual outcome don't really come to a head until you're further into the project, by which time correcting the issues takes more time than you really have. The client gets frustrated because expectations aren't being met, and designers get frustrated because the client just didn't understand and doesn't appreciate the work.

3. What traits do you see in the most effective project leads/producers?

An ability to give feedback that moves things forward and empowers both the client and designer to excel and get the 'win'. Also the ability to push back and fight for the right solution, even if it's not the expedient one.

4. Creative professionals need to take more responsibility in controlling the creative process in a project and taking responsibility for the creative process? Agree?

I'm not sure. For our part, I think we take about the right amount of control. Whether that's an industry-wide thing, I don't really know. It's certainly true that creative professionals should exercise a degree of control, as any professional in a field should. You can't just offload the responsibility on a client.

5. Creative professionals sometimes get carried away with concepts and impractical solutions (perception). How can a producer work more effectively with the creatives?

Creative professionals have to be multidisciplinary now, with an understanding of technical feasibility, business requirements and user expectation. When designers understand why something should be done, and how it can be done, they can better execute on the right way to do it.

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