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Taming a Challenging Project - 2/15/2011 -

Use the Three Cs – communication, clarification, and creativity – to deliver a successful project.

By Jeffrey Dever

This past summer, our studio completed a two-year collaboration with the North American Division (NAD) of The Seventh-day Adventist Church. Our challenge: create a 7,400 square foot exhibit for the denomination's 59th General Conference Session in Atlanta, Ga. This quinquennial event attracts more than 70,000 attendees from around the world.

In many ways, this exhibit was a dream project, building on our studio's expertise in brand identity and graphic communications. The client's vision was to convene 32 formerly separate exhibitor ministries under one NAD umbrella exhibit to conserve resources and maximize impact. They further envisioned a "NAD Live" stage area and an "AdventSource" marketplace to create a destination location that would draw attendees from the entire exhibition floor.

Where do you start and how do you manage a project of this magnitude? While it can be daunting, the truth is, it's also exhilarating and just plain fun. Our task: choreograph clients, suppliers, design, and production teams in a coordinated ballet to create a stress-free customer experience and deliver a product that exceeded expectations. The key: Communication, Clarification, and Creativity. Here is an explanation of our strategy, which can be applied to any large-scale project your organization may take on.

The 3 Cs

Communication is pivotal to fully understanding any project, but especially an interdisciplinary project like this. Active listening is the cornerstone of good communication. Clients, suppliers, design, and production staff have different roles and viewpoints. We needed to explore their perspectives, resolve discrepancies, build consensus, and then communicate expectations. The better one listens, analyzes, and understands a problem, the clearer the solution becomes.

Clarification is the art of asking the right questions to create a common understanding. It’s an ongoing process throughout any project, re-checking specifications and expectations. It's an excellent tool to anticipate, track, and resolve the inevitable evolution of a complex project.

Creativity is key from conception and design to the execution and fulfillment of the final product. The design phase is the dessert of a project like this, but it must always be in service of the project goals and not the creative team's egos. While a great creative team will always push the boundaries, they must always listen and incorporate a client's feedback first.

Our Project

Our first job was to hold several intake meetings with NAD executives and key stakeholders to explore the scope of the project, clarify expectations, and formulate consensus goals. They had a vision but not much direction. It became clear we needed to interpret their vision into a construct, something tangible to start the exploration of possibilities.

To that end, we created several options for the exhibit based on the limitations of their footprint. While considering issues such as sight lines, health and safety regulations, and sound abatement, we created proposed floor plans and concept drawings. Over the course of the next few weeks, we distilled and refined the final concept with the client's input.

Our next task was to dress the exhibit. In this phase we developed thematic options and visual identity. This is typically a two-step process, but with the client's support, we developed them simultaneously. This worked well, as the language and graphics joined seamlessly. With our client's feedback, we quickly refined the exhibit's brand and were on to final design and production.

The challenge of a project like this is in the details. We now entered a final implementation phase where the quiet, behind-the-scenes work of logistics dwells. Our task was four-fold:

  1. Refine, produce, and coordinate final exhibit graphics and collateral materials.
  2. Identify and specify exhibit hardware, goods, and services.
  3. Coordinate NAD personnel, vendors, and on-site installation team.
  4. Review and oversee budgets.

With constant communication, careful clarification, and creative problem-solving, we were able to deliver a beautiful exhibit on time and budget. The project was a great success in everyone's eyes, but it was the 3 Cs that tamed it.

Jeffrey Dever is president-creative director at Dever Designs and a member of the Association Media & Publishing Content Creation Committee.


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