Do It Right: You need a Design Gatekeeper / by David Hu

Perhaps nothing is more crucial to the success of a design project than clear communication between your company and the agency. A professional agency will almost certainly have a "client manager", but it's far too common that the client doesn't have an equivalent personnel on its side. I call this person a design gatekeeper. Internally, this position can be given to any number of design-facing personnel from design to project management to marketing. The key lies in how well he/she is fulfilling this role.

Without a design gatekeeper, the project will run into a host of problems. Soon enough, everyone on your team starts calling and emailing the agency with his/her own input. Inevitably, some emails go to the agency's designer and some calls go to its client manager. This creates too many lines of communication that lead to conflicting information for the agency and, in turn, everyone at the agency becomes frustrated and over-worked. And nothing wastes more time, money, and talent in a design project than designers hating and being tired of what they do.

Your gatekeeper should be someone who understands your brand and can also execute the following consistently: 

  • Manage the expectations of your team.
  • Filter feedback from your team to the agency in a visually clear and executable way.
  • If the feedback is not like above, then discuss with the internal team until it is so.
  • Be able to think and talk like a designer.

In order to do the above effectively, the gatekeeper needs the following from you:

  • To be trusted as the day-to-day line of communication between your team and the agency. That is, your team will not circumvent him/her to contact the agency.
  • To be given enough freedom to make most creative decisions. If every decision requires your entire team's input and go-ahead, the gatekeeper immediately loses her authority and influence.
  • To be supported by your team as the go-to person if/when issues arise with the agency.

Whether your company is engaging a creative agency for the first time or have already been doing so, having an internal gatekeeper can make the design process go a lot more smoothly. And a smooth process can be the difference between designs that improve with every round and those that snowball into disasters.