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23.05.11 + Perspectives

Beyond the RFP

Creative Director Josh Lynne shares what he’s learned about listening and how designing with empathy achieves different, more considered results.

There have been many lessons over my tenure as a designer, from intern to director:

  1. There’s a difference between “aligned” type and “justified” type.
  2. A square can be a rectangle, but a rectangle can never be a square.
  3. Using the word “just” when presenting instantly devalues your work.

The most important lesson has centered around empathy.

At the start of my career, I thought all I had to do was sit back and execute award-winning designs to be successful. Sounds easy, right? However, as years go by and my hair turns gray, I find myself more and more in the people and service business.

What do I mean by that? To create truly exceptional work, you need to have an understanding of the different external dynamics that can affect the work. Designing isn’t simply reading a brief, applying a treatment to some shapes, and hitting “send.” Rather, it’s a dance between a client’s business goals, the client’s team, the internal design team, producers, vendors, and any other external forces that can affect the project journey. As a designer, I need to understand the arena I am working in and the dynamics of who I am working with.

Through empathetic listening, you’ll find connective themes that will help create project alignment.

Enter empathy. Being empathetic towards co-workers, vendors and clients creates a collaborative relationship that leads to an alliance of trust. Ultimately this is what produces the truly exceptional work we aspire to create. It’s not uncommon for designers to produce amazing work that never sees the world beyond a Behance™ page. When I approach a project from an empathetic perspective, I’ll be able to create a trusting partnership with my team and client. This trust and understanding opens up new avenues that help navigate a project from ideation to fruition through a more joyful and streamlined experience, while pushing the boundaries on innovative work.

Working in the people business, I’m expected to deliver exceptional work AND create a great partner experience. The foundation to this begins with the team and having everyone aligned and rowing the boat in the same direction. Being empathetic and having open communication with all parties involved uncovers the necessary information that allows me the opportunity to gain this alignment. Through various discussions over the course of the project, I’ll find areas for improvement, where I can serve as a mentor to the team by introducing new rituals and other best practices that could help both the internal team and clients beyond the scope of deliverables. This type of collaboration fosters a trusting creative relationship. This is only possible by being empathetic to the various dynamics of the project.

Three practices I use to help build stronger partnerships:

  1. Pre-meetings are a great time to engage and learn more about your teammates. As people are coming together or entering a Zoom, indulge in some small talk to liven up the space. Not only will this help you establish your voice, but you’ll get to know who you’re working with beyond the scope of the project.
  2. Focus on others. Let your peers be the center of attention. Listen to them and learn their story.
  3. Keep an open mind, actively listen and defer judgment to the end. Ideas and creative visions are seldom aligned. Through empathetic listening, you’ll find connective themes that will help create project alignment.

So, when you’re kicking off the next job, try approaching it from an empathetic perspective, and really, really listen to what your team and client is asking. You might discover the underlying challenge isn't a category on Behance, rather, it’s a call to improve something more impactful than what’s on the RFP.

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