How to Successfully Manage a Design Project


Whether it’s a website, marketing campaign, ebook, software program, or app, design projects are complicated and time-consuming. As the point person charged with managing one of these projects, you have a huge responsibility. Are you prepared to embrace it?

6 Useful Tips for Managing Design Projects

The core tenets of project management don’t differ much from project to project. However, there is a case to be made that design projects are far more challenging than the average project. They’re very detail-oriented and are often evaluated on subjective metrics and preferences.

Having said all of that, here are some practical tips you can use to increase your chances of successfully managing a design project from start to finish:

1. Set Vision and Goals

You can’t start any project – design or otherwise –without first establishing a vision and set of clearly defined goals.

One of the best formulas for coming up with a vision is as follows:

“To ______________, so that _________________.”

The first blank is the contribution and the second blank is the impact.

“A vision provides us our ‘why,’ but how we define our ‘what’ and ‘how’ is accomplished in goal setting,” PinnacleART explains. “A goal is a specific component of a vision. It is something that can be achieved that will contribute to striving towards a vision.”

Typically a goal is going to be broken down into two major sections: objectives and key results. Your objectives will tell you what a goal is accomplishing. It needs to be clear and specific. The results portion of a goal is the how. In other words, how will you achieve the desired outcome?

2. Schedule a Kick-Off Meeting

Every good design project needs a kick-off meeting – and possibly more than one. It’s during these meetings that you set the ground rules and expectations, outline the process, and address any major questions or concerns the team has. The purpose of the kick-off meeting is for everyone to be on the same page. Really emphasize the importance of speaking up during this meeting. No question is considered stupid or basic.

3. Set Clear Roles

Every individual involved in the project needs a clearly defined role – and everyone needs to know what that role is. This speeds up the communication process and makes feedback loops much more efficient. In particular, it eliminates the “who should I send this to?” question that often puts projects behind schedule.

4. Emphasize Communication

Communication needs to be smooth and free flowing. There should be both formal methods of communication – like regularly scheduled meetings or huddles to get everyone on the same page – as well as informal methods of communication – like direct messages and emails between key players.

5. Gather Feedback Along the Way

Don’t wait until the design project is complete to send a final deliverable to the client, management, or whoever is receiving the design work. The risk – particularly if you’ve never worked with this client – is that you’ll totally miss the mark and have to start over completely.

The better option is to gather feedback at key points along the way. Show your work, ask for critiques, and go from there. Yes, this can slow things down in the short-term, but it’s far more productive over the long haul.

6. Allow for Plenty of Buffer Time

Are you familiar with Parkinson’s Law? It states that work expands to fill the time available. Use this to your advantage.

If you have 120 days to complete a project, set the deadline for 90 days out. This creates an added sense of pressure for the team and will cause them to work harder and more efficiently. It also provides a buffer of 30 days on the back end so that you can address any unforeseen challenges. If you end up not needing the extra 30 days, you look like a genius. If you do need the buffer time, it’s there for the taking.

Become a Project Management Expert

If you can manage a design project from start to finish, you’re prepared to manage just about any business-related project. Design projects are challenging on multiple levels and your commitment to leading one of these teams will expose you to the fundamentals needed to master project management in the future. Commit to the process and embrace the learning!