Collaboration with Design Agencies: 6 Ways to Manage Artwork Projects & Increase Productivity

Sumedha Gurav

Explaining difficult concepts through simple words.
June 17, 2021

The creative process in artwork management often includes a number of outside collaborators. See how to simplify and accelerate productivity while working on artwork projects with design agencies.

Packaging design development needs multiple stages of approval in large organizations. While working with design agencies for packaging development, clear and concise communication is the key to getting product artworks and labels approved faster.

Project managers may struggle with multiple projects and deadlines causing errors. Packaging errors are often the root cause of massive recalls. 60% of product recalls take place because of packaging artwork errors. This error rate makes communication with the design agency as well as with the internal members crucial. Everyone should have a clear view of the deadlines. They should know what they need to do and the progress of the project.

Overview Of The Artwork Development Process

Stage 1. Developing A Creative Brief

Usually, there are two ways to go about this. 

The first route is building from scratch. Here a detailed creative brief is shared with the agency to create the label design.  

The second way includes brands using simple, easily accessible tools to create a key line of the artwork. Often it is a mishmash of competitors’ product labels with their twist. Brands make a very rough prototype, get that verified by some of the collaborators and forward it to the design agency.

Stage 2. Onboarding The Design Agency

The brand sets a meet with a design agency and explains to the agency what they are looking for. The key line or the creative brief gives the design team a clearer view. The brand manager sends over their assets, such as logos and instruction labels using emails. The brand sets an expedited deadline to accommodate any unforeseen events.

Stage 3. Design Agency Sends The First Draft

The design agency takes a few days to create and share the first draft of the artwork. Generally, the packaging artwork is a PDF that will go to the printer.

Stage 4. Collaborators Review It

In a brand, multiple people will need to approve the artwork. The brand manager forwards the email to every collaborator. Each collaborator then replies with their comments, eventually leading to a flooded inbox.

Reviewers can notice an issue later and send a second email too. The email may even go directly to the designers as well.

Stage 5. Design Agency Receives Feedback

Either the project manager provides consolidated feedback to the design team, or each reviewer sends their comment directly to the design agency. The feedback may come via emails, Slack or Teams messages, WhatsApp messages, or phone calls. Also, there are no fixed deadlines or checklists for managing the feedback.

Managing the project often becomes chaotic at this stage, particularly if multiple projects are running in parallel.

Stage 6. Redesign And Reiterate

The design agency makes the changes and forwards the artwork to the brand again. The loop continues until all the known issues are resolved.

Stage 7. Repeat Until Expectations Are Met

Generally, artworks go through multiple rounds of iterations. The above stages are repeated until the artwork matches the brief or the expectations of the collaborators. 

Stage 8. Brand Sends Artwork For Printing

Finally, after multiple iterations, the brand sends the artwork to printers to get hard proof of the artwork.

While this seems like a simple process, artwork management becomes exceedingly difficult when the number of projects increases. Brands may also have multiple projects assigned to multiple agencies that are working in parallel. This makes dedicated project management tools for artwork development indispensable.

5 Challenges In Working With A Design Agency   

1. Tight Deadlines 

Project managers may set unreasonable deadlines to accommodate unforeseen issues. However, this may create pressure on the design agency as well as reviewers.

 2. Confusing Feedback 

Without the right tools, it may be hard to provide constructive feedback. Feedback like “this color should be brighter” might not help the designer. The color changes might affect the look of the design if it doesn’t match the brand colors.  

3. Ambiguous Tasks 

While the legal team might know they have to check the legalities, a checklist of what exactly needs to be reviewed will help them be approved or reject the artwork faster.  

4. Lack of Collaboration

When developing an artwork, or providing feedback, team members do not know what the other person is working on. Often, it may lead to different people providing different feedback on the same thing. Communication over multiple channels may lead to such conflicting feedback.

 5. Too Much Communication 

Communicating with emails or chats can lead to missed points, causing errors to go unnoticed.

All of this essentially creates multiple bottlenecks in the projects. Not only does this reduce the productivity of the brand and the design agency, but it also makes the process error-prone and frustrating.

artwork flow demo

6 Ways to Optimize Artwork Management Process

Managing artwork projects and working with multiple design agencies are much easier when you use a dedicated artwork management platform. Here is how an artwork management platform lets you navigate through the chaos.

1. Onboard Design Agencies Easily

Brands may work with multiple design agencies in parallel. They can work with different SKUs of the same product or may work with different product lineups. With an artwork management tool, managers can simply send an invitation mail to the design agency. Using that email, they can sign up and join the project and access the cloud-hosted project assets.

2. Invite Collaborators And Define Roles

Let people know in your brand exactly what they need to work on. You can tell the marketing department to check the color, the logo, and the promotional messages. The legal team can check for issues with claims made on the labeling, the accuracy of the information on the labels. The quality control team can check for consistency issues and so on.

3. Defined Deadlines And To-do Lists

You can define precise deadlines for each task. With checklists, every team member will have a clear view of what to do and by when they need to do it. It also gives managers a holistic view of what is going on with the project and where deadlines are.

4. Collaborative Feedback And Proofing Tools

Collaborators can provide precise feedback using the feedback and annotation tools. They can view the artwork in the browser, check for any issues with color, fonts, sizes of elements, and more. Then, they can annotate and comment right on the artwork.

5. Consolidated And Productive Feedback

The artwork management platform will consolidate feedback from different collaborators and make it available to the design agency. This information will give design agencies more clarity in terms of what needs changing.

6. Check Activity History

Artwork management tools provide audit trails that allow managers to see how artwork has been developed over time. They can see who performed which activity at which time. This provides managers with more transparency regarding the project.

What challenges have you faced when working with design agencies for creating packaging design? Let us know in the comments below.

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