Design management

Clusterfuck, despite its saucy name, does not refer to a pleasurable group activity. Its origins are military, its antecedents bloody. The Urban Dictionary offers ten pages of definitions. Our favorite is a double entendre on “cluster bomb” and the oak leaf or star cluster insignia worn by incompetent military brass whose bad decisions result in a needless bloodbath—a “clusterfuck.”

Most web design and development projects turn into clusterfucks. The problem is not unique to web-based client services. Advertising projects, graphic design jobs, architecture assignments, filmmaking, and pretty much every other professional creative service usually begins with smart, talented people shaking hands across a table, and ends in finger-pointing and regret—like a Country & Western love song.

Great work cannot emerge from such environments. Not even good work can crawl from that wreckage. If a fine portfolio, a delightful career, and the satisfaction of earning your bread by providing a genuine service are to be had, you must first learn to manage your clients and colleagues.

Managing your way out of a paper bag

Although I teach this skill, I confess I am not nearly as good at it as I should be. The trick to great projects, I have found, is (a.) landing clients with whom you are sympatico, and who understand language, time, and money the same way you do, and (b.) assembling teams you don’t have to manage, because everyone instinctively knows what to do. I have been lucky at those two things, and thus poor at coping when a design job very occasionally lights its own genitals on fire and leaps into a bucket of oil.

For those who have no control over which clients and projects come to them, there is still hope, because everyone on the web (not just professional designers and developers) has the ability to produce meaningful content, and every designer and developer additionally has the power to create products and services. As your own client, working alone, or with a carefully hand-picked team, you can produce great things. If you suck at management, you’ll have problems, but not the kind of problems that create mediocre websites while emptying your company’s bank account and draining all the joy and color out of life.

Producing a well-edited zine or a useful and skillfully designed web application may produce income. It will almost certainly generate job satisfaction. And once it finds the right audience, it should yield more sympathetic clients, resulting in fewer clusterfucks, and a greater ability to get on the phone and straighten out a mess if you still occasionally fumble as a manager.

[tags]business, webdesign, project management[/tags]