Behind the scenes: an ideal rush job

sam bradd, artist, vancouver, image, what is graphic recording, what is graphic facilitation, illustration, community building, what is collaboration, union, illustrator, best practice, vector, best practice, visualization, visual learners, infographic, graphic design, mind map, mind mapping, visual practitioner, creativity, sketch noters, visual notetaking, consultant, facilitator, visual thinking, information architects, visual synthesis, graphic translation, group graphics, and ideation specialists, live drawing, group facilitation, group collaborative work, world cafe, conference, information design, information designers, virtual coaches, educator, non-profit, progressive, environment, sustainability, community, health, indigenous, aboriginal, youth, teens, adult learners, adult education, empowerment, justice, leadership, team building, children's book illustrator, experiential graphicsI like to joke that in my line of work, there’s not much life-and-death.

But then I got a wacky last-minute request for visuals from two doctors that actually would help improve life-and-death situations in a hospital. So then I really couldn’t say no. It ended up being an amazing project. If you want to ask someone for a Hail Mary, last-minute, high-stakes project on Friday noon before a long weekend with a 3-day turnaround, and you also need super-high-quality services, here’s what you have to do.

1) Write the nicest email introduction.

The email subject line said, “Hi, any chance can you HELP on short notice?”. It got my attention, but at first I was a little suspicious of what kind of miracles were expected. But as I read on, the doctors convinced me that this was going to be a get-in-the-trenches together project and they were willing to stay up late. And their product was a good cause. So I moved my weekend plans and phoned back to say yes.

2) Know what you want.

What are the deliverables: what type of presentation (digital, web, print)? Do you have examples? Be clear and up front, so I can decide if it’s realistic – instead of starting off with one project and then trying to expand it. We determined one goal (and got it in writing): a 6 foot by 3 foot graphic recording style poster that mapped out and summarized their work. The story needed to include the change catalyst, the way the tool works, and its impact. Boom.

3) Get concise with the script and storyline.

An ideal rush project will have a very small amount of text to turn into visuals: the script has a clear message and call to action. The visuals can do the heavy lifting, so my ballpark for text is half a page – if we can’t get the message across in less than that, it’s still too complicated. In this example, I received a 5-page backgrounder instead. Normally this would make me groan, but happily ….

4) Trust me, just a little.

They trusted me to work my synthesizing magic. We’re under this ridiculous deadline and it’s a complex topic. I get into my zone and pretend I’m at a conference, listening to a speaker explain this new tool, and get drawing. I start sketching and visualizing this complex topic. I’m reading and rereading, looking for the best summaries and drawing out the who, what, why, and what next.

5) Use your ninja communication skills

I work fast so it’s nice when we’re on the same timeline. These two doctors win an award for best client communication: I send off drafts and they email back to confirm receipt. They tell me when they’ll review and phone with feedback. Amazing! I know when I can take a quick break, eat, and when I need to be back in major focus.

6) Specific feedback, using visuals

Talk to me in the language I know best: visuals.  A key piece of feedback came from a cel phone photo, back-of-the-napkin sketch to show me their idea. Perfect. Normally we’d have time to talk things through, but on a rush deadline decision-making is sped up. Decisions about edits are made quickly and we stick to them. (Not much time for broad consultation on rush jobs … or make sure you build it into timelines.)

7) Proofread twice, draw once

Attention to detail is key under pressure: they proofread and found tiny changes before we finalized everything in permanent pen. I get an A+ for spelling, but proofreading can include preferences for American/English spellings, etc.

8) Send nice emails saying how happy you are

Actually, that’s totally not required. But it was really nice of them give positive feedback as well as critical feedback throughout our process. I’m here to give you the best quality service possible, and letting me know what is working keeps me on track. I did channel all those feel-good efforts into going above-and-beyond for them.

9) Prompt pickup

I rush the timeline but not the quality of the work: so it’s brilliant when pickup is also prompt. It’s a terrible feeling when I hustle then someone wants to pick it up 3 days later. First I delivered digital files, and for the the original artwork we met half-way across town –  nice to meet face to face.

10) And after – let me know about the result for you

I can’t wait to hear back about how the presentation went! We took a high-level concept into plain-language:  I can guarantee that their presentation was improved by the visuals, and we worked hard together to really refine the key messages. After all, it can look great – but content is always important.

At the end of the weekend, I needed some yoga to stretch it out, but felt good. A rush job is never ideal, but these are the circumstances that help make it better.

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