The Three Keys Of A Successful Projects

More often than not, we talk about the different “red flags” to look out for when considering a new potential client. What we don’t talk about nearly as often, however, is the importance of truly understanding the anatomy of a successful project. Don’t get me wrong, I spent years hunting down red flags and came up with a decent list of my own. But it wasn’t until I actually flipped the script and considered all of the things that make a project WORK, that I began making much better decisions about the type of clients we collaborate with here at Rowan Made.

All of this boils down into three different buckets. Or, “the three keys of a successful project,” as I like to call it. So let’s dig in.


The first key is vitality, which means the state of being strong and active. Now, this doesn’t mean that you need to be able to lift 100 pounds or run a marathon. It means that in order to flex your creative muscles, and carry out a project to completion, you have to be mentally strong and active. Or “in it,” if you will.

For example, have you ever tried to start a new project on a day when you just weren’t feeling inspired? Or have you ever found yourself working on a project that made you sigh in frustration every single time you had to work on it? But then, did you keep going, trying to squeeze out all of the creativity within you, only to be left feeling absolutely depleted?

We all have bad days, that’s a given. But if you approach a project with a lack of vitality, day in and day out, it’s not going to be a great experience for anyone involved. Sure, you may be able to achieve some sort of solution, but chances are, you won’t feel very good or proud of it.

The opposite of this example is found when we mindfully set ourselves up for success. So instead of forcing creativity, we focus on vitality. Sometimes, this is as simple as doing the things that make you feel inspired, more often. Like going for a walk, reading a book, or listening to a podcast. Other times, it means saying “no” to a project you don’t have any interest in, even when money is an enticing factor.

The idea of vitality goes both ways, though, and applies to your clients as well. If you’re collaborating with somebody who is experiencing a long term lack of vitality themselves, then the same not-so-great scenario is bound to happen, even if you’re 100% in it.

For example, I once worked with a client who was admitted to the hospital for illness halfway through our project. She tried to keep up with the process, but continued to fall behind and out of inspiration. I could tell that she was no longer “in it,” and because of that, communication and forward movement suffered. We ended up parting ways so that she could take care of herself, which I fully supported in lieu of forcing some sort of outcome that just wasn’t going to happen.

Long story short, collaborations work best when all parties are in good spirit, making vitality an important attribute of a successful project.


That brings us to the second key, trust, which means that both parties believe in the reliability, truth, ability, and strength of the person they’re working with. Without it, projects become tense and controlling, neither of which leads toward the idea of success. This can happen in a variety of ways, so let’s take a look at a few examples.

Have you ever had a client that art directed you every step of the way, no matter what? Even when you stood up for your craft? Over time, I’m guessing that their lack of trust erased any sort of excitement you once had, making the end result less than ideal. This is exactly what happens whenever a client loses trust in their designer.

But that’s not the only way trust can be lost. Sometimes, the designer is the one who loses trust in their client.

For example, have you ever had a client who didn’t care about following any of the deadlines you set out for them to make? Sure, you probably tried your best to move the project along, but if the client was continually late, there’s a good chance you would have lost trust, given up, and become extremely uninterested in the project.

Needless to say, trust is a biggie. If both parties are willing to respect each other’s time and abilities, true collaboration will naturally occur.


And that, my friends, brings us to the last key, which is intent. I like to picture this as both parties keeping the brand’s best interest at heart, no matter what. Otherwise, subjectivity will sneak in and derail the project’s original purpose.

For example, have you ever had a client tell you to do something without having a good reason? Or have they used the phrases “I like” and “I don’t like” when giving feedback? Chances are, they’re tapping into personal opinion, rather than intent. And that’s never the goal.

A designer’s job is not to make something pretty just for the hell of it. There is always strategy or a story to be told somewhere along the way. But when either party decides to go off course and do something without reason, intent gets lost, making the end result less than ideal.

The opposite of this occurs when everyone involved keeps the brand’s best interest in mind, at all times.

One of Rowan Made’s clients last year was a perfect example of this. After we presented the initial branding concept, they said that if it were up to them, the masculine design was very much in line with what they’d be drawn to personally. This realization reminded them to take a step back and put their more feminine audience first. So instead of getting stuck in an onslaught of personal opinion, we made small refinements to the original design that felt better for the brand as a whole. Because of this, we found success without a loss of purpose. And that’s a big win in my book.

Intent is so easily forgotten in the pursuit of people pleasing. But it’s the whole reason you’re doing what you’re doing, so please, do not forget about it.

- - - - - -

The "rule" with vitality, trust, and intent, is that all three are truly needed in order for a project to work.

Think of it this way: if your vitality and trust are in check, but intent is lost, then your project won’t be rooted in strategy, and thus, won’t turn out as good as it could have. Or, if your trust and intent are in check, but vitality is missing, then you’re going to feel mentally drained and become frustrated as you move along.

Sure, two out of three may seem alright, but it’s certainly not the same as checking all three of these boxes off and feeling truly great about your collaboration. In fact, I have a feeling that MOST of the projects you’ve loved being apart of in the past are a direct result of having all three of your buckets full. Not just one or two of them.

So the next time you're considering a potential project, run through each key. If your gut is telling you that one of these things is missing, whether it's from yourself or from the client, then that’s a good sign that maybe, just maybe, it’s not going to be the right fit after all.