Part of the good communication between a designer and his client includes listening and understanding requests and taking effective notes during the meeting to build up an effective briefing later. Writing reliable notes is a skill that can be learnt and that can take advantage of several useful tools. It can make the difference, during the design process, between a successful project and a big mess.
In this article we will see what note-taking is, how to improve your design process with it and a range of useful tools to help you in that practice.
What is Note-taking?
Starting with a proper definition of the concept is important to understand better what we are going to inspect.
From Wikipedia we read:
Notetaking is the practice of recording information captured from a transient source, such as an oral discussion at a meeting, or a lecture.
It may look like a simple task but, as a matter of fact, it isn’t so easy. Many people, for example, are not able to write fast, some others are not able to sum up what they hear. It is obvious that when you report a conversation in writing, the relation between written and spoken can’t be 1:1.
In the past there were schools dedicated to teaching how to note-taking fast and with accuracy, there are also a couple of methods of shorthand, an abbreviated symbolic writing method.
Nowadays methods have changed, we use handwriting less and computers and technology more. What has not changed is the importance of note-taking being a useful practice for all those who have to attend a meeting, a lesson or a conference.
Why it is so important?
Note-taking is an important practice for everybody, students, businessmen, and even more for designers.
Designers, and freelancers in general, are often in a situation where they need to take effective notes. This could be a brainstorming with other creative colleagues, where fixing points to sum up decisions is relevant or, even more important, a meeting with a client.
How do you approach the first meeting with a client will affect your future relationship and communication with him. This is the very first moment in which you show your professional attitude and start to create confidence. Taking notes about his project which you are going to create will be the first step for an effective briefing with him. It would be annoying if, few days later, you need ask about some points that you have already discussed. He will look your request as a waste of his time and a lack of professionalism from your side.
On the other hand, if you are able to take your notes with accuracy, by following them you can make yourself more productive, increasing the efficiency of your workflow and reducing work revision times.
In addition to that, you can review your notes every time you need to refresh your memory about yours TO DOs and the way the client will get them done. Your tasks will be well defined and you won’t miss a thing.
How to be ready for note-taking
We have seen how note-taking is important in our future relations with our clients but how we can be ready for that?
Firstly prepare yourself with all the tools that you may need. If you are going to use traditional tools bring enough papers and more than one pen so that if one fails you have a backup one. Find a way to collect your papers and remind yourself, number pages so that you can after re-build the logic of the meeting later.
If you are going to use digital notes be sure that you have fully charged your device and that you already have all necessary applications installed. Practice with the device so that you will look professional when you use it, be aware of eventual problems which may occur.
Listening is the keyword that you always need to have clear in your mind at the meeting. Be proactive with the client and ask questions. Take your time to write down your notes. Particularly if you are having a one-to-one conversation, your client would like to be sure that you are writing all information needed and will slow down the conversation in a natural way. Anyway there are a few golden rules that you can use to improve your note-taking process.
Improve your note-taking process
There are a few tips that you can follow to take notes in a more effective way.
Use short and to-the-point sentences. Listing to the main points will let you be faster and more focused on catching your client’s main points avoiding useless information. You can also use abbreviations and symbols that you can easily recognize.
Pay attention in clearly dividing your TO DOs and comments from what the client has said. In this way you will be able to immediately recognize the points that come first.
Help yourself by using mind maps and diagrams. Many designers use mind mapping to brainstorm and generate new ideas. They help you to associate ideas, think creatively, and make connections between different elements. The approach is completely different from taking notes with an ordered list. The hierarchy is not based on a top-down model but, on the contrary is radial. Experiencing mind mapping you will take advantage of the creative side of the brain finding a better solution.
By using mind maps, you can quickly identify and understand the focus of a subject. From that starting point you can identify the other information and let them fit together. Mind maps are so useful because they not only show facts, but also the overall structure of a topic and the relative importance of other parts.
Sketching your notes and focusing on nodes you will be able to visualize them better.
Avoid summarizing during the meeting since it could be distracting both for you and the client. The only thing that you need to do at the moment is take a few but meaningful notes.
Once the meeting is over is now time to review your notes and summarize all the contents. If you have written them on paper you may want now to rebuild them digitally. You can copy them with a word processor or by scanning them.
Almost the same if you have taken your notes digitally. Save them in a format that can be easily read from many devices, save them in the client’s folder and on a cloud service so that, just in case, you can always have access to them.
Always keep in mind that you may have need to access them also months after you have filed them. Properly name and label the files and place them all in your client’s dedicated folder. You will be sure in this way that you can always recover them in the future.
Useful tools to write, record and store digital notes
If you like the paper feel and the old-fashioned way of taking notes with a pen and notebook well, I partially agree with you. I love the smell of the paper and the ink which goes on it! Unfortunately there are some bad side-effects of this. You may need to have your notes but you have not brought the notebook with you, you may lose some of the papers and have incomplete notes of your meeting or, even worse, you may leave a couple of papers on the table of the meeting because you were on the run and collecting your things a couple of them slipped out under the table.
Having a professional way of note-taking, filing, and storing allows you to have a more efficient workflow process. Fortunately new possibilities have been opened by tablets devices.
We will take as an example the iPad but don’t worry! Almost the same applications, or different but with similar features, are also available for Android. Bear in mind that these are only a bunch of applications dedicated to increase the efficiency of note-taking. You only have to find what fits better with your needs.
Writing and sketching
There are a lot of note-taking apps, but they don’t all support the same features or offer equal functionality. Some let you sketch and draw directly, with your finger or with a dedicated pen. Those are the best choice to maintain as much as possible the feel of using a pen and a real notebook. Some examples can be applications such as Penultimate, Paper, Bamboo Paper.
Most let you integrate the memos with photos and Web clips and, the most important thing, allow you to save and store the notes on cloud services like Dropbox.
On some occasions, when meetings are expected to be long and technical, full of information that as a matter of fact you can’t remember nor shorten, a digital voice recorder could be a good idea. I suggest you not overuse note recordings since you will later need to re-listen to them all and this could be really time-consuming. If you are thinking about recording the meeting ALWAYS reveal this to your client and ask for his agreement. Explain that you want to be sure of catching all details to produce a more effective briefing. You will generally get the agreement but be ready to receive a negative reply too.
Evernote is a note-taking service which, together with all the other services which it provides, also allows recording audio notes.
The best note-taking apps focus on not only making notes, but on finding and sorting them later as well. Once again one of the best apps is Evernote, accessible through web, smartphone, tablet and desktop/laptop.
Other ways to store your notes are obviously all those cloud services which allow you to upload your data on and have it always available everywhere.
A report to the client is a healthy practice to do
Once you are back into your office and you have had time for reviewing, organizing and storing your notes, prepare a report of the meeting for your client on the basis of your notes. This is a very important and winning rule. When you take your notes during the meeting you may assume a point of view or understand some ideas in a way which do not correspond to that of the client. Discovering misunderstandings at the very beginning of the design process is important to avoid a waste of time and future complaints.
Providing a report of the meeting will help you to put your notes in order and organize your ideas. The report will show to the client your professionalism making him happy. It is a way to keep him informed about how you are going to proceed with the project.
Moreover, he will be able to review what he said and eventually add some points. This will be a mutually convenient time to clarify any and all points of ambiguity. Highlight to him your doubts and ask for any further details you may need before starting your work and he will be able to add some points.
It could happen that the client thinks that he has asked for something in a way that, as it turns out, is different from what he actually said during the meeting. If you have submitted to him a report and he has approved and already revised it with further additions, you can support your argument showing him that you already have followed the established agreement. As you can see a report to the client is a healthy practice to do.
To sum up: 7 rules for effective Note-taking
Using what we have said in this article, we are now able to come up with few key rules for an effective note-taking practice during our meeting with the client:
- Prepare yourself choosing and bringing the right tools.
- Don’t try to note EVERYTHING but just the main points
- Use bullet lists to highlight the main points during the conversation
- Separate the client’s notes from your own TO DOs so you can get them instantly
- File your notes properly
- Store your notes where you can always have access to them
- Send a report of the meeting to your client and get his agreement on the contents
Those rules will help you to have better communication with the client and a more efficient design process.
How about you? Do you take notes? In which way do you find them useful? Which tools do you use most?