Onboarding Best Practices: 4 Easy Steps to Getting Started With a Design Partner

Published 6 Dec, 2023
Alex Kinsella
Alex KinsellaContributing Writer

Building a design partnership that lasts starts by following onboarding best practices. After all, you’re not just outsourcing work, you’re trusting a design partner to deliver assets that reflect your brand to its truest essence. This article walks through four best practices for successfully onboarding design partners and agencies.

Onboarding best practices for design partners and agencies...

Does this feel familiar?

You’ve done the work to find the perfect design partner. Contracts have been signed. All the T’s have been crossed, and all the I’s are dotted. (Someone even threw a heart in there, but we’re not saying who.)

It’s been a long road—you’ve learned a lot—and now it’s time to start the first project in what will hopefully be a long, happy and productive relationship.

A few hours later...

An email pops up in your inbox from your design partner asking about your logo guidelines. It’s an easy question, something they should not only know—but should be able to get an answer for themselves from your brand guidelines.

Then it hits you...

Did you send them the brand guidelines during the onboarding process? If not, what else might have been missed?

Onboarding is the process of getting to know each other. It’s also a shared experience in which both you and your partner hold stakes. Following onboarding best practices makes all the difference.

Why Is It Important To Have a Great Onboarding Process?

You wouldn’t spend months interviewing candidates for a role only to hire them and see them fail. The same goes for your design partner. A great onboarding process sets you and your design partner up for success.

  • Sparks the best work. Proper onboarding means you and your design partner have put everything in place to get to work quickly and produce the assets you need.
  • Prevents slowdowns and delays. Gaps in your onboarding process can slow you down, creating multiple rounds of revisions and leading to missed deadlines and lower quality creative.
  • Avoids frustrations and disconnects. Yes, it’s a business relationship—but both parties still need to feel valued and inspired. Poor onboarding, especially in terms of communication and expectation-setting tends to be the cause.

4 Design Partner Onboarding Best Practices

Don’t let poor onboarding stop you from having a successful relationship with your design partner. Common problems can be prevented by following these tried and tested onboarding best practices.

1. Custom tailor the onboarding process

Every type of design partner is different, from a traditional design agency to a Creative-as-a-Service (CaaS) company like Superside. Understanding the skills, experiences, and working styles of the different types of design services will help you tailor your onboarding process. Tailoring can include:

  • Brand training. Your business is your brand. Try adapting your standard brand training for new hires for your new design partner. Experienced partners and agencies will also have processes and workflows for capturing this information right from the start.
  • Tooling. From design software and project management to email and instant messaging, list all the tools you’ll need and align early on. If possible, choose the industry standards, like Adobe, Figma, Slack, Asana, etc., and avoid getting bogged down with too many new tools or shiny objects.
  • Communication styles and channels. There’s a way you work and how your partner work—communication helps you bring these ways together. Identify:
    • Communication styles. Remember, clarity is kindness.
    • Communication tools. Know what you’ll use and when you’ll use it. For example, will feedback take place in the collaboration software or via Slack? Or, is there an integration that unites both?

2. Keep the onboarding process simple

When it comes to onboarding, remember the acronym K.I.S.S.—keep it simple, Steve. We’re not sure who Steve is, but keeping your process simple is a surefire way to get up to speed quickly.

  • Use a checklist. They’re simple, they’re easy and they work. An onboarding checklist gives you a roadmap for success.
  • Make resources accessible. Ensure that key resources, like brand guidelines and assets, are easy to find, whether that’s on a Notion board or another collaboration tool.

Read the Entire Series
Read the Entire Series

Read the Entire Series

This article is part of a series on choosing the right design company or partner. Click below to go to the start.

3. Stop, collaborate and listen

Who would’ve known that 90s rap icon Vanilla Ice had the secrets to onboarding success? When he dropped the bar, “Stop, collaborate and listen, Ice is back with my brand new invention,” Ice was telling us one of the most essential best practices for onboarding a design partner.

  • Stop. Before you begin your onboarding process, make sure you have everyone who needs to be there on the call or Zoom.
  • Collaborate. You’re bringing on a partner. Make sure your team and the design partner’s team have the tools, channels and processes to collaborate effectively. Collaboration can include brainstorming sessions, asking for their input on design decisions and recognizing their contributions.
  • Listen. Encourage open and honest communication from the beginning. This includes not only expressing your expectations and feedback but also listening to the design partner's ideas and concerns.

4. Never stop onboarding

Change is constant, and nothing in your business stays the same for very long. This includes your relationship with your design partner. Honestly, what I’m really saying is never stop communicating and collaborating.

  • Schedule regular check-ins. Whether weekly, bi-weekly or monthly, routine check-ins help you stay aligned on the work that’s being done, while quarterly reviews can be retros where you assess what’s working and what needs to improve.
  • Never stop asking questions. The creative process isn’t linear. Keep the lines of communication open and the trust strong. However, it’s helpful to clarify which questions go where. For instance, questions relating to a brief should be placed in the brief itself or the relevant collaboration software, while process questions might be addressed during a check-in or through instant messaging.
  • Keep learning and exploring. This goes hand-in-hand with asking questions. When one project is complete, there’ll always be a next one. Use your curiosity and shared knowledge to benefit each other.

This Is the Beginning of a Beautiful (And Productive) Relationship

Following onboarding best practices is critical to ensuring you and your design partner have everything you need to meet your design requirements and do the best work. Onboarding sets the tone for the relationship and gets everyone on the same page to deliver the best creative and the strongest relationship.

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Nice, Nice... Maybe?

Nice, Nice... Maybe?

Book a call to break the ice and "rap" with Superside about taking your creative from off schedule to off the hook.

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Alex Kinsella
Alex KinsellaContributing Writer

Alex is a freelance writer and newsletter aficionado based in Waterloo, Ontario. When he’s not writing for clients, he’s putting together TL;WR, a weekly culture and events newsletter his mom says is excellent. Alex has worked with some of Canada’s largest tech companies in PR, marketing and communication roles. Connect with him on LinkedIn to chat or get ideas on what to do this weekend in Waterloo.

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