Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

The Heart of the Matter

The Heart of the Matter
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Introducing a new party to an existing design process can present serious challenges. A case in point: Two years ago, I was caught off guard. Our firm had been working with a start-up company whose owner was referred to us by a past client. Having completed our research and assessment, we had developed a name for the company and were nearing the completion of their identity design. All seemed to be proceeding well.

But then our client arrived at a meeting with a new partner who would be responsible for the operation’s overall marketing. Right after the introduction, I felt that something was amiss, but proceeded with the presentation.

We spoke to our clients about our progress since our last meeting. But our guests seemed restless. Suddenly, the new partner asked, “Why are we paying so much for this?”

While prepared for such a question at the beginning of a project, I was taken aback by the skepticism so deep into the process. He reasoned that online firms like Logoworks perform similar services at a fraction of our cost. So we must be overcharging.

Had this been a new project, I would have handed back their deposit and wished them the best. But this was near the end, so walking away wasn’t viable. I spent the next hour reviewing our process, discussing the associated time requirements and explaining how our efforts would help position their company. It made no difference. They wanted a logo for $299, and the longer I prattled on, the less impact my words seemed to have.

We completed the project but the relationship was damaged and the owner of the firm felt duped. With the trust lost, it became difficult to focus on the intended result. We did find some comfort when the logo was praised on a number of design portals, but it’s unlikely that this meant much to our client.

I had forgotten about this experience until last week, when it finally hit me that I had tried to convey the wrong point to our client. The enjoyment I get from a glass of scotch at the end of the day does not come from the process by which it’s distilled; rather, I just want to indulge for a moment before heading to bed. Similarly, we were giving our client process, strategy and careful attention to detail, but none of that mattered to them. In trying to validate our service I missed out the main point.

I should have talked about how this identity would build confidence among investors and retailers. I should have stressed how it would entice shoppers to pick up their product’s package and look closer. I should have talked about how it would make people feel.

We are creatures ruled by emotion. I was surprised to read that some Mercedes-Benz models were ranked only 27th in dependability; nevertheless, when I look at their cars, advertising and marketing materials, I feel as though they are the epitome of quality. I have to wonder what this feeling is worth to the executives at DaimlerChrysler.

Although I know the power of design to affect an audience, I’m often reluctant to point this out when selling our services. Perhaps this is simply habit, but it’s a bad one that must be broken. I wonder if we need to temporarily put aside our talk of brand, strategy and execution, and consider our power to influence emotion. This is what we’re doing when we get people to stop and admire a wine label, laugh at a magazine ad, slow down to observe a billboard or put a promotional poster up on the office wall. So, why don’t we put more effort into selling these reactions, instead of the objects themselves?

Meanwhile, if we are to adapt to a practice that is transitioning from deliverables to strategic thinking, we have to challenge ourselves and our conventions. This could mean adjusting our language to revolve around emotions and reactions, instead of a laundry list of design items. What if we listed “making your audience love you” as a deliverable? It could be difficult to generate pricing for, but it might get us closer to the true value of what we’re selling.

Should our creative briefs be drafted solely around the desired end reaction? We could delete the delivery device and focus solely on creating meaningful interaction with the audience. This might make the notion of hourly billings anachronistic. Our clients demand results, not labour. Why aren’t we pricing our value as such?

While the world around us continues to change, the one thing that remains constant is that people act as a result of their emotions. As visual communicators, we’re in the business of crafting reactions. If we can embrace this truth, we’ll do our clients and ourselves a great service.


The Heart of the Matter: Is the true value of design its ability to evoke emotion? First appeared in the January 2008 issue of Applied Arts Magazine. (If you don’t subscribe to it, you are missing out!)

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Comments & Trackbacks

  1. Keith says:

    Very well said. Cheers.

    I'm also sorry to hear about the story at the beginning. Phantom stakeholders (or, in your case, this new stakeholder) are difficult. I've been in almost the exact same situation and it was an awful feeling.

  2. Lisa says:

    Hey hey Eric.... Love it when you post. It's been just too darn long and I was getting ideas withdrawl.

    Excellent thoughts and something to think about as we work thru 2008. Inspirational as always...

  3. Eric - Great piece! I look forward to reading more throughout 2008. - J.

  4. velk says:

    Very well thought out post. There seems to be a widening trend of uninformed decision makers who point to $300 logo "design" or a "website" for $200. Finding the right way to explain how our services add uniqueness and value for both the client and their customers is more important than ever.

  5. Sean O'Brien says:

    I heard Dan Hill speak about his book, Emotionomics which backs up your point with research and some interesting methods of determining true emotional reactions. Thanks for the concise and accurate article.

  6. Navin Harish says:

    Isn't this what Kevin Roberts have been saying for a long time in lovemarks

  7. Hi Eric. Fine post, and a good point. For ten years I've never charged by the hour. I price by project and then the client and I work on the thing until the thing is done. I like it that way, because it makes it about the result and not about "Well, that's a nice idea, but how long is that going to take? I don't want you to rack up crazy hours."

    I've had some clients get really cranky about my prices --- especially mid-level ad agencies who have sufficient funding. As you said "Why is this so much when I can get it for $300 at XYZ?" At that point I ask them if they would walk into a Bentley dealership and get mad when the sales person won't sell them a car for $30,000.

    The stuff costs what the stuff costs. Sometimes you can't afford the stuff you want. That's the way the world works. Just because with design you're talking directly to the person making the stuff (instead of a separate sales person) doesn't mean the price is any less fixed.

    Can you get a cheaper logo design? Yes. Can you get a cheaper logo design done by me? No, you can't. I'm sorry. "What's wrong with $300?" There's nothing wrong with $300, it's just not what I charge for a logo design.

    As for my process, I don't bring it up. I don't really care how my car is made. I just want it to run well, and look cool.

  8. Tselentis says:

    What exactly is 'a new party to a design process'? You open with this statement, and I for one, am confused.

  9. Hi all,

    Thanks for the kind words and thoughts regarding the post! I'd also like to respond to a couple of questions individually.

    Navin; I looked at the synopsis for Kevin's book. It sounds like we're both saying pretty much the same thing. (I'd expect that you'll find a number of people who share the same sentiment.)

    Tselentis; by, "a new party to the design process", I mean introducing a new person or group of people (i.e. new marketing team) to the creation of any designed piece. Does that make the statement more clear?



  10. Tselentis,
    I think by "new party," he was referring to the addition of the marketing person on the client's side who joined in the conversation/project part-way through.

  11. Excellent perspective Eric. You always seem to capture those ideas and situations that seem to be so small but yet so important. Thanks for your thoughts. Well done.

  12. Josh says:

    As a growing business i have this on the brain 24/7 as to answering objections from clients as related to the price. In my relative position, i operate in Stefan's preferred method more often than not, but still bill by the hour in contrast.

    Not that this is unique to me.

    I try to operate in the most honest way and am very forthcoming in answering their questions. Right now i don't have a particular nut that I like to charge for logos, but I do for interactive(as we seemingly become more of that work).

    For most clients that works well enough for, but oddly enough I have nearly volunteered my initial services to a few good people and despite my complete undercutting of my own value, they still did not take my proposal.

    It's not so much lesson learned, but it does help me to focus on clients that really have the means to pay and appreciate the help of a practitioner vs. a nephew.

    Kind of off topic, but how do you deal with clients that have "design training" and are wrong, but they persist they're right and tell you to make changes?

  13. Hi Josh,

    Thanks for the response. Here are a couple of posts that might help answer your question:

    This one may be worth a read too:



  14. VJ says:

    "We are creatures ruled by emotion.".......isn't that the truth? :)

  15. Josh says:

    Thanks Eric. I have read one of those before as i stop by from time to time. I'm no newbie totally, but its helpful to know that no matter how old you grow in the profession, its always the same.

    I do try to answer objections when i speak. Not that a client is always listening that close, but my one summer selling books door to door gave me good insight for nearly the exact same thing, except i like this better.

  16. James says:

    Excellent article Eric. I enjoyed it very much.

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  18. Jon says:

    This article hits the nail on the head. I think designers don't sell the emotion because maybe in our minds it's such an obvious derivative.

  19. unorthodox says:

    The difficulty I see here is that the third party has been introduced into a process that they neither understand nor have been briefed on. I like your approach in the end saying that design should be assessed on it's results not it's process but I'm convinced more that it's about a search for truth rather than emotion. Just as Kevin points out in his book - the lovemarks have to be real and deliver on their promises. If you're halfway through a project and the client decides to add stakeholders, unless the stakeholders come on board under the same premises that you are designing, they have just changed the fundamental nature of the organisation, and thus the truth of your design is compromised because the principles that your design communicates, are now not necessarily adhered to by the rest of the organisation. The flow on affect is that your identity now tells their customers something, albeit subliminal, that the company now has no intention of living up to.

    I like the illustration of the merc but I know people who are ditching euro cars and going to Toyota because even in Germany Toyota is better at keeping its brand promises than the patriot companies are.

    Word of mouth is still the most effective marketing tool. It doesn't matter how good the ads, emotion, or design is, if somebody tells me they've had a bad experience with that particular product or company, I drop the emotion and move to logic to assess from a more pragmatic perspective what the real value is in doing business with them.

    What these companies don't understand and therefore part of our job is to tell them, is that design and marketing is not a particular portfolio or department in a company. It is as integrated as the policy and philosophy by which the company runs and exists. That's why you shouldn't buy a logo for $300, because you can't hope to even figure out the soul of a company or product for that, much less communicate it through art or design.

  20. pietwulleman says:

    For many years, writing a creative brief in ad agencies was about answering many (marketing) questions: what do we want to achieve, what do we want to say, who's the target group, what's the insight, etc. We've moved to writing a creative brief by answering 2 questions: which people should do what?

    Which is essentially your point: what reaction do we want to get?

    the advantage of using this simple state-of-mind (because that's what it basically is) is that
    - you're forced to focus on the essential, and make relevant choices
    - you don't mix up goals and means (an ad is a means to a goal, if there are better means available, then forget the ad)
    - you keep your eye on the people you're working for: the consumer (therefore not the client, although obviously he has a say:) - nor the advertising community as represented in the jury of one or another creative award)

    Of course, it's not because the questions are simple, that answering them is easy. And here I have to agree with "Unorthodox": you can only do it when you are in a completely open and honest dialogue with your client, and you have full insight in his (business) situation (this latter again means two things: he has to let you get an insight, and you have to be insightful).

    Anyway, great piece. Makes me (again) realize how close the design and graphical industry is to the advertising industry - and how much we share the same problems and challenges

  21. Steven Clark says:

    You could always say go and buy that $300 logo (or get Tommy to whack up a website for that amount) and come and see me if it doesn't get the ROI they expect.

    Ultimately the idea is to achieve business goals and objectives - like gaining customer confidence for example. You're entirely right that its about tapping into the emotions too, I'd never thought of it in that way. But yes. I have been listening to a few interviews of Chip Kidd the book cover designer recently and when you think of book design that's a huge factor. What makes you pick up a book? What interests you (the hook)? The cover doesn't tell the story but it leads you into picking it up by conveying an emotion.

    Inspiring article, thanks.

  22. Tammy (Eric's Cousin!) says:


    Great post and website. It's different and catches my eye!

    Here's a view from the client's perspective...

    As a Business Manager who has created, implemented, and commissioned advertising and web-site design, I agree with Eric. Your clients are looking for price but they want to know how you are different. As clients, we want to know how you will make and treat us differently. When seeking new vendors I currently shop for price, but I shop for RELATIONSHIP first and foremost. Clients want and need your support from your outstanding business relationship with them. They don't want to be left out in the cold once they have your product/finished project.

    In this economy, it's especially my job to cut expenses. However, some of the 'economic' options I have right now could potentially reduce our performance. Therefore, I value existing and potential vendor RELATIONSHIPS more. When clients and vendors (graphic artists) have a strong business relationship, the client often values the relationship over price.

    Your clients are not just committing to your service, they are committing to you. Having a good relationship with them will keep them returning to you and recommending you and your services to their colleagues.

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  25. Craig says:

    Excellent post! Thanks for putting this out there. This is an ongoing struggle for many creatives selling their talents and services. I count agree more with all you have said.

    My question(s) to you and others on this topic is;
    What do you say to the client if/when they attempt to quantify your response of emotional theory? What I mean is that if a client asks how you intend to guarantee your theory of 'how other will feel', do you suggest that nothing is for certain? you state your track record with other brands/clients?...a combination of these and other things?

    I'm interested in hearing your thoughts and others on these extensions of your post.

    Thanks again for posting this.

  26. Hi Craig,

    Thanks for the comment and question.

    First, I'll respond to the challenge in general.

    There is no clear answer as to how one affects an emotional reaction. We don't just press "Button A" and have "happy" come out the other end. As such, we have to rely more on abductive reasoning (i.e. "We know this, and we know that; therefore, we can postulate that...") to establish a reasonable direction.

    It's not foolproof, and some have better track records than others. In my mind a firm's ability to deliver on such expectations is largely related to how thorough and deliberate their process is.

    As campaign budgets increase there's more room for testing and measurement. That being said, with this kind of work, it's very difficult to get an accurate read on how the audience will respond outside of a controlled environment. “New Coke” is good example of how testing can provide inaccurate results.

    Although the testers preferred it to old/classic Coke, the process was in fact flawed. Taste-tests are based on a quick sampling, not the consumption of the whole can, which is how people actually drink soda. As a result, a smash hit in testing turned out to be a dismal flop. (Malcolm Gladwell talks about this in much greater detail if you're interested in further reading.)

    The point I'm trying to make, is that there are no clear paths here, and all data must be carefully scrutinized.

    …and now, the second part of my response.

    When working with clients on projects, we do rely on our past successes and third-party examples, to help quantify our approach.

    We don't so much "guarantee" a result; instead we work to establish a set of project expectations with the client. It's our duty to meet these goals, and it’s important that we remain focused on the part of the work that we can in fact affect.

    There are some things that remain outside of our control. For example, we could deliver a highly effective strategy, but if the client was unwilling to perhaps remedy a problem with their customer service, our contribution might be obstructed.

    It's all about a dialogue: between our firm and clients, and in-turn between them and their customers. To summarize, I think it’s all about establishing realistic expectations, doing the appropriate legwork, and being open to change if the end-result isn’t what was desired. It’s not easy, but that’s what makes it interesting.

    I hope this helps answer your question. :-)



  27. Hello again and *thanks* for directing me to this post as well! It does address my questions I had re: the F*** Style post :) You're right, it is funny... designs' ability to have a pointed purpose without necessarily revealing its purposiveness....always captivating and ground for thought.

    So your client wanted hear about how his clients would "feel" about his product but your work was actually doing both-- evoking a feeling but also doing something quite specific in terms of harnessing different elements to evoke that reaction.

    Does it bother you when clients want to skim over the "technicalities" (that you labor over!!) .. It's seems to be a kind of intellectual laziness that disturbs me and would seem to me to be dangerous if you're trying to run a successful business.

    Again, thanks so much :) Super thoughts :) Cheers ~ Joanne

  28. Thanks for the comments Joanne,

    I don't really bemoan clients not understanding the details so much. It's simply our job to take care of these points, and that's what they come to us for.

    Similarly, I don't care how my mechanic fixes the family car, just as long as it works again. ;-)



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