Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

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.

Houston, We Have a Problem

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.

Does Anyone Really Care About Process?

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?

Is it Time to Up Our Game?

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.

This article originally appeared in Applied Arts Magazine.

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