Lessons Learned

In trying to understand the role design can play with differing clients I’ve come to learn that often, designers are their own worst enemy. For a profession obsessed with brand, we seem to fall into the exact trap we advise our clients to stay out of: over-promising and under-delivering.

Just Who Needs an Education

Consistently the design profession waxes on about how we need to educate our clients. We need to help them understand how to harness the raw, unadulterated power of design. We talk-up what the brand can do for them and “educate” them in the ways that design can drive business or more importantly (deceptively) sales. This crash-course usually leaves out some important tid-bits, and to gum things up exponentially, it includes some things that – for those who use things like the truth – should be left out.

So, I find it always helps to give myself a gentle reminder of things I truly need to tell clients. First, design is not the brand. Design is an extension of the brand. It is a tactic of the brand. It is the way the brand communicates itself. And for the love of all that is holy, the logo is not the brand. The brand is a promise and a delivery of that promise. The value of the brand is attached to the value of the promise and it’s delivery. For something so simple, we often forget it.

I should probably give design just a bit more credit than being a tactic. A tactic sounds dirty. Like it’s a bad come-on line at a frat bar. Design lends personality and a voice to your brand and can help amplify a brand. But let's face it, if a client is full of empty promises and lack of delivery, there’s nothing to amplify.

A Single-State Solution
There’s only one real way to go about reinforcing these basic ideas. It’s basically be honest with your clients. Be honest about what your capabilities are. Be honest about what you think is appropriate for the client. Don’t sell them a whole pie, when they only need (or are ready for) a piece. Design is a powerful tool when wielded correctly. It can have laser-like precision and enormous impact on how something is perceived and thought about. But it only works when it’s accurate and the services or products behind the design are relevant and deliver on their promise.

That we need to learn and relearn it says something about human nature I suppose. But we need to take into account that we have to be a little more vigilant in remembering what it is we do as designers. We tell he stories of clients. And we ned to be sure, first and foremost that it’s honest and relevant. Otherwise, you’re just stealing money from your clients.