Defending Great Design

The world of marketing is overrun by the same expected ideas over and over again. The root of the problem isn’t just that the amount of bad designers and difficult clients out there has grown. It stems from the communication and understanding breakdown between clients and designers. We both want great design that is successful and wins business, however our definitions of great design are quite different.

What is Great Design?

Clients might define great design as a solution that gets results. Creatives may define it as a strong creative concept. The truth is that successful design is both and more. Strong design effectively and memorably communicates a solution that connects to the target audience, is backed by strategy and grounded in creativity. Without positive results all the creativity amounts to pure self-indulgence or art, but without creativity design lacks memorability and differentiation damaging longterm success.

The Stronger the Idea, the Harder the Sell

Great design will always require more effort to sell and defend than it will take to execute. Truly differentiated graphic design solutions will almost always scare the shit out of clients. To be successful and differentiated in today’s marketplace means taking risks. Robert Brunner at AIGA Pivot 2011 said it best, “A risk averse strategy is very risky.” Being a leader means doing things that competitors aren’t doing, and that can mean putting your brand at risk. Understand where you’re clients fears are coming from and speak directly to those concerns when you’re presenting an idea.

Bad Ideas Aren’t a Strategy

The rationale behind showing a bad idea, because it will help the client see how effective another idea sounds like a great way to sell a great solution. I’ve been part of presentations in the past that take this approach, and it never works. Nine times out of ten what you presumed was an obviously bad solution becomes the front runner, and then you’re stuck trying to make a bad solution work. Only show your best, defensible solutions to the problem that backs the strategy while connecting to the target audience, and defend those solutions. Don’t fight with clients, but do relate the solution back to the strategy, goals, and audience.

What’s the Problem?

Good ideas only get better through the push and pull of the client/agency relationship, whereas, bad ideas always get worse. Ask for specific feedback on the solution realizing that “I don’t like it” isn’t helpful to building a solution that does works. Discuss the specific problem areas that don’t align with the strategy, or elements that may be disconnected from the target audience. Work to define the problem that you’re trying to solve before diving into possible solutions. Without both the client and the agency understanding the obstacle, it’s likely that the best solution will be lost. Every option you present should be solving the problems you’ve defined together. Just as all designers must have a rationale outside of “it looks good,” clients must be held to the same standards. Never be afraid to ask a client to explain how a specific edit or suggestion is solving the problem. Like and dislike have no place in great design, especially since you or the client aren’t the target audience.

Defining your strategy, goals and target audience can help bridge the distance between the perspectives of great design solutions without compromising effectiveness. Understanding the concerns and learning to address them can be the quickest way to sell effective design. After all, designers aren’t selling solutions, we’re selling the piece of mind that those solutions will work.

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