Are You Thinking of Design Services All Wrong? (part 1)

Common Question: What am I buying when I purchase creative/design services?

Part one of this article tells you what creative services are NOT — and PART TWO explains what quality creative services actually ARE.

Most of the time, business minds distill creative work to the end-product: a video or photography, website, logo, and graphics. That’s an entirely rational way of thinking about it — a business mind considers the product, estimates what it will cost, and then determines if the investment is worth the price tag. It makes sense — not too different than buying a new van for the service fleet, a bigger printer, or better office accommodations, for example.

In that way, designed services feel like a commodity – something bought or sold by the pound, selected by feature, or because it promises dependable service.

Designed services are a commodity. It isn’t true.

Every design choice considers a multitude of factors: the psychology of the marketplace, the underlying communication structures, brand voice, and demographic/psychographic factors. Brand positioning and audience considerations mean that swapping out bits of creative work any random Thursday morning can drastically alter the brand’s trajectory. These considerations mean that the final creative output is anything BUT a commodity.

Design is a unique combination of a hundred small decisions built for a unique client trying to accomplish an extremely specific goal.

It’s all, ultimately, a vanity purchase, right?

That thinking goes like this: a business owner wants to feel better about the company’s presentation. He loves to show off his cool branded ball-caps or custom branded YETI coolers. She wants to look better at the Spring Expo. They buy a batch of creative design hours to make some changes and add some ‘pop-wow’ to their brand. Many business owners feel this way about hiring creative. We hear this kind of thing all the time – twice yesterday afternoon.

It isn’t true. Creative design services aren’t primarily an expense – a cost that may or may not improve the bottom line.

Thoughtful creative should power a brand forward: generate interest, boost sales, and drive revenue goals.

If purchased for vanity reasons, it is much less valuable. And what an expensive vanity purchase! Just go buy a pair of new sunglasses and call it a day. What we build puts money in a business owner’s pockets. That’s a good thing – and we believe successful businesses are inherently good.

Design services: are all arbitrary, subjective, and might not matter as much as the artsy-nerds think?

This belief is so common it might not even need an explanation. Here is what it sounds like: one person’s opinion is as valid as another person’s, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and creative design production is a lot like standing around looking at art on the walls of an art gallery. Everyone sees something they like or don’t like; they might not even be able to communicate what or why. It isn’t true.

Creative design services are not art. Art is self-expression harvested from the deepest parts of the soul – it is almost mystical in its origin, mysterious in its meaning, and divine in its inspiration.

We don’t do art. We make you money.

Instead, we deploy creativity brainpower to accomplish specific goals for our clients in the marketplace. We want our creative talent to be artists in their off-hours because it helps nurture and hone their abilities. It develops their range when they sit down to crack a design problem. But we don’t sell art. Go to Sotheby’s if you want art – oh, and check out Andrew Gifford – one of the best landscape artists on the scene. Stunning. Gifford is an artist. Not us.

We are hard-boiled creative communicators who build expressions of ideas, of concepts, to add value to the companies who trust us.

As to the arbitrary, subjectivity of design — there is some wiggle room in there, I admit it. Brilliant designers disagree all the time. But I am always surprised by how uniform and (often) unanimous design decisions are reached by a diverse and opinionated team. Experienced pros immediately speak in favor of design B over design A, they all say ‘cut it at the 2:08 mark and slow the last transition’ – oh, yes, right – I agree! Much better – consensus across the board.

Some of our creative work is subjective, but most things are not. It’s our job to involve a client in the journey, unpack the secret wishes of their heart, and deliver a product that performs in the marketplace AND for their oh-so-important-bottom line. If the expenditure doesn’t translate to revenue, then it is a wasted expense.

TL;DR synopsis – Creative services aren’t a commodity, a wasteful vanity purchase, or subjective art pieces that burn capital. Creative work moves the needle for businesses because it communicates in profound ways and adds horsepower to a brand’s performance. The real question we should all be asking: how much MORE horsepower can I afford to rev my brand’s engine?

Next week: part two

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