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Design
As all designers know, great design doesn’t start with specs, but with the user. How will they interact with their creation? What type of look, feel, emotion, response should the design evoke? While the final products that designers create ultimately become the consumer face of a company, design has always lived its life in middle management, rarely straying into the C-Suite. As all designers have experienced before, when it does finally make it to the executives, decisions are informed by gut versus user data and design leadership (or worse yet every designer’s nightmare, when the CEO says, “My daughter likes red. Can we make it red?” …for a clean water campaign logo). 
 
For the long-suffering design community, validation on what we’ve known all along has come in the form of a McKinsey & Company study into The Business Value Of Design. You can read the whole report here
 
Others have studied the business case for design in the past, but as senior business leaders know, when McKinsey says something, the global titans listen. The authors of the study (Benedict SheppardHugo Sarrazin, Garen Kouyoumjian, and Fabricio Dore) analyzed more than 2 million pieces of financial data. 100,000 design actions – which they describe as focused tests to make design a central pillar of a business – for 300 publicly listed companies over a five-year period. The team uncovered that the companies who believed in design and had embedded design processes and principals generated 32% more revenue and 56% more total returns to shareholders. This was evidenced across three global industries: Consumer Packaged Goods, Banking and MedTech. 
 
The paper consolidates design into four key themes that showed the strongest correlation with financial performance. They are:
1. Analytical leadership
2. Cross-Functional Talent
3. Continuous Iterations
4. User Experience

 

Image courtesy of McKinsey & Company 
 
The companies that focused on each of these themes in unison scored high in the rankings. The businesses that found themselves in the top quarter realized increasing revenues and returns when compared to the bottom three quarters, more amazing yet is that the differences between the bottoms three quarters was negligible. Basically, for design to effect the bottom line, the business must commit and excel across all four themes.
 
Amazingly, over 40% of the companies involved in the study did not talk to their customers at all while developing products and prototypes. Which is really mind blowing considering the time designers spend researching their users, talking to them and understanding how their designs will be utilized. Additionally, a little over 50% of the companies involved admitted that they have no objective way to assess or set targets for the output of their design teams.
 
While I fully agree with the four themes identified, I want to provide some additional colour from the mind of a designer.
 
1. Analytical Leadership:
Lately I’ve noticed a marked increase in design that is based on “looking cool” versus built on a rationale, or quantitative proof and analytical approach of a business. In art college, our professors continuously hammered home that if we couldn’t rationalize our work, then it wasn’t ready to pitch. However they also admitted that designing something great and shoehorning a rationale after was perfectly acceptable when presenting to clients. I feel they have been doing the design community a major disservice with this advice.
 
As we’ve all heard, and what EVERY senior executive knows, “what gets measured gets done“. I truly hope that the voice of McKinsey starts to move the metrics that matter in the C-Suite from being shareholder-centric to more user-centric. For design to flourish, the C-Suite requires a more balanced combination of bold and humble, analytical and creative, empathic, explorative and methodological people. It requires a leadership team that is appreciative of all these differences and knows how to leverage them.
 
2. Cross-Functional Talent (and Collaboration):
Collaboration with the many stakeholders within and around client organizations is fundamental to a successful design approach. I couldn’t be happier to see that the team at McKinsey, their readers, clients and the hundreds of business leaders who filled out their questionnaire, recognize this as well.
 
Cross-functional collaboration is growth, cross-functional collaboration with a shared user-centric vision and integrated design methodology is hockeystick growth.
 
3. Continuous Iterations:
Incredibly, McKinsey discovered that over 40% of companies don’t involve customers in the early stages of development (I really can’t let this one go, it’s so baffling). Clearly, these companies are missing out in a major way. It actually slows down product development, increases revisions and misses early opportunities for identifying the right solution for unmet customer needs. We all know of startups that failed because the focused on what they want versus what the user wants.


The authors also turn their focus to the Lean Startup methodology which emphasizes that companies, “invest their time into iteratively building products or services to meet the needs of early customers, they can reduce the market risks and sidestep the need for large amounts of initial project funding and expensive product launches and failures.

 
In my experience, many startup businesses struggle with the tsunami of ideas generated in brainstorm sessions. The issue is: people are working hard to do a lot of right things fast, but fail to understand and align on what are the right things to work on.
 
4. User Experience:
As designers, we have a passion for tinkering with our tools, playing in our minds and our particular methods of production. Just like designers, companies are proud of what they produce and do, and these are all good things. What happens though is that we both lose sight of the user while we play with our tools and products. As such, the focus needs to shift toward the user experience across channels and vertical. However a focus on the user experience alone will not create impact.
 
The user is a person, one of many who will interact with your piece. They are a human, a customer who over the lifecycle of your product is as much a co-creator of value as you are when designing it. When all these perspectives come together, the complete saturated picture comes into focus. It is at this point where the full idea of the user is ready for its place in the light, informing strategy, vision, implementation and delivery of value.
 
Ultimately, user-centric design is this: If you’re focusing on designing for looks only – the superficial – then you are approaching it incorrectly, and your design will fail to realize its full potential.
 
Wrapping It All Up:
At the end of the day, McKinsey does the design community a huge favor with this research. Demand for design will increase with the promise of a positive impact on the way people live and work, and the accompanying competitive edge and growth that companies strive for.
 
I’m excited to see how companies digest this data and hope to start seeing more Jony Ive’s popping up at SMEs, Fortune 500 and startups alike. Apple (and Jony) really helped pave the way, but so many companies were afraid to take the leap as so much of Apple’s winning design was attributed to Saint Jobs. With real data on how design can drive business, there’s no excuse for companies to overlook its fundamental place in the C-Suite any longer.
 

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Design
We’ve all had that client. The one with a huge, last minute, complicated project and then try to play the role of ‘worst client ever’. They do things like neglecting to answer their phone or email, love to change their minds about details in the brief, all the while demanding that you do the impossible in a matter of minutes. Of course, they forgot to mention they expect you to do these things free of charge.
 
Clients like these are ubiquitous in the world of freelancing. Most freelancers will work with at least one crazy client at some point in their career. They’re the fun vampires, sucking the joy and creativity out of a job that can leave you wondering why you didn’t go to law school or go work in a bank.
 
However, to keep the lights on, you need to listen and work with your clients. Here are some tips to keep projects on track, and some sanity in your mind.
 
1. You Are Clear About Out-of-Scope Work
There’s an easy way you can mitigate the problems caused by bad communication in a project. One of the most frequent complaints have to do with time. Designers rightfully take issue with their clients expecting them to be time wizards, completing an impossible amount of work in the space of a day, or hours that they don’t want to pay for the extra time.
 
So, what do you do? In your project contract (there should always be a contract between you and the client), include a clause which breaks down your expected compensation in the event of a rush job or any overtime work. Better yet, include a line on your rate card highlighting rush job pricing, this way there is no ambiguity on what the price is for rush jobs.
 
Make it very clear to them what they’re asking for and how difficult it is to accomplish, when they want you to redo the web page layout of the site to a two-column layout from a three-column layout, for example. If you’d rather not be stuck doing revision after revision, include a set number that you’ll allow each client to have.
 
Be specific about the project’s deliverables and outcomes, and protect yourself by having solid terms and conditions agreed to in the event of out-of-scope work arises. When the guidelines and parameters for what you will and won’t do are set in stone, it does wonders for your peace of mind.
 
2. Your Quote Contains A Contract
If your quotes don’t currently contain a contract, don’t take on another job without one. You can find free quote and contract templates all over the Web that cover a wide scope of freelancing needs. Here’s a good starting point from LawDepot that you can use for free.
 
The best solution, however, is to simply consult with a contract attorney and let them draft your company’s business contracts. If you’re intimidated at the thought of going to a lawyer, don’t be. I promise you, it’s not nearly as scary (or expensive) as being faced with a mountain of revisions from a client who isn’t legally obligated to pay you for your extra hard work. You can find great lawyers that know small business by searching Click Lawyer.
 
3. You Win The Presentation
Give the client what they’re asking for (for the most part). You’d be surprised by how much clients will allow you to get away with creatively, as long as you’re able to sell and rationalize it to them. The key is how you present your work and your ideas.
 
A mediocre idea that is presented well can outperform a great idea that’s presented poorly. So naturally, a great idea that’s presented well is the winning combination. Spend a few minutes to get inside your client’s head. Talk to them, listen carefully, figure out exactly how you need to package your ideas so that they will choose the option that’s best for their needs.
 
Do your research and present your case clearly. Support your design decisions with data. You could, for example, use usability research results to back up your choices. Yes, this takes a bit of extra effort, but it’s almost always worth it.
 
4. Your Portfolio Represents Your Business
You want to make sure that every single piece of work in your portfolio is tailored to the needs of your ideal client. This helps to make sure that you work with client’s who best match your work, acting as a sort of filter against clients that you might not be the best idea.
 
If you’re trying to attract small businesses or startup companies as opposed to Fortune 500 companies, build a portfolio that is attractive and focused on the needs and wants of these businesses. If you work well with a high-end client, you’ll need to adjust your portfolio so caters to this market. If you don’t have any work that represents the market you’re looking to attract, then take the time to create some fun spec work that showcases your ability to work within that market.
 
5. You are an Educator
Another important hat for designers to wear is that of the educator. We’ve all heard of the clueless design client who has no idea how to download an email attachment, much less understand the ins and outs of what’s required to complete their project.
 
I’ve found that having patience with people and taking care to explain in detail what is expected from them has helped me avoid quite a few catastrophes in the past.
 
If you struggle with being able to communicate difficult concepts to your clients, consider making overview presentations and inviting your client to join you for a lunch and learn. This not only helps build trust between the two of you, but it allows the client to have a no-pressure atmosphere to ask questions without distractions to learn about the creative process, your role as a designer and their role as the client. This is also a great opportunity to teach them about the importance of the brief and how the two of you can work together to define the scope before jumping into a new project.
 
Being able to communicate clearly can help defuse a situation that might otherwise get out of hand and end in frustration for both you and the client.
 
6. You are the Underdog
Here’s a personal antidote from my days as an in-house designer. I’m one of those people who can produce a large amount of quality work in a relatively short amount of time. Because of this tendency, I’ve found that freelancing suits me far better than in-house work.
 
Why?
 
Firstly, it allows me to have near complete control of my own time. I’m no longer chained to a desk, droning away with lame busy work that has nothing to do with anything creative – or more accurately, looking busy to burn the hours when there’s nothing to do.
 
Secondly, and more importantly, it allows me to keep my speed and creative process a carefully-guarded secret.
 
When you produce a lot of work in a short amount of time, you tend to assume you’ll be rewarded handsomely for it. Unfortunately, most people figure out pretty quickly that that’s almost never what actually happens. Most likely, you’ll just be loaded down with more work. Once people find out how fast you are, they’ll get spoiled and will start expecting the same level of output from you in the future.
 
As many designers can confirm, it’s almost never the actual work that takes the most time. You’re a designer – you know what you’re doing and how to use your tools. The biggest time drain is usually getting the client to be on the same page as you are in terms of the idea.
 
As a Creative Director friend likes to say, “When a client asks how long it took to come up with the idea I like to say ten years and five minutes. Ten years to gain the experience to learn how to create quickly”. 
 
If you’re a freelancer, my crazy suggestion to you would be to slow down. Not “slacker” slow, but try not to let your clients in on your amazing superpowers. Impress your clients by under-promising and over-delivering.



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Design, Startup
We’ve all dealt with difficult clients — every studio has them. You know the one, the client who frustrates you to no end, who seems to have no respect for your craft/business, monopolizes your time and makes continuous unreasonable demands.
 
Sometimes you might have more than one, and you probably spend your weekends in the studio putting out their fires. It’s the classic 80:20 principle; you spend 80% of your resources on 20% of your clients. Which makes the remaining clients seem like the greatest ever (and they usually are!).
 
 
Two things are important to understand before jumping in:
  1. If 20% of your clients take 80% of your time, your revenues will not keep up, and your resources will become depleted when they’re not focusing on the right clients who are keeping the lights on. This post isn’t for you; you need to focus on finding new clients!
     
  2. If the painful clients are also your top revenue drivers, the tips below should help you identify and manage them more effectively.
 
 
The, “I Don’t Know What I Want” Client
Characteristics: Says one thing on a call, something completely different in a meeting, and totally different over email. They’re all over the place!
Management: Get everything in writing at the start – like a detailed project brief – and reject any major change of scope after the fact if it is not negotiated, quoted and signed off before starting.


The, “I Thought This Was Included” Client
Characteristics: They insist on getting a little more out of the scope of work, but don’t want to pay an hourly cost. The scope is always expanding without compensation.
Management: Agree to any additional out of scope work, as long as it is billed by the hour. Even better is to quote the additions and take an additional retainer on it.
 
 
The, “I Need This Done Yesterday” Client
Characteristics: Our work looks simple, so it doesn’t take long. If they have the idea, the work is 90% complete.
Management: Don’t sugar coat it – if they expect the impossible it’s your job to educate them on the realities of the job.
 
 
The, “Everything Is An Emergency” Client
Characteristics: They believe that you don’t have any other clients, meetings or a life, so they deserve 100% of your time and attention.
Management: Similar to the, “I Need This Done Yesterday” Client, stand firm and establish clear timelines for the project that you both agree upon. Employing a project management system that has client updates (such as Asana or Monday) allows them to see where progress is without getting in your hair.
 
 
The, “I Don’t Care, Do What You Like” Client
Characteristics: Total hands-off approach – you’re the designer so make something ‘cool’.
Management: This is your chance to have some fun. Chances are you were hired by referral, or from your portfolio so they know what you can do and want something unique. However, that is not a license to go wild, establish your milestones and always get client approval at critical steps along the way so you’re not left with a beautiful product that you need to start over (and won’t be able to bill for).
 
 
The, “I Don’t Know What I Want, But It Isn’t This” Client
Characteristics: This client may not know what they want, but theyreallyknow what they don’t want. They’re evasive in meetings and send back one sentence briefs.
Management: This one is a major flag before starting anything. If it’s not a big account, consider finding another client as the potential for wasted time, headache and frustration is massive.
 
 
The, “Will This Cost Extra?” Client
Characteristics: Probably an accountant lol. The penny pinching, deal-making, client is looking at one thing only, the cost. They worry about every element in the quote and turn white when the discussion turns to hourly billed revisions that fall outside of the two rounds included in the quote.
Management: This is where your quoting and scoping abilities come out strong. Agree on the scope and quote before the retainer is paid (which you’re doing anyway, right?) and if they can’t pay for any additional revisions outside of the scope, then the project is finished at that point. As long as the understanding is established and written out in advance, you should be okay.
 
 
The, “I Work On Weekends, You Should Too” Client
Characteristics: You’re receiving emails at 4:30am, daily. Meetings are asked for outside business hours, calls come in to review the work on Saturday morning.
Management: Don’t be afraid to say NO! If what they’re asking for is pulling you away from your life, or other clients, let them know that they cannot monopolize your time.
 
 
The, “My Cat Likes This Colour” Client
Characteristics: They have a habit of latching onto one small thing; colour, font, word and then use it to drive the project well outside of the plan or slam the breaks until the minor issue can meet their satisfaction.
Management: Don’t ask what their cat’s favourite colour is. Ask questions that lead them to discovering what they want to accomplish from this project. This is your chance to showcase your expertise by recommending options to achieve their goals.
 
 
The, “I Thought This Would Take Five Minutes” Client
Characteristics: They’re the greatest at everything and they can do your job much faster than you, they’re just too busy/important to do it themselves.
Management: Wow, they are way, way to detached from reality. You’ll need to become an educator here, taking less than five minutes to explain why their request won’t take five minutes, but more like five days. Then launch into your milestone and timeline planning, getting sign off on the timeline so you can hold them to it.
 
 
The “Design By Committee” Client
Characteristics: Usually found in large/enterprise level corporations. Your point of contact is just one of the many heads at the table, and might not even be a stakeholder in the project. Everything is done via committee, from colours, images down to line breaks and words. They usually get caught up in irrelevant issues while missing the big picture.
Management: Force agreement! Really, you’ll need to herd them towards decisions and approvals. Use your one point of contact as your ally, getting them on board with your work and plans so bringing everyone together is an easier process. If you don’t have one point of contact and have to work with the committee, do whatever you can to get them to decide on one point of contact. And as always, remind them you bill by the hour.
 
 
The, “I Love It, But We Need Something Completely Different” Client
Characteristics: Seems like a dream client, until the final product is delivered. Then they want you to go in a completely different direction (whether it’s their fault or not).
Management: Make it clear, right out of the gate, that additional costs WILL apply to major changes that fall outside of the scope of work, that you’ll happily quote on the change and that revisions will be billed by the hour.
 
 
With all clients, best practices are to get a detailed brief in writing, defined timeline with major milestones established, approved quote with two rounds of revisions included in the cost, understanding that additional revisions will be billed hourly and then client sign-off on all of the above. Then get your 50% retainer paid up front and kick off the project!
 
 
Lastly, with all the above problem clients, you have the option of saying ’no’, and/or terminating the relationship. No client is worth damage to your mental health, so take care of yourself and your clients will continue to see you deliver successful products.

Here are 6 tips for effectively dealing with client demands.


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Design
In an era of consolidating type foundry’s, digital design and Google Fonts, we’re seeing eroding emphasis on the importance of type. More and more, design is taking a ‘good enough’ approach versus taking the time to craft graphical arts, and the first casualty is type. Now I’ll admit, type was never my favorite as a junior designer – it’s complex, there are hundreds of thousands of typefaces, it requires patience and skill to really typeset. As my career evolved, type became my favorite element, because it is hard, and choosing the right type for the right job helped elevate my art direction into new heights of style and quality. 

Type is where the viewer’s eyes immediately go to on a design. It is the information that they want to know and look to learn. With the wrong type, your message can be thrown off. Just like the lack of emotion, tone emphasis, intonation, etc… in text messages, the wrong type can send the wrong message in a design. 

For example:

The right type makes the message. 

With Google Fonts consolidating the selection of type, and designers choosing to stick with what is known versus experimenting with type, we might see a future where Lato, Roboto, Raleway and Oswald are the only typefaces we need. As creative leaders, let’s not let that happen, let’s remember why type matters and give it it’s time to shine in all of our work.



Want to learn more about how your company can benefit from an experienced creative professional? Click below to set up your 30-minute consultation. We’ll sit down and work through your branding, marketing, or creative materials to find where you need some work, and offer our suggestions.

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