Pick Two

More than a few years back, Lowell Williams became a partner at Pentagram and came back to his old stomping grounds in Houston to give a presentation about his experiences to the local AIGA chapter.

He opened his presentation with an idea that has since stuck in my mind. How do you decide if you should take on a new project? He had a very simple method.

To take on a new project, it must meet at least two of the following criteria:

Outrageous fees.
Compelling work.
Fun people.

That simple. Now let’s look at the logic.

You cannot have just one. No one is going to give you a bucket full of money and not expect something in return, like maybe doing a little work for them. Nor are there projects lying around on the ground just waiting for someone to bring them to life. And “fun people” are, well, generally called “friends”. So, at a minimum you have to have two.

The fees are straight-forward. If you’re not going to get paid, why bother. Wait a second … if the work is really interesting, there’s a chance to learn or grow, or the finished piece will look great in your book, maybe you’ll want to take the project on. And it the client is a fun and lively group that you’ll want to hang out with after the project wraps … alright, let’s do this! See, his method works.

Another angle: The project is super interesting, a real challenge that will stretch you, but the client is going to be equally challenging. Charge them out the wah-zoo. It’s amazing how a hefty check in your bank account can ease the pain of the 75th round of revisions at 3 o’clock in the morning.

On the flip side, the work isn’t all that interesting but you really like the client, use this as an opportunity to make a little money. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Of course, the Holy Grail is a project meeting all three criteria. In my career, I’ve been fortunate to have had a few such projects. They’re golden: the opportunity to do some amazing work that I am especially proud of, while making some new friends and money along the way.

Mr. Williams is right; a project must meet two points, but in my mind, strive for meeting all three.


A Grumpy Salesperson

I do not make it a habit of speaking ill of former co-workers, bosses or employers. Whenever I have gone on the attack, I’ve only gone after the idea, never the person. With this in mind …

The other day I stumbled on to this quote from Jakob Neilsen:

A bad website is like a grumpy salesperson.

At first, it made me laugh. Then  pause. For more than two years of my life at Schlumberger I worked tirelessly to align the work my MarCom group was doing with the needs of the sales team. Since the downturn, the oil and gas space has been terrible spot to be in, so beyond being altruistic and merely wanting to help the company succeed, there was also a fair amount of self-preservation in the rationale, too.

Schlumberger unfortunately has one of the worst websites on the planet. At one time, it was a treasure trove of information that I routinely consulted in order to learn  more about technologies and techniques for producing hydrocarbons.

The vision was that it would be a sales tool. But in reality, it is a bloated, antiquated, dusty library.

Or as Mr Neilsen puts it, a grumpy salesperson. Someone who knows an awful lot but isn’t particularly good about sharing that knowledge.

I met with one of the lead sales trainers back in 2016 and he told me something that scarred the wee wee out of me. He stated that more than 85% of buying decisions in the B2B space are made prior to contacting a salesperson. Contact being a phone call or a simple click of a button requesting more info. Therefore, the site has to actually work harder to facilitate the buyer’s journey down the sales funnel. (Boy, I love all this jargon.)

To further these thoughts, when your site is a library, it bets the question: When was the last time you bought a book from a library?

Look at a randomly sampled page. The kitchen sink is there, I promise, if you can find it. What on God’s Green Internet would make you want to actually click on any of this noise? Even with years of experience with this site, I still get lost and confused.

That sales funnel is all filled with sticky, goopy stuff. The site actually hinders the buyer’s journey rather than enhancing it.

No longer being in the organization, I am not privy to any plans for the site. My understanding is they are going to relaunch it in January and I wish them well.


The I’s Have It

As this site has been assembled over the years, it has lacked focus.

Although it is a personal website, being that I am one of those people who is strongly defined by their work, it has needed that glue to hold it all together. I’ve been stewing on this for a while and I am finally ready to move forward with a philosophy, a cohesive thought about what I do and what I had to offer the world as a Designer.

I used to think I made logos, ads, movies, websites and other sundry things. That is true. Along with that simplistic view on my work, I have also proclaimed that it’s the act making these things that gets me out of bed every morning — the challenges that keep me interested in the things I do. This has been truly a simplistic way of looking at things and entirely wrong.

So I dove into the deep end. Pulling a Simon Sinek, I asked myself “Why?” over and over again. Much like a scene out of Ant Man and the Wasp, I’ve gone deeper and deeper down inside and found an answer to all those why’s. I was looking for answers that were not about me, why design, and how I can help make the world a little better than before.

Over the past few weeks I have been working in earnest to compile work I’ve created over the years. It now populates this site. Not everything, but numerous pieces that represent this philosophy and shows the world what I actually design:

Identities, Information and Influence.

I’ve looked at a number of other words to describe what I do, but all those words merely describe things. For me, Identities, Information and Influence are not things, rather they are outcomes. These are what I strive for, toil over and pour myself into so that together with my clients we will  make the world a better place.

Not only are Identities, Information and Influence outcomes, this is also a flow. A way of looking at design in total.

Identities are the most basic building block of communication, the starting point to broadcast who you are to the world.

Information design helps people you are trying to reach make better decisions.

Influence is the goal — to encourage change and make it easy to take further action.

This is a simple yet rich view of Design, one which I will continue to explore conceptually within this site and practice with my clients for years to come.


Devaluation of Design

My response to In-House Designers discussion of the week: Devaluation of Design:

We work in a time where the tools of the trade can do as good a job as  it used to take a trained designer to do.

Proving the value of design is tall task as it can be so subjective. What is brilliant to one person is “meh” to another.

Measuring the value can make matters worse. Remember that scene in “Dead Poets Society” where the teacher has the student read the paragraph about how to measure the quality of a poem? Measurement is not the cure-all. There are so many outside factors that affect effectiveness – under certain circumstances even the very best design can be rendered useless.

In Corporate America, volume of work is often viewed as the key indicator for success. But volume does not equate to quality.

I believe…

Consistency is part of the answer – being able to communicate the brand no matter which platform or channel.

Technical excellence – the work should be tight and right every time.

Understand how to communicate to your audience. Most of the time your stakeholders do not know how to do this and this is a huge opportunity to increase the value.


The Seven Most Hated Words in Advertising

Hate is a powerful emotion and should not be bandied about lightly.

You reserve hate for things like Hitler, terrorism or Brussel Sprouts. But you may also reserve the right to hate the following seven words when spoken by your client:

I’ll know it when I see it.

When you are presenting new creative work and at the end of the presentation you hear these seven words spoken in the ensuing discussion, run, don’t walk, and get as far from this client as possible. When these vile words (all of which are innocent enough individually) are strung together when reviewing work, the outcome is almost always deadly.

Generally speaking, “I’ll know it when I see it” means your client has no idea what they are doing, no clear direction and that makes them unwilling to commit to anything. How can they commit to an idea when their decision will make something that has been abstract suddenly become concrete?

The consequences of working once “I’ll know it when I see it” has been put on the table are as follows:

  1. You iterate until the client sees “it”. Which is fine if you are charging by the hour, but if you you are working on a fixed price, you just lost all hope of turning a profit on this project.
  2. You will turn yourself inside out trying to hit the target from every possible angle. This can be a positive thing, right? It is good to stretch yourself, but ultimately no. You have a good many talents, but good telepathy is probably not one of them.
  3. You will second guess yourself to the point of madness. Shattering your confidence in your abilities is disastrous.
  4. If you’ve read previous ramblings I’ve posted, you know how I feel about stress. “I’ll know it when I see it” is very stressful and will rarely give you the opportunity to do your best work.
  5. Since you’re already in the presentation phase of a project, you’ve eaten up a lot of time and now you are going back to the drawing board to start all over again. The potential to get stuck in an endless loop of despair is great.
  6. Odds are good your client will never see “it”. This is frustrating for both you and your client. Frustrated clients are never a good outcome under any circumstance.

Running away is rarely a good option. So how should you handle the situation should the Seven Evil Words be spoken?

  1. Even though these words will sting, keep a clear mind, stay focused and think. What was it about the work that elicited this reaction? Did you miss something? Did you have clear direction to start with? Did you have a proper brief to start from or was it started over a casual phone call? Use this time to educate the client.
  2. Ask questions. Try to tease out an understanding of why your client does not see “it”. This is hard and often times does not bear any fruit, but as a professional creative it is your responsibility to try.
  3. See if you can get the client to latch on to one thing that they do like about what they are seeing. This will give you something you can build on, even if you are starting over.
  4. Go ahead and invest a little more time on the project. Yes, this can be a frustrating option, but devote some time in an effort to keep your client happy. You could land on the right answer. Just don’t overcommit yourself, that’s where the madness comes in.

Years ago I worked at a small boutique design studio. We had taken on a new healthcare client and were in the process of building their brand from scratch. We got them to chose a name fairly quickly but we ran out of luck when it came to the logo.

Historically, when pitching logos we would show a client three designs, each carefully thought out and executed. Having named their business, we had a ton of designs in mind and pushed it out to showing five. We take in the black boards, got some disagreement and lackluster response and were asked to come back with some more designs. Okay, you don’t always hit the mark.

So we went back to the studio and worked up more designs. This time we took in seven designs. Same response. I can see my boss is getting a little testy about this, because we have shown some outstanding choices, but he agrees to go back to the studio to work on a 3rd round.

We go back to the client’s office and spread all 20 designs out on the conference room table. After some hemming and hawing, those seven words that should not be uttered came out of the client’s mouth:

“I’ll know it when I see it.”

What happened next is the stuff of legend. My boss politely says that we have given you much more than you asked for. There are multiple choices that not only solve the problem, but give the new company a strong foundation to build itself upon.

The client asks to see more designs. At that my boss stands up, gently collects all of the designs spread out on the table and calmly replies “I’ll send you my bill” and we leave.

They paid in full.


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