Monday, August 22, 2011

Working at Ground Zero:

How to educate clients who are new to buying design
Last week, Faithful Reader Ellen Emmerich shared this post:
“There are clients who truly understand the value of great design. They've learned on the job working with designers and other creative professionals. Unfortunately, there are less and less of these well-trained and sophisticated clients whose job description usually includes the word "marketing" . . . Then there's the client who's maybe a small business owner or an entrepreneur. What fun it is to work with them when they're closely invested in the collaboration. On the flip side, they may have no experience with buying design  . . . It is up to the design community to educate them. Easier said than done.”
Too true.  I work in a very small market area, and I often get inquiries from people who are not only new to buying design, but also new to being in business, with only a vague idea of how to market their companies. Since I don't consider ignorance a punishable offense, I have come up with ways to find out what they need and explain it in simple terms.
The key is to put the emphasis on what they need as an outcome, not on what you offer. Leading with a list of your services will mean nothing because inexperienced clients have little way of knowing what they need. A litany of strange terms will only induce confusion. And as we all know, confused people don’t buy. So our job is to understand their goals, and then explain what they need to get there.
There are a couple of ways to approach this. If they are truly new to doing business, the initial meeting should be face-to-face. They will likely be at sea as to what they need, even if they say they want a specific product like a web site or a brochure. Instead of saying, “OK, one web site coming up,” ask what they expect that product to do for them. Explain that web sites and logos are marketing tools and that they should expect these tools to deliver certain results. Using  their business as an analogy is helpful: if the new client was a builder, you could say, “I could sell you a great band saw, but if what you really need is a miter saw, the band saw will do you no good. We need to figure out which tools will best serve you.” They will usually get it.
They also need to identify their customer. Often clients will say the equivalent of “anyone with money,” but it’s crucial for them to dig deeper. This is where you explain that you need this information to craft the best possible marketing tools. Using the builder analogy, if they want to build garages, they should not be trying to sell to people who only ride bicycles. Clarity about who will buy from them will help you create tools that deliver the outcome they want. This may sound simplistic, but when your client is new to business, explanations need to be clear, non-patronizing and in the context of his/her business.
The other way to deal with educating clients about design is an online approach. On my site I have three pdf downloads on the Process page. These help qualify people who have a higher level of needs awareness, but little or no idea of what it will take to create the tools they need. When I get a call from new prospects asking for a logo, I have them download the logo process pdf. It has three parts: the purpose of a logo, the process for creating one and a list of questions that the client needs to complete in order for us to proceed on its development. It is bit shorter than two pages and written in clear language.
This pdf accomplishes several things: it defines the nature and use of the logo as a business tool, it explains what it takes to develop one and what role the client plays, and it starts the process by asking several strategic questions. By the time clients have gone through it, they have started to answer some of the questions and are well on the road to engaging my services. It lessens the possibility of inaccurate assumptions about the logo’s use, its importance to the client’s business goals and what it will take to create a successful design. It also helps in justifying my fee and in making clear the client’s role in design development.
I have similar pdfs for web sites and for brochures. I developed these over time through experience, both my own and others’. Feel free to use them and adjust/rewrite as needed. In this economic climate, client education is more crucial than ever and can be the deciding factor as to whether the project goes forward, so I hope you will share your own approaches.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Crowdsourcing Redux

Thanks to all who commented on last week’s post about my excellent crowdsourcing adventure. The majority of you thought my response to my client was right on, but there was a vocal minority who seemed to think the issue was about me being allergic to competition, and a couple saw fit to lecture about the free market. Such as Anonymous: So you're upset that people who bid lower prices usually (but not always) win the gig? Competitive pricing - imagine that. There are designers out there, some just as capable as your kind self, who see design as a business and are willing to treat it as such. Free markets and all that. “
Sigh. Another person who doesn’t get the difference between price and value. If the highest expression of the free market was price, we’d all be living in refrigerator boxes. The most insidious aspect of crowdsourcing design is the assumption that all little graphic doodads are created equal, especially in their ability to support clients’ businesses and help them become successful.
It is not the responsibility of clients (or crowdsourcing sites, for that matter) to somehow magically know the true value of design. Crowdsourcing has been able to make inroads because we as a profession have not done an adequate job of making our value clear. Rants about how “unfair” logo mills are only underscores what can present as an entitlement attitude: “I’m a great designer so you owe me (respect, awe, a job, lots of money, etc.).”
As a business person, I have to say that if someone tried to sell me software using that rationale, they’d be shown the door. If I’m going to spend several thousand dollars on something for my business, I need some assurance that this investment is going to pay off. The beauty of the free market is choice, and if I want to be chosen, I have to respect my clients’ choices by explaining why they should hire me.
A responder named Vitaminizer said, “A good client knows the value design brings to business, appreciates good design, knows the price . . . It's our job to attract them and work with them. We shouldn't be surprised that there are clients out there who want everything for $5. We also shouldn't waste time explaining that, to put it in a different design context, Old Navy clothes are bad quality. Instead of educating we should spend time marketing our services to businesses that appreciate the value of design.” (My bold.) So Vitaminizer, tell me this: since clients start out knowing as much about design as you might know about quantum physics, where will they learn all that stuff? And if they don’t know it, how can we successfully market to them? What basis do they have to understand our value to them?
I think that for designers, client education and marketing design have to be synonymous. As Marcelo Alvarez Bravo commented, “The big problem of the perceived quality and value has to do with the education of customers and also the inexperience of the designers to argue correctly.”  I would add that in addition to those two aspects, it also has to do with the disinclination of many designers to bother explaining their worth. We need to get over ourselves.
Crowdsourcing has made inroads into the design profession partly because we let it. The push-back has to include the ability to explain clearly (and with no jargon) what design brings to the success of any organization. And no one is going to do that for us.
PS to Anonymous in Joplin:  You are perfectly right, and your dilemma is a sad one. Some version of it will happen to most of us soon, if it hasn’t already. I had my own scares in July. One of the responders seemed to have a partial solution.  Shewchuk said, “There are many more crowdsourcing platforms out there that vet their community (via portfolio review) and actually pay the hand-picked crew to participate in a design project that best fits their skill set and talent. The final solutions are guided by creative directors and the winning creative output earns a premium . . .” So Shewchuk, can you share the links to those sites? They don’t sound like they crowdsource if they are picky about to whom they assign work.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Crowdsourcing in My Face

I recently had an experience that brought home the crowdsourcing nightmare currently infecting the design world. For those unfamiliar with this plague, crowdsourcing design is where you go to a site advertising logos or web sites for ridiculously low prices by setting up a “bidding” or “contest” situation. It’s the latest form of working on spec, something no self-respecting designer does. A client who had hired me to create a logo stumbled on a crowdsourcing site and sent a very unhappy email. I have been asked to share the experience on my blog. It’s going to be long - sorry. Here's a shortened version of the initial email, abridged to protect the client’s privacy:
Sorry that I haven't gotten back to you sooner. I'm in quite the conundrum over this and have been trying to settle on a solution . . . Within a few weeks after we began the logo process, I stumbled upon (crowdsourcing site) and thought it a great opportunity to give (another) logo a whirl to see what they came up with. I guaranteed the contest, wrote the creative brief and within one week received 47 logo designs based upon my brief, ten of which were so great that it made it nearly impossible to pick the best! For $200, I received a package of 17 different variations on the design I selected in every conceivable format. During the contest, they contacted me to talk about my product and I asked them how they were making a living at these prices, given what I was paying for the [original that LBD did) logo. The exec told me that for $2500 in this economy, I should have received both companies’ logos, all their marketing materials, plus two fully designed separate websites which included blogs, a shopping cart and SEO optimization. In fact, in the end they did end up doing all of this but the [original LBD] logo for $1800 and I am thrilled with their work and attention to my needs and damn it, why didn't I know this before?
So I am going to sit down and sort this out over the weekend . . . Once I do, I will send you the remaining balance of what I owe you. I made a commitment to you and intend to follow it through, but had this been my business, damn, I clearly would want to know this was happening.
- The client
Here is my response:
I am very sorry about your dissatisfaction with our work on your (original) logo. Because of your experience with (crowdsourcing site), you sound as though you feel that you paid too much for it.
(Crowdsourcing site) is a design crowdsourcing site, of which there are many. They broker hundreds of design projects and their process is fairly typical. Customers post projects and designers bid on them. Usually (but not always) the lowest price wins.
They make money by treating the profession of design as a commodity. It’s a volume game – if they post enough jobs, the little they make from each one adds up. This is possible because the designers who created your other 46 designs and whose work wasn’t chosen received nothing for their efforts. That happens far more often than getting an award . . . and is why crowdsourcing is considered by many to be exploitative.
A consequence of crowdsourcing is that quality suffers, not only in the final logo but in the thought that goes into it. If a designer’s odds of making any money is fairly low, there is little incentive to put much craft and originality into the entries. It becomes a numbers game for the designer, too – many keep folders of different kinds of logos and use them repeatedly, changing small aspects to refresh the work. Some users will even scrape design content from the web, change a color or a font, and put it up as an entry. There have been an increasing number of copyright infringements due to logos from crowdsourcing sites that were knock-offs of other people’s logos. (Crowdsourcing site), in their Terms and Conditions, makes it very clear that they have no responsibility for that occurrence: (3. ORIGINAL DESIGNS AND INFRINGEMENT ON INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS. (Crowdsourcing site) is not responsible for the Content of any Design and has no obligation to screen, edit or review Designs for patent, trademark, service or copyright infringement.
So if someone claims that your design work infringes on theirs, you are on your own, even though (crowdsourcing site) makes a big point of saying that they require their designers to guarantee that their work is original. They have no means of ensuring compliance other than to ban an offending designer from their site.
It also happens that many of the designer participants are from countries like Pakistan and Romania. In those economies, $100 is big money, if they are lucky enough to win, and therefore more of an incentive to take the chance of ending up with nothing. There are good designers in those countries just as anywhere, but their cost of living is a lot lower than here. The reality is that globalization has come to the professions. This isn’t just happening to designers – it is also happening to attorneys, psychologists, and various healthcare providers.
For example: suppose I consulted with you on a medical issue, got some good advice, and then stumbled onto the same advice at I might feel as frustrated as you are now – why did I pay all that money? Here’s why: you spent many years acquiring your degree and decades of experience in delivering quality professional services (as did I). When I get counseling from you, I am working with a known quantity focused solely on me, who brings all her education and experience to bear on my problem. I am dealing with a person who is completely accountable for her work, and the fact that I could have dug up the information on the web is irrelevant. I could just as easily have dug up wrong information, but how would I know?
The other reality is, when any service becomes commoditized, standards inevitably diminish. The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), the top professional organization for designers, posts their stance on crowdsourcing here.
(Client:) The exec told me that for $2500 in this economy, I should have received both companies’ logos, all their marketing materials, plus two fully designed separate websites which included blogs, a shopping cart and SEO optimization.
That sounds a bit self-serving. You would not get those prices from an experienced independent professional, but you would from another crowdsourcing site. If you want to check that out, here is the FAQ page for David Airey, a well-known logo designer. See #1 for his prices.  And here are some other crowdsourcing sites so you can compare your price from (crowdsourcing site): 99designsdesigncrowd, the logo factory.
(Client:) In fact, in the end they did end up doing all of this . . . for $1800 and I am thrilled with their work and attention to my needs and damn it, why didn't I know this before?
Apparently up to now you were unaware of crowdsourcing. If you are thrilled with their work, then it was a good experience for you.
You will need to be the final arbiter of what logo you use, based on your own criteria, preferences and business goals. It is not possible to create a logo that everyone likes, so the most important judge of your logo is you. The one I designed for you is very good and completely unique to the business. We both put a lot of effort and thought into it. You own all rights, you have a complete set of files and you have no copyright fears. The only way you might see it elsewhere is if someone steals the image off the web. It was created using a thorough and professional process, and I believe it will add considerable value to your business.
I appreciate your frankness and I am sorry that you are not happy. I hope I have given you some useful information. I appreciate your integrity in keeping your commitment. Please let me know what you decide to do over the weekend.
Regards, Laurel
Whew! I sent it off with little hope of a happy outcome. Her response, however, was excellent – she got it! An excerpt: “. . . What I find interesting in reading these articles you were so kind to take the time to send is EXACTLY what we are fighting against in (her) profession, similar to what you pointed out. In this economy, many customers are looking for "value" and (practitioners) are constantly operating from a somewhat losing framework in that information is abundant, and a dime a dozen . . . There are good designers crowd sourcing, I'm sure, and then similar to (her) profession, there are A LOT of bad ones.
It is vital that you know that I love your work and this had nothing to do with your quality or the time we've had together on this project. I really needed a further explanation, as you were gracious enough to give me, for what this crap was all about.
Let's get this project done and out of your hair! Can you invoice me this week? Thanks for taking the time to offer me a short course!
Clearly she is a great client. I am grateful that she gave me the opportunity to tell my side of the story. This has taught me that a good way to push back when crowdsourcing rears its ugly head is to make an analogy with the client’s business. No one likes to have their work devalued and their ability to make a reasonable living degraded. It is also clear that this will continue and that it will affect all the professions. I encourage you to craft your own response for the inevitable time when you, too, will find crowdsourcing in your face.