Understanding the Value of Design

As a graphic designer, we’ll always appreciate well-educated and executed design. We understand how much time goes into choosing the perfect font or why we went with the color palette we did. We see the value in our work and we take pride in what we do. We understand how design can be integrated into the larger picture and we can identify unsuccessful design when we see it.

But, do your prospects / clients see the added value of effective, relevant design verses design lacking personalization? Especially those who are tentative to putting a little extra money forth for a “better product?”
One of the first thoughts that crosses a prospects mind is “how much is this going to cost” and “if I costs too much can I find a cheaper alternative”? As designers, how do we handle and approach this

Hiring a Designer is Like TV Shopping

The above questions come natural to consumers. Take buying a new TV for example; We walk into a store with a price tag made up in our minds what we would like to spend. After we see the TV we like for a certain price, we immediately think “maybe I can find it cheaper somewhere else” or “I could buy a lesser brand a save some money.”

So what makes us choose the better brand over saving a few dollars? Typically, it’s because we see the value of a good product, not to mention that higher priced TVs are usually designed better. ;)

Design Should Reflect the Essence of a Company

I’d like to state that I’ve never felt like I had to “sell” my services, because (1) I believe in effective, well-thought-out design and (2) I see the value/importance of how it can successfully integrate into a business strategy. How do we convey the importance to a client who doesn’t see the value? We educate them…

I recently came across a fantastic article, The Added Value of Design by Rachell Simmons that discusses four principles that will help companies recognize the value of good design in the 21st Century.

“Brands build power through consistency and awareness because contrary to popular belief, people like the familiar and the known of a relationship. Naturally, a desire always exists for the next new thing and there is a pressing need to stay prevalent with current design trends. However, many companies make the mistake of having a multitude of design messages sent out at one time without any coherent connection. Design is a way to carry a brand’s heritage into a new service or product offering while simultaneously presenting a unified message.”

Too many time we see a company whose design collateral doesn’t match up to their services. The disconnection between their design and the services is carried over to their people and customers. When you buy a Samsung or Sony TV, sure you’re spending some extra cash, but you’re getting a sleek design that matches the price tag and more importantly, a price tag that matches the quality of the product.

“Great design can provoke new ways of thinking and feeling, and is often the most potent expression of a brand.”

“In markets where there is a high degree of competitive convergence, the visual impression is often the deciding factor as whether the customer buys your product or service or your competitors. Design can make the difference. Apple’s iMac is a beautiful example of a product that entered an over-saturated market, yet managed to enchant customers and add a whole new dimension to the personality of a PC.”

Unfortunately, there are far fewer companies that don’t see the value of well-executed design, so it is our duty to enlighten them.

“Design is my work. Design is communication. Design is not just features and functions – the essence of design is not on what kind of functions it executes, but instead produces additional value on top of them. At simplest: design is user experience.”

I encourage you to read through the article quoted above, as it provides for great knowledge and clarity of the importance of good design and its role on business’. Great read for both designers and business owners — you can even try passing it along to clients who undervalue design.

How do you express the value of design to your clients or prospects? How do you handle clients that want “cheaper” less effective design? Do you educate them or let them move along?



Discussion and Comments

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  1. Good points, I believe the greatest ‘barrier’ between clients and employing a good designer is ‘education’!

    Most of the people a company delegates to be responsible for employing design services don’t really know what makes a ‘functional’ design.

    And what do you get?

    Aesthetics + price becomes the only factors used into choosing a designer or design!

    Let me not even start on ‘whoever is representing the company’ deciding based on their personal preference instead of what would appeal to their intended audience!

  2. Brian says:

    Mokokoma,
    Great last point you brought up about “companies deciding on a designer based on personal preference instead of what would appeal to their intended audience.” I couldn’t agree with you more. I come across many clients that took one look at my work and said “your work is very corporate” without even knowing who the work was for. It wasn’t until I pointed that out that they had a better understanding how design is tailored to fit the intended audience not the aesthetic likings of a particular person.

  3. Quality post (and header), Brian. Brought up some good points, especially the point that great design can provoke new ways of thinking and feeling.

    So far as expressing my value to clients or prospects, I’m just getting started in this whole business so it’s a bit early to tell how I do what I do with a bare minimum number of examples! However, I can imagine that simply pointing out the value of a well-designed piece of pop culture (i.e. Apple) versus a not-so-well-executed piece of pop culture (drawing a blank at the moment…whoops) and how the subtle differences make all the differences in perspective, appreciation and success.

  4. Joann Sondy says:

    Brian… excellent post. This thesis/theory can be applied to any professional. Doctors, architects, plumbers and many others. There’s a certain “chemistry” in any relationship which can’t be explained. Finding the right “chemistry” for every designer+client relationship is something that happens either right away or develops over time. Keep positioning ourselves as educated, experienced and capable is the foundation for the equation.

    Need to mark this page for a more detailed read later.

  5. Brian says:

    Joann,
    Couldn’t agree with you more. Many of times individuals have this mindset that designers have these “ideas” stored up in their heads and can apply them to each and every occasion. It’s easily to focus on personal choice rather than solving a problem and getting the right results. Thanks for the comment.

  6. [...] Understanding the Value of Design | The Design Cubicle Do you appreciate and understand the value of Design? [...]

  7. Joni Mueller says:

    Very timely article, and with the U.S.’s current economic situation, more web design clients than ever will be sensitive to costs. I too plan to bookmark this.

    @Stuart: In keeping with your computer analogy, what about IBM’s woeful misfire with its PC Jr. in the early 1980s as an example of design/usability failure? ;)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_PCjr

  8. Funnily enough this morning I just finished writing an email to someone who made a logo design enquiry of an alarming nature.

    They asked for me to take a tiny photo they attached, and tidy it up and make it a transparent gif, so they can use it as a logo on their website. Sure enough I could do that by creating a clipping mask round it, but I just needed to tell them that they really should not be doing that at all.

    I spent some time explaining about the need to create a proper brand image for your company and how the photo is;

    1. Copyright protected for a start and cannot be just used as your company brand. Most photographers do not allow their images to be used this way.

    2. Is a photo of a product (looks like an ornament!), and thus the product copyright owner probably wouldn’t allow you to use it as your logo design either.

    3. Is completely impractical as can’t even be printed. It’s a 72dpi image! So explained that you can’t be printing it on your stationery or anything, and whilst you think you don’t need those things now, if you business does well you will definitely want and need printed items.

    It’s scary of epic proportions that I had the need to explain all of this, and I suspect it will fall on deaf ears. Anyone who does not understand these basics of company identity and practical application/use of that company identity I fear may struggle in business.

    I think it’s about the worst example of not valuing design I’ve come across yet.

  9. One thing that helps is if you can show the return on investment (ROI) with business people you have to speak their language. Things like google analytics can help with this on the web end.

  10. Brian says:

    Joni,
    Yes with the economy the way it is currently now is more the time than ever to educate our clients. Perception is reality to most, so having an effective image can do wonders for companies.

    Amanda,
    We all need to educate our clients from time to time. I know it can be frustrating but getting them to see differently is a great feeling in itself. Once they see how good ol effective design can re-image their business they will begin to appreciate it.

    Niki,
    Great point! Seeing is believing for many so yes, showing them statistics is a fantastic way to go about seeing value. Thanks for adding that in.

  11. [...] was reading a post from one of my good friends today about the “value of design“. It got me thinking about how do you truly know when you’re getting the most bang for [...]

  12. i do agree with the TV shopping part. People have an idea in their minds on how much they should spend for design although a lot of people don’t realize that it takes talent and hard work for quality design so the phrase “you get what you pay for” truly applies.

  13. [...] Understanding the Value of Design | The Design Cubicle As a graphic designer, we’ll always appreciate well-educated and executed design. We understand how much time goes into choosing the perfect font or why we went with the color palette we did. We see the value in our work and we take pride in what we do. We understand how design can be integrated into the larger picture and we can identify unsuccessful design when we see it. (tags: marketing design webdesign graphicdesign) [...]

  14. Zach Dunn says:

    This was an issue that I was getting pretty frustrated with the other day while reading the comments Jacob Cass’ article on Web Designer’s Depot (http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2009/01/how-not-to-design-a-logo/).

    Many of the commentators had no real idea what exactly made a valuable design other than “looking good” for cheap. I ended up writing a follow up in defense of the designers: http://buildinternet.com/2009/01/the-real-problems-with-design-contests/

    Good article laying it out!

  15. Brian says:

    Logo Design Guru,
    “How much people want to spend” is a natural consumer response to purchasing a product or service. Why pay more if you don’t have to, UNLESS you are getting a quality product that you believe in and see the value. I’m a firm believer in “you get what you pay for”. It’s is important thought to price accordingly to the quality you provide though.

    Zach,
    I agree with your level of frustration in relation to the comments in Jacob Cass’ ‘How Not to Design a Logo’ post. I felt like many of the commentors were overseeing the issue Jacob was trying to point out… Which was saving a few extra bucks isn’t always worth the true value of design. Great article you posted back as well. Thanks for the comment.

  16. Caleb says:

    I think educating the client is very very important. From personal experience, letting them know the who, what, when, where, and why about design makes them more comfortable. If the client knows that thier design was thought out they are more at easy with paying.

  17. I agree wid all the points you have made here, but few my clients were already having an idea of wht they want… which i thot might give a wrong example to their brand… and even after explaining them my points they said ‘we understand wht u saying is right yet we want wht we have said’. secondly i am a designer in India and mostly handles Indian clients… many ppl have believes of using a particular color in whtever business they do… like… they require 5 dots in a design (additional to whtever i have designed) and there are many such believes. wht should we as a designer do when clients get soooo stubborn? it also gives me a hard time wid my design coz it just goes haywire… thou i try and take these things as a challenge but it always ends up resulting in bad quality design

  18. [...] ideas is a great way to learn and expand our own creativity. More importantly, you understand to value the effort of the design process and appreciate the art of the logo [...]

  19. Lorne Pike says:

    Great post, Brian. I’ve had many clients or prospects tell me that they want a new image or look, but they often at first do not realize the full potential that a new design can offer. Yes, it can revitalize your look and style and maybe even increase the calls coming in. Sometimes though, a drastic redesign can take a company outside its true personality or comfort zone.

    For business purposes, a new design should be developed within an overall strategic approach, so that the market does not have new expectations in performance or customer service that the company is not ready to deliver. A great new design is, well, great, but ultimately a business needs to make sure it has aligned what’s under the hood to match the marketing and design messages.

  20. [...] not because we were both independent workers; we both had extreme passion for what we do and also valued thoughtful, relevant design. Continue reading below for a look into Mike Tittel Photography’s logo design [...]

  21. [...] job is being a salesman. You can be the best designer in the world, but not knowing how to sell or talk about your services will only hold you [...]

  22. Reviews says:

    If a software company invests heavily in R&D and product design. Most of the value added where?

Brian Hoff
About Brian Hoff: Designer, Writer and Speaker

I’m a graphic designer living in Brooklyn, New York who loves creating compelling and useful websites and memorable interactions across the web. When I’m not designing I can be found writing, speaking and occasionally part-time teaching at colleges — all on the subject of design. I started this blog to share my passion and experiences with designers and clients. I'm most active on Twitter; say hello:


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