The truth is, us creatives live on the borderline between business and design, and we are given a very special task. Some of us – and I am including myself because I have been in that place before — completely forget to explore the depth of our creative thinking and often let the client take the wheels of the project by asking all sorts of wrong questions. In a form questionnaire (uuuugh).
In order to understand the value of strategy in our process we need to understand the role of Design in the niche we are doing our practices. Then, understanding that, we are able to understand our own personal values (as in, what makes us different and unique as individuals) and how we can connect the industry we will be working in with that growth mindset. That is the first step to being more confident with our decisions, and what kind of people will work best as our partners.
Strategic Design is a partnership business, and that is probably the best upside for our clients.
Understanding that we are not the point, and neither is our client
You are not the point, neither is your client. But how come, if it's our brain, their company and their money? In our eBook, Strat It Up!, we explain that the nature of our job is not to our personal taste, nor our client's, but a data driven, creative contextual decision making process. Uuuugh those ugly words!
Let’s get more practical with that: the nature of strategy is reverse engineering a goal by using data points. Those data points in the case of Design work, can range all the way from market share to testimonials and customer reviews from the business we work with. "Data” is not some science based astronomical information. Data, for us, is just facts that we need to uncover in order to make better decisions, and to help us think creatively within those bounds — you see, not just client preferences, but actually market and client expectations. Your job with Design is to make something work, not to be a people pleaser (sorry if this felt like a slap, it kinda was).
Strategy leaves a broader room for creativity.
Not only because you will know what direct and indirect competitors are doing so your project stands out, but because the limitations are actually invitation for innovation. And they aren’t taste based limitations. How many times have you done a design with one colour or one font only for the client not to like it anymore? What if you had done the whole process with data, showing that certain colour has been overused is best to “turn left” in order to stand out?
The problem: where the value really lies
Your prospect might fill out your 10-field-questionnaire and tell you they like a font this way, if their company was a person it would be like that, and blah blah blah. While those are important questions to manage the conversation with your client, they are far from being the most important. It's not that we don't think the right fonts and colours aren’t important, or that they need a business card. The problem they are trying to solve but cant pinpoint is where the real value of the project lies.
Colours, typography and deliverables are a by product of a well thought-out solution to their problem.
In order to find the value, you need to drop your 10-fields-questionnaire and get face to face. We are in the people business. Sure, I also agree in filtering and all of that and you can do that early on when onboarding someone to your process. Get smarter with your questions, and define what is the problem you are trying to solve.
- Ask them what they are trying to achieve with the project, and what would happen if they didn't do anything.
- Ask what kind of ROI (return of investment) they want to have.
- Ask them what is their best selling service or product (if they are not new in the market).
- Ask what they wish they had going on in their business.
- Ask why they do what they do.
You will need to exercise empathy in order to understand what kind of concerns they have and what problems they are trying to solve within their business, and how your creative work can help bridge that gap.
Strategy is subjective until is contextual
Context matters in strategy more than anything else, and that's why it is so valuable: the context is often what hinders a business owner from achieving their goals, and the fact you can literally "think” it through and solve it using your head and your Design skills is often mind blowing for clients. Once you experience getting a client unstuck, you will understand what I am talking about.
You client's context is a jar. What the?! They are inside a bubble, or a box, or whatever container you may please. They can't see the label outside, and it is up to you to pop it open and give them the clear air they need and want in order to achieve their goals.
The a-ha moments
It's almost like you can hear the lid popping open. PLOP AHA! Yes! "How come I never saw that coming?!”
A-ha moments are those obvious things we miss just because we are stuck within the jar/bubble/box, and we require a shift of perspective in order to get the epiphany. In this case, you are the epiphany. It's important that you, as a strategist and designer, get acquainted with more than the Design world. If you have a lot of hobbies and enjoy reading all sorts of different books, you might find strategy fun to do. Most people never leave the box, and in a business, more often than not, firms never change their way of doing things exactly because they are lying to comfortable within their ways.
Filling the gap
People will pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to achieve something they — or their competition for that matter — have never achieved. And they know that sum is probably a fraction of what they will get in long term, and that's really how a business owner will perceive the strategy and creative work.
You can't sell people what they don’t believe in.
You really can’t. Try selling a Samsung lover an iPhone and let me know how that goes!
In any case, the gap you are filling is what really matters to business owners, the wider the gap, the more valuable your thinking and solutions are. On top of that, you will be attracting different kinds of prospects, with a bigger interest of growing their business and a different mindset towards building that legacy.