I was reading the website on another company’s website the other day and saw a phrase that struck me initially as a really telling reminder of the world we live in today, as well as how times have changed in regards to business. (Paraphrasing) “In today’s environment, distance is of no consequence as technology makes it possible to conduct business at the speed of light to nearly every corner of the globe“. It went on to talk about the various tools and methods they used to connect themselves to their clients and how they could now consider the entire world to be “in their territory”. I found myself nodding in agreement as I remembered the “old” ways of doing business where a fax machine almost seemed like magic compared to snail mail (which we simply called “mail”). With these new technologies, we didn’t even need to meet directly with our clients anymore because we could video chat, share computer screens, and even run meetings between participants in several different countries simultaneously. The entire world could now indeed be considered to be part of our “territory”.
I stopped myself however as I thought back on our own company history and core values while wondering what this said about us. I reflected on the past 7 years and realized that every single successful project we’ve been a part of started with an actual handshake. It may seem quaint and old-fashioned to talk about these type of values today, but I feel that something has been lost along the way. Video chatting and the other modern tools mentioned previously are wonderful and we use them all them to support our efforts and clients – but they are not a replacement for actual personal relationships and contact.
What do you think?
I had a really interesting meeting a couple of weeks ago with a long-time client that gave my world view (business-wise, at least) a bit of a shake. We’d been discussing some long-term web and branding strategies that were long overdue in my mind. We talked about brand consistency over several different mediums, streamlined UI for the various web properties that owned, and how (to our way of thinking) there were tremendous opportunities ripe for the taking. “How so?” he asked without batting an eye. (In hindsight, this is where the little alarms began going off in my head-I of course ignored them and plowed on ahead)
I spoke of the importance of a focused brand-consistent logo, colors, fonts, etc, etc to more firmly fix the company and product in the public’s eye. (The Coca-Cola logo is a great example as it’s instantly recognizable to a sizable percentage of the world’s population, even if it’s written in ancient Sanskrit) I went on to talk about the importance of providing proper web metrics, how many unique visitors, entrance/exit points, search terms, referrals, SEO, SEM, banner ads, and on and on in reference to the web properties.
“Of course you’d say this” he interjected. “It’s your business. You’re assuming that those things are connected to how much business we do.” His tone made it crystal clear that at that moment, in his eyes I was just a salesman blindly pushing his product with a practiced script. My brain quickly turned this over-of course a focused brand is important, fixing his websites would improve web traffic and streamlining the UI would improve his bottom line, just because it happens to be a part of our business doesn’t mean it’s not true.”
In my enthusiasm I’d forgotten two very important things, the first being that the man on the other side of the table owned 2 (3?) more Ferraris than I did, had been doing this for a long time, and was quite possibly one of the 5 most intelligent people I knew. He had considered all of this before, and I was not the first person to raise these topics with him. The second thing I’d forgotten was my Hume.
David Hume was the 18th century philosopher who was one of the first to point out that what we call “causes” are really strange bits of knowledge. If we do x and y happens, then x is responsible for the change in vector. Hume pointed out that causes are not facts, but a “lively conception produced by habit”. Put another way, we use them as mental shortcuts to make sense of what we experience. Nothing wrong with this as it helps us with all manner of activities and enables us to create some technological marvels. Things start to fall apart when dealing with really complex systems however. “Identical” twins may be genetic duplicates, but they are certainly not duplicate people. Despite billions of dollars in technology and decades of research, a forecasted sunny weekend turns into a blizzard. A sedative that was supposed to help cure morning sickness caused birth defects instead. Couple the reality that “causes” are not facts with a person or entity who’s financial situation is vested in proving their own value and it’s no wonder that this client (who knows his Hume backwards and forwards) was skeptical of my not-so polished claims. (Continued next week in Part 2)
There’s an old joke that asks “what’s the difference between and artist and a designer?” Answer: “Designers get paid for what they do”
In some ways a better (although less pointed) answer might be “art is what you do for yourself and design is what you do for others”. We run across this all the time when evaluating potential Creatives (our term for those folks who can work magic with pixels) and sometimes have to explain the difference to them. How much harder is it to explain the same concept to potential (or existing) clients? True story: We had an existing client that was starting a new non-profit foundation and needed a logo to represent and symbolize its mission. The person in charge had mocked up a busy, unfocused attempt and was looking for input. Our creative director took a few hours to make some rough sketches and put together a rather nice response, pointing out (among many other things) that logos with lots of text typically don’t work well. Blown up to fill a computer screen things might be legible (although no more desirable). Shrunk down to fit on a business card? At best, it might disappear completely. (This one didn’t-there was just a mass of vague haze surrounding the graphical elements) She also put together a small primer on the science (so to speak) of logo creation. A couple of days went by before we received a response from the stakeholder thanking us for our time, but he preferred his logo to any that we had come up with. No skin off our nose, although the last sentence in his email really set us back. “After all, I attended a Photoshop class last year and I don’t think it’s that hard“. Well shoot, if 15 years of experience can be replaced by a single class-we’re going about this all wrong. Heck, I watched an episode of Grey’s Anatomy (not really) last week and feel qualified to pick up a couple of scalpels on the way home from work. I’m not talking major surgery, but I’m pretty confident I perform a relatively minor procedure like remove my cat’s appendix or something. How hard could it be? If I get stuck, there’s always Wikipedia to help me finish things up.
What’s the difference? (And no, my cat doesn’t get a vote) Here’s one partial theory-(please feel free to add your own)
We’ve all been doing “art” since we were 2 years old. Our parents praised our results, put things on the refrigerator with magnets and generally did all they could to build up our fragile self-esteem. We took pottery classes in college and although it wasn’t nearly as easy as it looked on TLC, every once in awhile we’d come up with something that looked pretty good. Would anyone pay us for anything we did? Not the point-we were pleased with what we’d done and that was enough-kind of like our would-be logo designer in the illustration above. With experiences/affirmations like these floating around in our subconscious, is it any wonder we think we can turn out good design work? Isn’t that the part of the problem – not seeing the difference between “art” and “design”?
Look, I think artists are great and am glad we’ve got a world full of ‘em. I just know that I don’t want Georges Seurat designing the website for my legal firm or the business collateral for my mortgage company. Those things are not for my edification, but for existing and future clients. They don’t give a whit about my personal taste, and just want to be able to identify/connect with my specific products and services. Good design does that, as it supports and amplifies what we’re trying to market rather than compete with it-and that’s not something you can learn in a 1 hour Photoshop class…