Designing solutions should be a straightforward job, whether it’s a logo, website, video or some other material. We design solutions with the goal of enhancing the perceived value of a product or service in order to increase brand affinity, which can be measured relatively simply. What I have found to be “interesting” is how the solutions have actually been measured. Creative outputs tend to be measured by a very personal standard called beauty.
How often have you heard a client say they want to look like Apple? Or just “make it beautiful.” Unfortunately, beauty has a nasty habit of shifting, making planning and measurement a little more difficult, to say the least. This has left me wanting a more firm foundation for developing creative recommendations. As such, I’ve found myself recalibrating my approach.
Step one is to forget about beauty. In fact, forget about outputs completely and start trying to better understand the how and why of the inputs. This makes research and analytics invaluable. What are the core benefits of the product or service? What’s the brand promise, the inherent value of the product or service to its audience, not to mention its status relative to competitors?
When you can answer these questions, developing a design language that is honest to the brand becomes so much simpler. As a result, you can develop solutions across multiple channels that are true to the brand, respect each platform ecosystem and feel authentic to the audience inhabiting the ecosystem.
Designing for Preferred Outcomes
I think of this recalibrated approach as designing preferred outcomes, for specific target audiences — which is a more measured approach to design thinking. Designing for preferred outcomes doesn’t mean every output has to meet a subjective standard of beauty or go viral. The intent is to create long-term engagement with a brand — be it more comments and shares on a social platform, better survey results or product reviews, improved customer in-store experience or more employee satisfaction — to create a nudge that shifts the target audience’s trajectory down a particular path.
In order to achieve preferred outcomes, a brand must communicate authentically. But if we are being honest, true authenticity is not a state in which we (clients and agencies) easily find ourselves. Authenticity means looking at a brand’s attributes in an unfiltered and unbiased way. It is not easy, and it certainly isn’t comfortable.
For account leads, this means having uncomfortable conversations with your client. Ask about the product quality. Ask about the customer experience. As the first step, focus on the inputs, not the perceived level of creative ‘pop’ in the outputs.
We Can’t All Be Apple
When you talk with a client that “wants to look like Apple,” it’s important to question what that means. What that really means. Is the client willing to invest the time, money, people and energy into developing the product or service, in order to meet that standard? Are they willing to then invest the same amount of effort into the marketing of the product or service? Do they have the interest to maintain that brand promise before, during and after the purchase?
If the answer is no, don’t lose heart. Identifying these truths takes courage in the form of honest conversations — with your team, your client and yourself. There is a quote that I love from Timothy Ferris that strikes at the heart of this:
“A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.”
Until you are willing to have those uncomfortable conversations, you are not able to design solutions that can lead to meaningful, measurable business outcomes. In fact, without these uncomfortable conversations, you are designing solutions in the dark and the gap between the “beautiful” design the client asks for and outcomes they’re really looking for only seems to widen.