The Problem With Order-Taking

March 03, 2017

As a designer, I started out being an order taker. When I hear a designer say “Yes, sounds great, when would you like that by?”, they might as well say “Would you like fries with that?”.

You’re there as a consultant, and you need to position yourself like one. You're not there to take orders. Take a step back and think about what you’re really accomplishing and analyze the customers need. If a client tells you they NEED a brochure, do they need a brand because they’re struggling to communicate with customers? Where does their business break down, and how can they best serve you?

Before you give a project the green light and say “Yes, Sir”, think about these questions. If at any point you don’t have an answer, stop and get that question settled. It will save you and your client a lot of headache and position yourself as an expert.

1.) Do I have a good story to tell? Will this design task really help push forward the brand?

When I ask this question, most business owners or marketing managers freeze. They don’t understand what I mean by a story. They assume it’s how the company was founded, or how much growth they’ve achieved. I mean your customer’s story. What are they thinking, what are their goals, and how will using your product or service help them achieve their goals? What are their challenges you help them overcome?

Branding is understanding what their customers are looking for and how the business communicates with them. Think of a brand guide as a communications guide. Define your audience. Learn how to speak with them. Get out and chat with the people you’re designing for. Their insights, their pain points, and their needs are often not what we think we know.

2.) Do I know how to tell the story?

Brand guides traditionally focus on the basics. Color, logo treatment, textures. But every designer I know goes into the brand guide, takes the CMYK/RGB colors, and never looks back. Is that really serving the business as a document that guides how you communicate? Instead of spending time designing a fluff document, start with a document that describes your client in detail. Take a hard look at your product, and understand how to communicate how your product in a way that helps customers achieve their goals.

If you’re selling, say, a dashboard service to track conversion rate — the details of your dashboard are irrelevant if they won’t read them. The customer has the challenge of not knowing their metrics the way they need to. They’re perhaps struggling to reach quarterly goals and they need advanced tracking to help them get there. Use that information to sell the brand and tug on emotional strings, don’t simply talk about the product features.

Record this information in a document, then build a brand guide around it. Include photography, copywriting (seek help from a copywriter if you need to), colors, stock photography, and even animations. Every touch needs to be consistent or else you risk losing the message in the mayhem.

3.) Will this design task really help push forward the brand?

If what you’re doing won’t help, say “I think this isn’t a good use of my time”. Push back. By designing something that looks nice but has no story to tell, you’re mudding the message you need to talk to your audience. Is the client’s business going to sky-rocket because a PowerPoint they created needs 10 hours from a designer to make it the best it can be? Yes it will look nice, but a business looking sharp does not necessarily convert to numbers. Short-term wins are important, quarter goals need to be hit and growth needs to be felt immediately. But making a PowerPoint with an outdated brand won’t tell your story. Getting a brochure out isn’t necessarily going to help. Work with your client to create a brand that speaks to people, engages with people, and resonates with them. Once that is done, you can work with him/her to prioritize things based on greatest impact. Long-term business growth is not built on impulses. It is built on trust and understanding.

4.) Is the time estimate accurate?

One of the worst things you can do is set unrealistic expectations. Not only will it make your current project difficult and bleed into your personal life, it sets an expectation that your work is not as valuable as you say. Lying about hours, or worse, not completing a project on-deadline, is a death sentence for you and the client. Do yourself a favor and pad your hours, things always take longer than you think.

Don’t only be an order taker and rush into projects. Ask the right questions. Create a good story, a good brand, and educate your client in what design is. It is not production, it is communication.

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