Not everyone is as enamored with design as designers are. I know, I know. Shocking. Whether they explicitly acknowledge it or not, designers tend to deal with this reality in two ways. First, outrage that people should fail to recognize that design is only the foundation of everything in the entire world. Second, a sort of defensive smugness at being a part of an elite club whose members are clever enough to realize that design is the foundation of everything in the entire world, and stuff the sad sacks who don't get it.
However, in order to make their brilliant ideas a reality, designers have to deal with those non-club-belonging sad sacks. More often than not, those clients are not design-savvy honorary club member CEOs such as Steve Jobs. But there are ways for designers to make their mark on the business world, and in doing so to see their work make an impact. Here are some dos and don'ts for designers dealing with business.
Don't Assume the Client is an Idiot
One of the most commonly used phrases in the design world: "the client didn't get it." And yes, of course, some clients genuinely don't and never will. But think long and hard before laying the blame for a poorly executed project at the feet of the non-designer. A critical part of the designer's job is to explain why something has to be done a certain way. If you can't convince the client, who chooses to go another, disastrous route, that's not actually his or her fault. It's yours.
Do Understand the Importance of the Bottom Line
Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, writes compellingly about the need for executives and designers to learn a different language. For designers, this means learning about the matters closest to an executive's heart: the bottom line. If you can show that you are not only mindful of the reality of business, but that you can speak its language too, you make yourself a partner, not a liability. Creativity and fiscal responsibility do not have to be mutually exclusive. Being pragmatic is not a sin.
Don't Forget to Write
Yes, it should speak for itself, but your beautiful, shiny object or image is not enough. You need to be able to articulate its brilliance, too. At the recent IDEA judging, the jury spent way too much time scratching their heads trying to interpret just what a design was for or why it was any good. That's a sorry state of affairs. Learn how to describe the essence of your design in simple terms. Avoid jargon or designer-speak. Clients will appreciate your clarity and be more willing to do things your way.
Do Remember that Business is a Team Sport
For the most part, the days of the hero designer are over. Business is complex and fast-moving, and designers need to make themselves an integral part of a collaborative process. That means being flexible and able to adapt as well as able to work with many partners from all over the world. Embrace this reality and integrate yourself into as much of the process as possible.
Don't Sell Yourself Short
Your instincts are right. Design has the potential to change the world. That means: you have the potential to change the world. So be proud; be strong; be determined. Don't get mad that others don't understand. Respectfully and tenaciously fight for what you believe inand in doing so you might just take everyone else along with you.