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"Design Product" Syndrome

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When a new client calls you, and you ask how they'd like engage their services, the first thing out of their mouth isn't likely to be, "I want you to make my customers happier." It's going to be selling more products, burnishing their corporate image, making gains on the competition. They're want to buy a __________ from you to accomplish those goals.

This is where you need to determine if they're calling under the thrall of "Design Product" Syndrome, or D.P.S. for short. This is when a client believes they need a new Web site, or a new logo, or a new anything, really, that will magically transform their business. It will wash over their internal politics, their customer complaints, and the rumblings of the press and their investors with a bright, shiny, brand-new thingy that will put things in a further upward trend.

They don't need design services. They need design product. And really killer design work that fosters real change isn't product. It's understanding what kind of experience you're trying to wrap around your customers.

Large-scale engagements require heavy strategic input. If you're designing a large-scale Web site, creating a brand positioning framework, or embarking on a huge advertising campaign, you need to make sure that every step you take through the project leads to that pinnacle of all pinnacles, the actual design execution. But when that design execution is unveiled with much fanfare to your clients, if they are suffering from D.P.S., all of that groundwork flies out the window.

Classic D.P.S. symptomology usually carries a number of these behaviors:

At a fundamental level, they don't understand what they're asking for. My competition is doing it, so let's do it. Let's do some really hot Flash banner advertisements... even though just sending out a few postcards would get the same response numbers and brand lift.

They really couldn't tell you until they saw it. The red flag goes up here. They wanted a different direction for their ___________, but now that they've seen where you ended up, they're bursting with ideas as to how you can start from a different place. Meaning that you didn't have a crucial piece of strategic information before the creative presentation, either by poor research or by shifting client expectations that weren't shared. And they'll let you know it after they've seen the work. Then again...

They think they know how you make what they need, down to the nuts and bolts. They queried you on the nth detail of what specifically you'd provide, quantifying the deliverables or feature sets of your final build well before you've actually pinned the strategy down. You can't scope to this degree until you've completely nailed down your strategy. Cart before horse = unhappy horse, broken cart.

How do you cure D.P.S.? Sadly, it can take an extensive amount of effort to curb its effects, but the good news is that by taking part in a re-education program, you'll be doing the design profession a great service. I'll write about that in a separate post, because it'll take more than a few words.

But in the interim, here's what you do to protect yourself from D.P.S. in your projects.

Don't give away the really big ideas without understanding and stating their value. Unless your client is savvy in the ways of unfolding your business insights and channeling them into alternative projects, your deeper thinking about their needs will likely come to rest solely in the __________.

You need to provide sparkling clarity around every major point that you agree to.

You have to provide a range of costs instead of a single, hard number. Smart clients know that they have a business need and that you need some flexibility to craft the best solution. A range also makes it harder for a client to choose a designer on just the price tag. Value provided is more important than cost saved.

Assuming they have some measure of understanding of how designers work their black arts and creative mojo, most clients will need to respect your process, listen to your thinking and occasionally nod their heads in agreement, and wait with bated breath for the moment when you reveal the __________ they've contracted you to create. If they try to negotiate your process, it's a sure sign that they want to be in control, and the designer/client partnership needs to be more like a balanced scale.

In the end, all they paid you for was the __________. But what can't be filled in the blank is the magic that makes a design business thrive.



Well put. Lately I've been having to spend a whole lot of time explaining to potential clients that we don't sell products, we sell services that have byproducts.

It requires tremendous patience and effort on both sides.

What's worse is when our competition, or other designers, don't understand this and sell there services as products, thus confusing the issue even more.

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