Creative Director, Beau Walsh going through presentation with ACE

How Business and Design Shape Each Other

Design is the arrangement of ideas. It aggregates a mess of messages to communicate a solid concept to the audience.

Designers are raised amongst this innate sense of organization. The rules of applying emphasis becomes just as engrained as photoshop and typography. Every tick mark influences the way in which things are perceived. The best designers explore every option to ensure the best communication. We develop a natural perspective to see the weight in which elements contribute to a whole.

Over time, this can evolve beyond a visual understanding to a conceptual one—reading into every decision and how it affects the way it is received.

But those that grow up in the culture of business tend to view that process differently. Compartmentalized to-do’s remain separated as disconnected tasks. These decisions arise completely isolated from one another.

In many minds, the processes of design and business are very separate operations. The businessman that collects his papers, pushes them to the designer and says, “Here, make something useful from this.” To them, design is merely a sticker to slap on a finished product.

We’ll always encounter sticker slappers that just want to get the design process over with so they can focus on what’s “important.”

After several bulldozings by those unavoidable rampagers, some designers fall into the false truth that their purpose is production. Sure, the client is dictating something completely wrong, but who am I to tell them how to run their business? This self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates until we are that hamster in the wheel that won’t stop spinning. Our legs take every step with increasing disorientation until we are at the full mercy of inertia.

That ethic is very common but it does have its contenders. There do exist those that valiantly defend and value design, integrating it into every part of the process. To them, design isn’t just another last minute expense but part of the very fabric of their business. They just get it. Working with such a like-minded individual is not a series of dictations but an elaborating conversation. Values and aesthetics become one in the same as every decision made influences the next.

We wish all clients were like this. At least I do. Unfortunately, instead we come into contact with all types of people—especially those that see design as an afterthought. If only that company saw their true potential and lived out the values they represent. If they could just bring together their identity with their internal system, they could simplify and connect with their audience on a much deeper level. But they don’t.

So how do we make the best with the clients we have?

Start from the ground up.

The first step is to explore who you are as a designer. Are you just taking what’s given to you and making it pretty? To me, that’s boring and unhelpful to the final product. It produces short work. If you are to organize and convey the values of a company, it can be that much more effective to first analyze those values.

Design shouldn’t be seen as the final touch to the entrepreneurial endeavor but the beginning.

This isn’t about creating the perfect logo right off the bat. Don’t skip straight to making. Start with hunting and gathering. There is a wealth of knowledge and culture about your client that is yet to be deciphered. Question the concepts, the motives, and envision how that will all affect the perception of the audience.

With the right mindset, design is the arrangement of ideas in a way that can easily be interpreted. Exploring these helps us make decisions along the way that will change the overall outcome.

Create a culture of mutual influence.

Design shapes business as business shapes design. At least it should. When we weave those elements together throughout, they influence each other. If we simplify our entire goal into an identity, we have a greater understanding of the final implementation. When we know that the customer will resonate with a certain value, we build our business and ethic around that value.

Companies that expand their branding along side their business plans create a cohesive culture.

Design and business goals should be the same.

None of this would make sense if the objectives for design and the objectives for business were different. They should be one in the same. Design is a smaller subsection in the business marketing strategy.

Design’s goal often includes:

  • Communicating a message
  • Standing out
  • Creating brand loyalty

Business goals are about sales and sustainability. Funny how every design goal above is in effort to reach those business goals. All of these are to make the best product and experience possible in a way that is good for the business, designer, and customer. Win win win.

Make decisions based off of these combined efforts. Design can be harder to measure and less tangible. But when we have done our jobs right, it is usually clear what impact we have made.

Allow the time to influence.

Not understanding this is how horrifying timelines emerge. If you don’t grasp the way that design and business mutually affect each other, it becomes an afterthought left to the last minute. So many inquiries reveal a lack of budget and lack of time. This is a clear sign that design is just an “oh by the way…”

As best as you can, create the space for the concepts to be explored and a direct path to be chosen. A project with no time is just setting up for an ineffective, rush job.

There will always be disconnections from designer to client. But when we start to acknowledge the motives behind those disparities, we can begin to see eye to eye.

Many give in, others attempt to avoid it altogether. Neither seem very sustainable to me. I want to partner with my clients to make the best final product possible combining our knowledge and passions for what we do.We want those we work with to truly value what it is that we offer. But this philosophy needs to start within ourselves. It needs to be cultivated in our own mindsets and how we come across. If we can uphold the standards and practices ourselves, so will our clients.