Design buying to reap rewards

There are many ways to measure success – but it always goes hand in hand with creativity, simplicity, boldness and sound reason.

lin%20dickensThe chance to at once follow your head and your heart is a rare and wonderful thing. A piece of truly effective design combines a creative leap of faith with the sure foot-edness of sound reason. It’s boldly imaginative, but measurably grounded, and weaves right brain invention with left-brain analysis.

It makes a real difference, and emerges from buyer and designer going beyond perceived boundaries to reach a point of surprise and delight. It is the juxtaposition of a bread wrapper covered in baked beans or a pair of jeans symbolising the “best fit” pension choice.

Effective design can be elusive. Be too timid, too fanciful, too superficial or too elitist and it can be beyond your grasp. Together buyer and designer accompany each other on a journey to create really effective communication.

Don’t be afraid to ask

When choosing a designer, don’t be seduced by good looks alone. Like seeking a partner, you want both beauty and brains. Ask to see effectiveness in action as well as the credentials.

If the designs engage, be sure to understand why. By all means admire the creativity and the execution of projects in the portfolio. Who doesn’t like beautiful typography? What’s not to like about the considered use of colour, form and texture? How could you not be impressed by original and imaginative photography? But also ask to see the numbers. What you want is less of a beauty parade and more of a Dragons’ Den probe to complement the excitement of the ideas.

Being grilled hard about the effectiveness of our work by a potential new client is gratifying. For buyers keen to demonstrate a return on investment, it’s the most important aspect of our experience.

“Don’t be afraid to ask” was one of the messages in a communication campaign to improve hand hygiene in hospitals. Patients were encouraged to ask staff if they had cleaned their hands. The campaign worked – staff reported that they were being asked and didn’t mind. Infection dropped and the campaign won its designers a DBA Design Effectiveness Award.

So the measure is not always financial. Profit can often be the most important number, but effectively designed communication can literally mean the difference between life and death.

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Aim higher to achieve more

Ever heard of the phrase “tweak to succeed”? No, neither have we. Design buyers and designers work best when together they share the aim of achieving greatness. No one gets turned on by mediocrity. Be realistic about how far your vision can go, but remember a worthwhile destination makes for an enjoyable journey.

Effective design begins with an effective brief. The very best briefs have a sense of adventure and allow for those “eureka” moments to be discovered. Be bold with your targets and expect to be challenged. If designers don’t challenge the brief, how can they be challenging in their solutions? You’re in this together.

By being joint authors of the brief and beyond, your unique understanding of your organisation will continue to infuse the results. You’ll feel connected to the design and the possibilities will become even greater.

Remember where you came from

Where you came from is the mark against which progress can be measured. Get the measure of your situation before your design gets a chance to make its effects felt. It can be about how many units you are selling, net profit margins, manufacturing wastage, energy consumption or workforce engagement levels.

Some measures can be emotionally moving – a case of winning hearts and minds. Picture a new identity for a failing school. Success is the first glint in the eyes of the teacher whose school is being reborn as a future beacon of achievement. It can be a smile on a once alienated pupil’s face, staff retention, a fall in truancy levels or improved exam results.

booksKeep on tracking

You have your new design in your hands. It feels good, it feels right, so you give it the green light.

What next? Measure, gauge, discover – take the temperature of all those indicators of success which you benchmarked. Record them, and keep on doing so.

Buyers of effective design are tenacious in their pursuit of proof. They require determination to discern what they need through the noise and chatter of an organisation.

Silence can be golden. Sometimes success is quiet. Another Design Effectiveness Award winner was for global banking group RBS when it introduced a change to its pension scheme. Peace reigned. The telephone helpline received just four calls a day during a period when 100,000 staff received the information pack, and yet everyone actively engaged in the scheme.

In many projects, design is one element in a battery of marketing initiatives. How do you, the buyer, separate out the impact of each? Can you at all? It’s certainly difficult. Brands live, thrive or die, usually due to a wide variety of influencers. But it can be done.

pupilsNever stop learning

The pressure to move on to the next task is strong, but truly effective design buying is an iterative process. By considering what you have achieved together, you can grow the relationship and develop your understanding.

Debrief openly and honestly. What worked and what didn’t? What could be done differently next time? We all want to be smarter, but wisdom is not handed out free with age.

It’s not a choice between creativity or success. Creativity and effectiveness are invisibly integrated. Simple solutions to complex communication problems are creatively effective. They don’t just do a job, they make a difference.

So be bold, question, trust, track, study and learn. Effective design is measurably better design. You – and your designers – can prove it.

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