Why design studios need to communicate clearly

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Let’s imagine that you’ve recently decided it would be great to work with a graphic designer to help improve your company’s image. Where do you start?

If you don’t already have a connection with a designer, the Internet would be a great place to begin. Just type in “Calgary graphic design” and start reading about each company until you find one you like. You should be able to find quick answers to all your important questions, such as:

  • Is this a reliable studio? Are their existing clients satisfied?
  • Will they listen to my ideas?
  • Are they in my price range?
  • Does their image and style suit what I’m looking for?
  • What if I don’t know what I’m looking for? Can we talk about it?

Unfortunately, many design studios won’t be able to answer your questions. At least, not without first making you wade through dense rhetoric, slow-loading portfolios, boisterous proclamations and image-heavy interfaces. Designers on the web tend to ensure their sites comply with the three Cs of bad communication: cryptic, cliquey and cocky. Your average designer’s site might as well be a single screen that looks like this:

Your average design studio website

By nature, designers are playful and imaginative creatures. That’s what makes them good at what they do. But when it comes to business, many designers forget to make their imagination accessible. Instead of taking the care to outline their services and describe their processes, designers prefer to revert to an obscure visual language understood only by fellow designers.

Graphic design is not just about glibly claiming hipness, broadcasting pretty images to the world at large. It’s about carefully crafting a message so it makes sense visually. In fact, the success of your business hinges on the strength of your communication strategy, and how capably your designers are able to translate and communicate your message to the public.

Many of the most talented design agencies in existence stop explaining themselves once they reach a certain client threshold. After a while, your reputation and your portfolio do the talking for you. In a way, A-list designers behave a little bit like fine restaurants: the classier the restaurant, the more abstract the dining experience. Forget the menu, you just take the waiter’s word that the special is great. And for some studios, especially ones with longstanding reputations like MacLaren McCann, this works great. But if you’re a design studio that has yet to earn the status of “legendary creative form that has been around since 1932,” how will you find new business?

Questions for designers:

  • You, as a designer, have been trained to produce excellent, meaningful work that helps your clients succeed. You speak a visual, interactive, creative language. Your client uses words. How will you explain yourself?
  • Just as business needs to embrace creativity, so too do creative types need to embrace business. What steps are you making to meet your clients halfway?
  • As a designer, it’s important to engage in meaningful dialogue with your clients to determine their needs and their intended results. How will you demonstrate that your studio can listen?
  • A new client, who has never before hired a designer, will find it difficult to relinquish full creative control to the designer. The person paying for the design work has to believe that their investment will pay off. What will you as a designer do to earn that trust?