Trusting your designer's instinct

Posted in Reporting, Brand on 5 June 2015 By David Hunt, Creative Director

Businesses up and down the FTSE recognise the value of corporate brand communications and effective reporting now more than ever.

As a result, we designers are finding ourselves seated at the table reserved for that special bunch collectively referred to as ‘Advisers’: traditionally made up of lawyers, accountants and tax experts - we creative types are relative nubes.

From a client’s eye, you generally give two types of advice in this role: good and bad. So, retaining your seat at the table is driven by an ability to deliver the good stuff. And keep doing so.

What does that mean for designers?

Dealing as we do in design and creativity, advice is a more difficult and abstract concept. Unlike law and finance, absolutes such as right and wrong don’t always exist in our field.

Colour, typefaces, photographic styles and tone of voice can all be judged by preference and taste. Even when it comes something like typography – which has acknowledged standards of readability and legibility – subjective and personal reactions often still influence the judgement of our clients.

Often research and data only point us in a general direction, rather than give us the answer.

And that’s before you get to more conceptual stuff. I mean, in the business of design, how do you decide whether that big idea is a good one?

The answer is we have to trust our instincts – that special combination of knowledge, expertise and (probably most importantly) experience. A reaction to what your head and your heart tells you. Your judgement based on a mixture of facts and feelings, sometimes leaning more towards the latter, than the former.

A risk? Perhaps. But, when you get it right, oh boy, it can be powerful.

Gut instinct in action

To see just how powerful, let’s look at one of my design heroes: product designer, James Dyson.

Back in the mid-nineties, when ‘hoovering’ was still part of our vernacular, he launched his now famous, challenging bagless vacuum cleaner: the DC-01. By early ‘96, less than 22 months later, it had become the bestseller, despite retailing at almost double the price of more established brands.

This was the start of a product and brand success story that can in part be attributed to an instinctive decision made by Mr Dyson himself.
During the 15 years it took to develop the DC-01, all the market research and consumer focus groups had delivered unequivocal guidance: ditch the transparent bin because no-one wants to look at dirt – especially their dirt.

Dyson thought this was the wrong thing to do. His instincts told him that seeing the dust would demonstrate just how well his machine worked. So, he took a risk and ignored the research, choosing instead to trust his gut. The direct outcome was the creation of a product that looked as different from the outside as it was on the inside. In one move he redefined what a vacuum cleaner should look like - so much so that today, transparent shells are the norm.

The results speak for themselves

By 2011 global sales hit £1.05bn and Dyson delivered profits of £306m (that’s around 29% margin). Today, one in three vacuum cleaners sold in UK is a Dyson and each of those machines sells for around 30% more than the equivalent Hoover.

All of this has allowed James Dyson to build a reported wealth in the region of $5billion.

Proof indeed that trusting your instinct can pay. As long as they prove to be right, of course.

Trust me, I’m a designer

For us, the aim must be to use all our instincts to deliver consultancy, insight and ultimately great corporate and brand communications for our clients.

In practice, this could mean making all sorts of recommendations, from the seemingly insignificant to the gargantuan - but all driving us towards that goal: a different paper stock with a feel that helps soothe the environmental concerns of some target groups; a size and format that makes a document more accessible and attractive; a style of photography that will appear grounded and real while still being credible and substantial; that big graphic idea that we know will resonate and makes the story click with the audience, attracting new investment.

This is the story of good advice born from instinctive decisions that can earn a step-up in perception: from ‘Adviser’ to ‘Trusted Adviser’.

To do so, the challenge for designers – no matter what field of design they specialise in – is not only to learn when to trust our gut, but to use those instincts to deliver great advice so that our clients learn to trust them too.


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