In a saturated world of design, finding success lies in the experience you’re able to provide. This is the first part of a 2 part series discussing the why and how of positioning yourself as an experience versus being an expense.
In short, when you position your work as a product it can be useful, but you’ll be viewed as a technician. When you position your work as a process and an experience it’ll be both useful and novel, and you’ll be seen as a human. The difference being: as a technician you’re merely an expense, but when you create a positive experience there is more value to the client which they are willing to pay for because they’re able to connect with another human.
Betty Crocker, in the 1950’s, introduced a cake mix that would allow you to independently and easily bake a delicious cake in the comfort of your own home. The mix advertised no muss, no fuss because all the consumer had to do was just add water, mix, and bake. Despite the positive taste tests and the easy-to-follow process of the mix, the product failed. Researchers Bonnie Goebert and Herma Rosenthal explained, “The cake mix was just too simple. The consumer felt no sense of accomplishment, no involvement with the product. It made her feel useless, especially if somewhere her aproned mom was still whipping up cakes from scratch.” There was a missing experience between the consumer and the product, but when Betty Crocker revisited the cake mix they made a crucial change which made it significantly more successful. Rather than just adding water, the new cake mix required the consumer to also mix in the egg. The change wasn’t drastic, but it was just enough to make the consumer feel more involved in the actual product because they became a part of the process. With this subtle change, sales made a significant increase and the product was better received.
In design, the just-add-water cake mix is equivalent to just-add-money design. Many designers have difficulties with clients because they aren’t creating an experience around their process, and instead treat it like an easy bake oven where the client just inserts money and they’ll get what they need. Getting the client to have a better experience and be more involved in the process (and to ultimately create better work) is similar to adding the step with the egg to the cake mix. The goal is to ensure they aren’t overly involved, but what they do contribution is a crucial and key component.
“You have to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.” — Steve Jobs
Services like Fiverr are a clear indication that the design industry at large is very diluted. There will always be someone willing to do it cheaper, and there will always be designers that’ll simply satisfy the client’s wants rather than their needs. Separating yourself in this kind of industry is a very challenging task, and being a technician is no longer sufficient. If you rely on the client to tell you exactly what they want then you can expect to encounter problems. To create more success for yourself, you now have to position your process as a vehicle for discovery. It is your job take the client along with you, and then treat the ride as a means to discover who they’re targeting, what are their goals, and finally what they need.
Not every client wants this type of experience, in fact, many of them actually want the easy bake oven approach where they just feed you money and tell you what they want, but every client worth working with deserves and needs an experience in which they’re an integral part of the process. There is value in a client having a positive experience with you because it firstly creates a human connection and helps you form a healthy relationship. Secondly, it puts them in a position to feel comfortable working with you and instills confidence in them. Lastly, it will ensure the solution you develop is a reflection of the project’s needs. When working with you is a positive experience then the value of your work increases.