Incite by Design

Caustic visions and shared thoughts on design, marketing, creativity, philanthropy, pop culture and business philosophy by Toronto design firm, Ricksticks Inc.


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Designers, Consultants, Creative Directors,

Are you tired of the market being overrun by every two bit nimrod that hangs up a shingle? Are you finding yourself constantly getting outbid by some 'genius' with a computer and a few Marketing/Design/Advertising for Dummies books? Do you find yourself explaining the relevance of your services when everyone is an expert?

Jason Santa Maria feels your pain. And so do we.

Automation Will Kill Us All

I recently came across another low-cost logo site called explaining. I get lots of emails advertising logos for as little as $99, but LogoYes is taking this one step further by offering users a nice little Flash application that allows them to build an 'original' logo from their vault of type and images. Do you ever wonder why designers have trouble gaining respect while helping clients understand the importance of their services? It's this mentality (from the LogoYes site):
"In just a few minutes, you can build an original logo without the costly, time-consuming process of working with a graphic designer (who must guess what you'll like)."

Yes. We are designers, we are guessers. I spent years in school learning about design history, theory, promotional ideas and creative thinking to sit back and blindly throw darts at a wall. I mean, as far as a client is concerned, they probably think we smack something together like you can on LogoYes.

There has always been a battling misconception with technological advancements; movable type would kill the hand-letterer, photography would kill the painter, desktop publishing would kill the designer, and the list goes on. Why? Common thought is that technology will place everyone on equal footing. Now that Joe CEO has a computer with Photoshop (or 'Adobe' as many people seem to call it), he has been christened a designer. He can leave the design agency he has been using behind; his computer now fills in the gaps.

Plain and simple, technology does not take the place of good ideas. You pay a specialist for a reason. I don't get under the hood of my car and ask the mechanic to use a different oil filter. I am paying him for his knowledge and experience, and I pay a premium price because I want the job done right.

Technology has given people the ability to take on new tasks and with much greater ease. This is the reality. I understand what Jason is saying about "taking his car to a mechanic," so to speak. I am more likely to rely on experts because I am in business and appreciate giving other people business, too. But the fact is, there are many who prefer to let their cousin work on the car or do it themselves. Most people will choose familiarity over expertise. Period.

Example: I used to work for a company a few years ago that happened to decide to rebrand. This sounds like a good idea, in theory, as the company was several decades old - almost 100 years old, to be exact.

But then the problem came - the CEO had an idea of how the logo should look and what colour scheme would best complement the new corporate identity.

With this 'great' idea, they went to their communications firm (not a design firm), and told them exactly what to do. They ended up with the logo and colour scheme exactly as directed.

The CEO was happy. The board was happy. But man, was the identity an eyesore. The logo had no meaning and utilized random symbols and colours. Being in a position to receive public feedback, I did not hear many good things about the new identity. Criticism aside, it just didn't seem to mean anything to anyone (except the CEO). There was no deeper meaning. No Connection.

This scenario is not uncommon. I'm sure you have dealt with similar situations in your own profession. I know some designers who choose to sink with the ship and offer low rate designs because they fear trying to compete. "If you can't beat 'em," as the saying goes.

But fear and paranoia will get you no where, and furthermore, unless your profession is licensed, nothing is going to stop Joe/Jane Doe from calling him/herself a graphic designer, a web designer, an advertising professional, a consultant. So wipe away the tears, get off the soap box, and start thinking with innovation.

Professionals who tell me how much their profession is being tarnished by poseurs, get some of these suggestions:

1) Be Relevant. If you are still trying to be a one trick pony, you are outdated. Make sure your services stay relevant.
2) Use your imagination. Nothing is sexier than your brain. If you have talent, that's great - but back it up with some ideas that aren't packaged. Keep it fresh.
3) Know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. If your skills are mediocre, then you'd better re-think your desire to freelance or be in business for yourself. Being an entrepreneur is constantly having to prove yourself. You are only as useful as your clients believe you to be. Otherwise, get a job.
4) "There's no crying in the service sector." Stop complaining. Start embracing change and the bumpy ride.
5) Be aware but don't care. Know your competition. Acknowledge their advantages. Move on.
6) Leave your ego at the door. Repeat after me, "I am more than my profession. I am a complete human being with lots to offer."
7) Have fun. Just like in your romantic life, people are attracted to people who love life.
8) Serve it up, hot and fresh. Be dazzled by learning. Learn as much as possible. Keep applying what you've learned to that which you offer others.
9) Knowledge is limitless. There isn't a cap on what you can absorb. Stop hoarding.
10) Stop looking out for Number One. You'd be amazed at the continuous circle of generosity and good will you'll generate by getting out of your navel and helping someone else for a change.

Point being, the poseurs are out there like the Zombies in 28 Days Later. Either you accept it and keep the torches blazing, or your business dies.

You decide.