elevators & human–machine interaction

I was attending a design conference a couple years ago, when I jumped on the first available elevator at the hotel where I was staying. I knew the floor I needed to go to and instinctively planned to punch the appropriate number inside the elevator. Much to my surprise there was no way to indicate the floor I wanted. Inside the elevator, the only controls were to open and shut the door, and an alarm. I got off when it stopped and thought I must be on some kind of special elevator—for the staff or something. After all, there’s nothing complicated about elevators. You get in the box. Tell it where you want to go and you get out. I boarded another elevator, with the exact same result.

I had never seen what is known as a “Destination Control Elevator”, a convention-changing but more efficient design. We’ve all experienced the crowded elevator where everybody needs to go to a different floor and invariably it’s not the guy in the front, but the guy in the back that needs to get out first. It’s a slow process. My hotel elevator, on the other hand, grouped passengers, so that those going to the same floor are asked to use the same elevator. I didn’t notice the control panel outside, that asks you to enter the floor you want to go to, then tells you which box to get in. How logical.

I’ve complained for years about the bad design of the things we run into as part of everyday life. So when I saw the AIGA SLC Book Club recommendation titled The Design of Everyday Things, I ordered it. The book is meaty—350 pages of somewhat academic content, talking about everything from the design of faucets (hot on the left, cold on the right?) to the design of iPhones (QWERTY keyboard or another?). The author, Don Norman is a cognitive scientist and former Apple employee who makes you realize that it’s not your fault when you mistakenly pulled, instead of pushed on that door, or hit the wrong button on that new remote. It’s faulty design.

All things are designed, whether it’s the layout of furniture in a room or the intricacies of an electronic device, points out Norman, but the complexities of modern devices pose particular challenges. The book addresses the fields of industrial design—emphasizing form and material; interactive design—emphasizing understandability and usability; and experience design—emphasizing emotional impact.

Today’s deficiencies in human-machine interaction come from a lack of understanding of the design and psychological principles involved. No matter what the design specialization, “the solution is human centered design (HCD), an approach that puts human needs, capabilities, and behavior first, then designs to accommodate those needs, capabilities and ways of behaving”, according to Norman. “After all, why do we make products? We make them for people to use.”

Human centered design is a philosophy and a set of procedures, whereas industrial, interaction, and experience design are areas of focus. The key emphasis of the book is the importance of developing products that fit the needs and capabilities of people.

With today’s rapid rate of technology change, deficiencies in human-machine interaction are frequent. Most of the problems come from a lack of understanding of the design principles of human centered design. This deficiency is because much of design is created by experts in technology, who are limited in their understanding of people, asserts the author. Typical human behavior isn’t logical and orderly. There are problems. We make mistakes and we misunderstand.

Norman self-importantly states that “One of my rules in consulting is simple: never solve the problem I am asked to solve. Because, invariably, the problem I am asked so solve is not the real, fundamental, root problem.” It’s easy to see the surface problems only, without digging deeper to address the real issues.

Designers are better suited to discover the real problem than engineers and business people, according to the author, because designers are, by nature, willing do diverge away from an obvious solution, study and observe people and explore different iterations.

The last chapter of the book calls for designers to help fight the battle for usability. “Design is successful only if the final product is successful—if people buy it, use, and enjoy it, thus spreading the word. A design that people do not purchase is a failed design, no matter how great the design team might consider it.”

the core of brand culture

We were a little intimidated when we interviewed the partners at Signal Peak Ventures. After all, their business is the evaluation of other businesses. It’s a venture capital firm and they look at thousands of business concepts before choosing a handful to invest in. They also have lots of initials after their names, and went to schools like Harvard.

Signal Peak engaged us to re-design their website. We recommended our Perception Branding 5d process to marry strategy together with the website design. We also interviewed CEOs of the companies Signal Peak had invested in. We discovered the trusted relationship between them. Signal Peak invests in people, not technology. It’s one of a distinctive set of values held by Signal Peak. We featured those values in the form of “trust statements” on the home page of the site we designed for them.

Visionary companies all hold a distinctive set of values from which they do not digress.  The beliefs, attitudes and personality of the company founders set the cultural tone that should permeate the organization. The culture rightly exists, even beyond the retirement of the founders and can add significant value to the organization. Ben & Jerry’s started as a small-scale effort founded by a couple of ’60s hippies. They simply wanted to sell homemade ice cream to their local community. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield held strong opinions on social issues and sustainability that were manifested in the way they ran their business and marketing, and how they created their products. That culture was maintained as they grew into a large-scale corporate enterprise with global reach. When Ben & Jerry’s was acquired by Unilever in 2000, a major asset was the set
of values that already defined the brand.

A corporate brand is much more than just the outward manifestations of an organization —its name, logo, and look and feel. Rather, it is the core set of values that define it. The largest furniture retailer in the world, IKEA, builds a values-based brand both in external marketing activities and internal employee and partner relations. The most obvious value is what the company calls “Democratic Design”. The founder of IKEA asked, “Why must well-designed furniture always be so expensive?” At IKEA, the price tag is “designed” first, beginning with a decision on what the majority of the targeted customers can afford to pay. Further, to achieve the goal, designers work on the factory floor with the production staff.  Not in a fancy uptown studio.

IBM places extraordinary value on customer satisfaction.  They track how satisfied customers are with each IBM salesperson they encounter. The satisfaction score helps determine the salesperson’s compensation. IBM publishes requirements for the time taken to respond to customer emails. Frontline IBM employees are pre-authorized to spend up to $5,000 to solve a customer complaint on the spot. IBM’s own literature explains, “Although it seems paradoxical, businesses benefit when customers complain.”

Closely-held brand values such as these communicate that the firm can be trusted to act the same in the future as it has in the past. This becomes especially important in B2B and service companies, where customer outcomes are not fully predictable in advance. As brand stories develop around these values, they become an accepted part of the brand culture, for both customers and employees. For example, a client of ours,
Brainstorm, told us a customer service story that required the CEO to jump an international flight to deliver a product on time. The product was many times less expensive than the cost of the flight itself. Customers assume, without any particular evidence, that Brainstorm will go the extra mile to make sure that its products will be there when they say so.

Business owners often assume that the product/service values understood and measured by the firm and the product values as experienced by the customer are identical. Therefore, if the firm builds a better product, customers will experience the same benefit. Douglas B. Holt of the Cultural Strategy Group says, “Marketing makes a crucial break with this assumption. Marketing emphasizes that customer value is perceptual, never objective fact. Value is shaped by the subjective understanding of customers, which often have little to do with what the firm considers to be the ‘objective’ qualities of the product. The brand is the product as it is experienced and valued in everyday social life.”

Be certain your company has a distinct set of values, and make sure those values are perceived by your customer.

the death of drawing

A couple years ago, I was lying on the grass between afternoon sets at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Near me was a gentleman who pulled out a sketchbook and watercolors, and after a few pencil strokes was painting the scene in front of us. Though Telluride is set in an area of remarkable scenery, he wasn’t painting landscapes. He was painting the constructed stage set, where the next performers were warming up.

Anyone openly conducting their artistry in public view is always a curiosity, so I started a conversation. I did a fair amount of watercolor when I was in school, but after I graduated in graphic design, time and technology took their toll. I commented on the gentleman’s work and my shared interest in the medium. He told me that he was an architect and in fact, had designed the stage structure he was rendering with fluidity. He said if he had another brush, he’d get me to join him. I was glad he didn’t.

That experience came to mind again when I was reading an American Institute of Architects chapter email that commented about a new book by a local architect. It was the title that caught my attention: The Death of Drawing. I connected with David Ross Scheer, the author, and we had an engaging conversation about the impact of modern technologies on his profession—architecture, and on my own—graphic design.

The parallels are remarkable. In both of our respective careers we’ve watched the transformation of our professions move from something whose craft was based on hand skills to something now closer to automated algorithms. The introduction to Scheer’s book begins, “Like may architects, my enjoyment of drawing played a large part in my choice of career. I like the feel of a soft pencil on good sketch paper… I like watching and feeling my hand find a form on paper I hardly knew I had in mind. I even like the laborious process of making presentation and working drawings.” Graphic designers of my generation would say the same thing.

In my conversation with him, Scheer made the point that digital technology is definitely affecting the practice of architecture—but that it’s not necessarily a negative thing. In fact, the benefits of technology are so great, there’s little other choice. He also made clear that the impact in the profession is not with simplistic CAD drawings, but instead with the more recent and widely adopted Building Information Modeling and computational design.

For graphic design, the use of digital technology began earlier and had immediate impact. Today, the profession is so closely associated with the computer that some young practitioners incredulously think that graphic design didn’t exist prior to Apple Computer’s wide adoption in the 1980s.

When I started in the profession, designers were like the wizard behind the curtain. The knowledge and abilities required to produce good graphic design were so obscure, that no one but the well trained had a clue. It gave us the power to control. These days, your grandmother can easily produce decent flyers for the neighborhood street party. Similarly, Scheer states that conventional drawings maintain an architect’s power in the relationship. “At every stage of a project, drawings give the architect control of the flow of information and thus the ability to see to the integrity of the design intent throughout the process.”

When helping a novice to understand the difference between design and the technology that creates it, I’ve often said that the computer is just a bigger pencil. Scheer states that these technologies are not “another pencil: they are both evidence and agents of fundamental change.”

The legendary graphic designer Milton Glaser has said, “In teaching [today], I’ve found that students have absolutely no idea, or any ability of any kind to represent their ideas through drawing . . . the imperative to draw has vanished.” He concedes that it might be a generational thing and acknowledges that digital tools “are a very useful part of what I do after I work through ideas”. But Glaser believes digital design suffers from what he calls a “lack of fuzziness.” He suggests that it is to the advantage of both client and designer, if certain amount of ambiguity is part of the design process—which is an inherent result of an iterative process of sketching and drawing. “The problem with the computer is that when you go on the computer, everything has to be made clear too quickly,” he says. “And so the essential part of the developmental dialectic disappears. The greatest liability to the computer is that a lot of weak ideas are very well developed. The computer clarifies things too quickly.”

In The Death of Drawing, Scheer expresses similar concerns regarding “the replacement of drawing by simulation. Whereas drawing is based on a clear distinction between the two, simulation strives to eliminate any space between them…. Interpretation plays no part in understanding simulation.”

In our conversation Scheer said that architectural digital visualizations have become so good, that often you can’t tell it’s not the actual building. “We want media to reproduce reality to the point that simulation is ‘as good as’ reality…. Leaving little room for the critical space for imagination and play that should exist between them.”

And yet, Scheer explains, “There are already many examples of buildings that would not have been possible to design or construct without these technologies. Exciting new possibilities of building form abound, but there is some uneasiness about this new-found freedom.”

Throughout the history of graphic design, (and, I suspect, architecture), the technology used to express the medium—whether it be Gutenberg’s letterpress, Art Nouveau’s lithographic posters, or websites on your phone—has always had a huge impact on design.


sincerity in marketing

“What the heck were they wearing at the Grammys?”
“How money can buy you love online.”
“10 ways to survive a plane crash.”
“This one government secret will make you think twice about drinking water.”
“Try getting through these 35 photos without crying a new Nile.”
“Forget what you knew about quantum physics.”

Three of those are direct headlines from last night on a once reputable news source. The other half I made up. So which are which? That’s not important. What do they have in common? They are all perfect examples of what’s called “clickbait”; a sensationalist online advertising ploy designed to attract click-throughs.

I’m getting tired and sad because of clickbaiting (watch this video for a colorful intro and to hear puppets agree with me). I’m tired because it seems as though I can’t escape the reach of this curiosity-driven advertising-in-information’s-clothing; and I’m sad because it seems the only way to prevent clickbait is by unfollowing companies and media sources I’ve appreciated for years. Clickbait marketing has gotten so internet famous, The Onion has gone as far as creating a parody site in response to the type of clickbait generated by sites like Buzzfeed.

Apparently I’m not alone. An Aug. 2014 NY Times article reported:

“80 percent [of surveyed facebook users] ‘preferred headlines that helped them decide if they wanted to read the full article before they had to click through.’”

In a smart move, Facebook is reportedly building a new algorithm to limit the degree to which users are inundated with clickbait. It will also base the importance of an article and the likelihood of it being clickbait by how long users spend reading it. But personally the damage is done. I’ve grown cynical of the new definition of “content” and will continue using it for nothing more than messaging and reminding me of friends’ birthdays I’m too lazy to memorize.

Whether your company takes part in clickbaiting, the lesson can be applied to marketing as a whole; be authentic. Be informative and genuinely interesting. And importantly, don’t let the drive for clicks control the quality of your content marketing strategy.

consistency in branding & design

Last week I was invited to lead a branding discussion at a luncheon with members of the local chapter of SMPS, the Society for Marketing Professional Services. Amongst other questions, I was asked, “How can you improve your current brand?” It is a good question. Too often we think of re-branding, when in fact, more often, what’s needed is advancement of the brand you’ve got.

I said, “Consistency will improve your brand”. Consistency is a design principle that dramatically affects usability and learning in all systems, including branding and identity. It helps us transfer knowledge to new contexts, focus attention, and learn more quickly. There are four types of consistency: aesthetic, functional, internal and external.

Aesthetic consistency is the type most obvious in branding. A logo whose style and appearance is the same, no matter where it appears (color, typography, graphic), sets emotional expectations and becomes a shortcut to recognition and decision-making.  For example, BMW vehicles are easily recognizable because the company consistently features the blue and white circular logo prominently on the hood (and in advertising, on dealer signs, in product literature, etc.). We associate the logo with the quality and prestige built into the brand and it informs people how they should feel: that it’s “The ultimate driving machine,” according to their tagline.

Any parent can tell you how toddlers can “read” logos, long before they can actually read. I was once riding in the car with a young child of my friend’s, who not only recognized 7-Eleven signs, but even their consistent architecture. He cried when we didn’t stop at a repurposed 7-Eleven store, which was now clearly selling computers, but he easily recognized the distinctive building shape.

Functional consistency refers to consistency of action and meaning. Humans require order, and functional consistency provides us with this order. Have you ever had a difficult time finding your way in a hospital?  In the book Wayfinding the authors point out, “In a [hospital] facility of some 800 beds, no less than 8,000 hours of professional time are lost in redirecting patients and visitors to their destinations.” In the healthcare environment, investing in a wayfinding program is vital because, simply put, when people are lost, money is lost.” Functional consistency allows us to leverage existing knowledge about how the design functions. The symbols on my iPhone use the same controls for playing music that videocassette recorders used in the 70s. Such consistency makes the new devices easier to use and learn.

Internal consistency refers to consistency with other elements in the system—your logo is the same online and in print, signs within a park are consistent with one another. Such internal harmony suggests that the system has been intentionally designed and builds trust with viewers.

External consistency means having the same aesthetic design or performance across multiple systems. External consistency extends the benefits of internal consistency across multiple independent systems. This is difficult to achieve, but fast food companies do this very well. Even technology companies like Microsoft and Apple recognize that it works. You can go to these businesses anywhere in the world and expect to receive the same service, that they will be using the same equipment, and in the same amount of time you will receive the same product.

In branding and design, if standards exist, observe them. If standards don’t exist, create them. Consider aesthetic and functional consistency in all aspects of design. From the book, Universal Principles of Design: “Use aesthetic consistency to establish unique identities that can be easily recognized. Use functional consistency to simplify usability and ease of learning. Ensure that systems are always internally consistent and externally consistent to the greatest degree possible.”


aesthetic vs. functional attraction

Great design is like Justice Potter Stewart’s famous definition of pornography—you know it when you see it. Great design attracts you, literally. Brain scans tell us that when you see an attractive product, the motor cerebellum that controls hand movement lights up, so you reach for it.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of design—and perhaps why it is so universally engaging—is that design can be evaluated from two different perspectives. You can judge great design both aesthetically and functionally. Does it look beautiful? That’s the aesthetic value. Does it work well? Is it intuitive? That’s the functional value.

Just today I watched part of the announcement for the new Apple Watch. The accompanying video was clearly made to appeal to both the functional and aesthetic. The gorgeous photos of the new device were seductive in every way imaginable. And Apple recognized that a wearable has to address the fashion imperative, with different styles and options. At the same time, emphasis was placed on the interface between the user and watch, with new innovative control mechanisms. I’m sure brain scans would reveal lights going off, even when seeing it virtually!

Design is intrinsically connected to the emotional and cultural values shared by society. In fact, it is a reflection of those values. We can design into a product, a building or a website, the qualities we want to signal. We can add value. Whether made by Apple or Timex, it’s been a long time since watches were simply devices to tell the time of day. In some areas, design has become the process of making objects that were once practical, into toys and status symbols for adults. These objects flatter us and pander to our desires.

At the same time, it’s wrong to think of design as just an art, and not also a science that can be discovered from informed study. Last week I was interviewed to participate in a research study with its sole purpose being science. It’s a federally funded project to determine the form and value of icons in communication. Rather than an anticipated use, the outcome is an academic research paper.

Designers would do well to better understand the science behind attraction. What draws us to great design? What are the factors that make an icon communicate, a room pleasant or a tool safe? We’re just starting to learn why we’re attracted to good design. German researchers have recently found that the color green can get a person’s creative juices flowing. The experimenters matched the shade of green seen in nature, in plants or in a meadow. It’s no wonder everyone wants a window to the outside. Some studies have shown that even a fake window, in the form of a mural helps.

Since the beginnings of Western civilization, there has been an unusual interest in the Golden Rectangle, the almost magical proportions (1:1.618) that has been used in everything from the Parthenon to the first iPod. Experiments going back to the 1800s show that people prefer images in these proportions. In 2009 a professor at Duke University explained why, “shapes that resemble the golden ratio facilitate the scanning of images and their transmission through vision organs to the brain.”

In a new hospital in New Jersey, extensive testing in advance resulted in a re-designed hospital room—including a sofa for guests, a new drug dispensary and a perfectly positioned bathroom and hand sink. The bane of most hospital stays has always been the food. Interestingly, patients in the new room rated food and nursing care higher. However,  the meals and care were identical.

“But the real eye-opener was this: Patients also asked for 30% less medicine,” the New York Times related. “Reduced pain has a cascade effect, hastening recovery and rehabilitation, leading to shorter stays and diminishing not just costs, but also the chances for accidents and infections.” At the new hospital, patient satisfaction is in the 99th percentile, up from the 61st before the move, with accidents and infection rates at their lowest ever.

Statistics like these would be considered earthshaking in the world of science—all because of a re-designed hospital room (with a view to the outside, incidentally). It’s time we recognize design for both its aesthetic and functional values. And it’s time designers seek functional outcomes as earnestly as they do the aesthetic.

fountainhead: who to please

A few months ago, I was attending an industry luncheon, in recognition for my good friend and business associate Dave Newbold, who is partner and creative director in the Salt Lake advertising agency Richter7. I have long admired the creative work the agency produces. In Newbold’s acceptance speech, he commented that he asks new hires to read one book as a requirement of employment: The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand.

I have long been familiar with the book, and even the philosophy Rand’s writings espouse. But I had never read it. I think I was way behind most of my contemporaries. Michael Bierut, the acclaimed Pentagram designer, read it the first time in the ninth grade and seven more times before his junior year in college. I admit I don’t often read novels. I’m much more likely to read business or professional volumes. But this was the beginning of summer and I thought, now’s the time. I downloaded it to my iPad and started reading before lunch was over.

It didn’t take me long to see why my creative director friend made it required reading. Howard Roark was one indomitable character. Roark, Ayn Rand’s protagonist, is an architect, and although graphic design and architecture are different disciplines, they are clearly bedfellows. Both disciplines have clients, and both can be judged aesthetically and functionally.

The story revolves around the hero and his determined adherence to the modern aesthetic while nearly everyone else prefers traditional Renaissance architecture. His obstinacy is both a virtue and a problem when it comes to making a living. His view toward clients is telling: “I don’t intend to build, in order to have clients. I intend to have clients in order to build.”

Last year was the 70th anniversary of the publication of The Fountainhead. The book has been heralded for doing more for the profession of architecture than any real architect has—shaping public perception, and inspiring thousands to enter the profession. At the same time, critics believe the book has damaged the practice of architecture. “In fact, The Fountainhead remains the perfect representation of everything that’s wrong with the profession, “ said Lance Hosey, Chief Sustainability Officer, RTKL.

“Everything that’s wrong” includes the characterization of the hero Roark as a “kid throwing a tantrum and smashing his toy blocks.” And indeed, Roark does defend his right to dynamite a building he designed because it wasn’t made the way he wanted. “I destroyed it because I did not choose to let it exist.” Are today’s most famous architects like the book’s hero? Frank Gehry said, “I don’t know why people hire architects and tell them what to do.” He further claimed
that denying the architect’s right to self-expression is like denying democracy.

The freedom for artistic self-expression seems pretty much to be a given in any society, democratic or otherwise. But then there’s always the client. As Hosey asks, “What is the purpose of design? Is it meant to please the designer, or is it meant to please everyone else?”

Graphic designers rarely achieve the public acclaim that architects do. There is no comparable title like “Starchitects”, a term for the outsize personalities of Frank Gehry or Rem Koolhaus. Perhaps that’s good, because regardless of the design discipline, I believe the purpose of design is to please as many as possible—including the client. Including the designer. And The Fountainhead is a good read, but it’s fiction.


coming up with names

“Man gave names to all the animals.”  – Bob Dylan

We’ve been naming a lot of companies and products lately. Naming kids is actually easier. The problem with naming companies is there’s so much at stake. Painful as it is to admit, the right company name may be even more important than the trademark that brings that company name to life. Company names last longer than anything else we develop.

Words have real power. In 1969, Arthur Penrose, an English physicist, named his recent discovery a “gravitationally totally collapsed object”. Not surprisingly, with a name like that, little attention was paid to his discovery. Months later he called it a “black hole” and the news spread around the world.

Our strategic services often bring to light naming problems. We search for a differentiated position for the brand, but if the name of the company is not memorable or is easily confused with the brands of competitors, the task becomes difficult, perhaps impossible. Such is often the case in B2B and service firms.

Brand names usually fit with one the following types:

Descriptive: Names that describe the nature of the business or product, like Toys R Us, or General Electric. Descriptive names have inherent value, but are often difficult to make unique.

Initialism: Like HP, UPS, or IBM. Although popular—particularly for companies who have moved past the meaning of their original names—we rarely recommend it.  Initials are not memorable and easily confused with others. Unless you’ve got the advertising budget of IBM, we suggest you stay away from initials.

Founders’ Names: Using the names of real people, such as Dell, Disney or Charles Schwab can be unique, but of course, tell you nothing about the company.

Neologisms: Completely made-up words like Wii, Exxon, Xerox and Accenture are very distinctive and with sufficient marketing, you can build your desired meanings into the name.

Metaphorical: Based on places, things, myths and foreign words, metaphorical names suggest a quality or attribute of the company. They are good for differentiation. In the 1980s, Apple selected the most unlikely of names to distinguish themselves from other computer-makers like IBM and NEC.

Names that are available as URLs, which are suitable globally and don’t infringe on other trademarks, makes naming an even more difficult task. There are companies like Lexicon, who have been paid handsomely to come up with names like BlackBerry, Dasani and Swiffer. Despite their success, Lexicon CEO David Placek, says, “Most clients feel that they’re going to know the perfect name as soon as they see it, but it doesn’t happen that way.” Even “BlackBerry” was not immediately accepted. The client was more interested in descriptive names like “EasyMail”.

Design can compensate for poor names and integrate intangibles, like mood and personality. Of course, the right name and the right logo are the most powerful combination.

website evaluations: think before proceeding

In the competitive world of business, a good website is essential. We all know that. We also know, “time is of the essence.” But if we web designers are given the opportunity to think before proceeding, a good website can become a game-changer. And everyone avoids the panicked frenzy of a rushed job.

“Think before you speak,” my mother always told me. Like most adolescent boys, I had trouble following her advice and embarrassing things often spewed from my then hairless and naked lips. And I had some doozies. Like the time I told my crush she looked better in low light. Really low light. (True story.) I digress.

Fortunately modern8 is not a self-humiliating teenager. We have always invested heavily in proven processes. Especially if they make our job easier. That being said, modern8 has adopted a new procedure that gives us that moment to think. We call them Website Evaluations.

What is a modern8 Website Evaluation? Well, I’m glad you asked. In the end, it’s a physical document that contains our professional opinion on what your site should do/say and how to go about making it. How do we come up with that document? Basically, we jump right in and research your existing site. We do a deep dive into your content, check out your code and analytics to see what’s working and what needs improvement.

Next, we make recommendations. We’ll reorganize content, suggest different technologies you may not be using and outline new strategies, if needed. Along with our recommendations, we develop the steps it will take to build them. We try to make the scope detailed enough that anybody could pick it up and know exactly how to execute the plan.

The final section contains the nitty-gritty time and cost. After we’ve had time to think about what we should do, the timeline and cost come out very accurate. And that makes everyone happy.

Taking the time to do an evaluation before plunging into a major site overhaul is the way to go. For a fraction of the cost, and about two weeks worth of work, an evaluation really does save time and money in the long run. And the finished product is far more effective. We’re not teenagers anymore so don’t do something you might regret.

the importance of mockups

After presenting design concepts to a client, hearing “I’ll know it when I see it” is a more troubling statement for designers to hear than you could imagine. It’s a perfect mix of words that compose a particularly worrisome cocktail:

• 1 part poor substitute for useful feedback and creative direction for future explorations

• 2 parts our regret that we weren’t able to sell our clients on the proposed concepts

With regard to this “feedback,” it is our responsibility to receive more clarification from the client. It’s common that we ask questions like “So you still want a green….but one less…vomity?” Better yet, “You want the typeface to say that you sell grapefruit without saying you sell grapefruit?” It isn’t too hard to squeeze more direction for subsequent design efforts.

It’s the regret that really hurts; having your efforts briefly glanced at and dismissed. You can try to explain your hardest why that vomit green color would really pop on the paper stock you had in mind for the business card—especially if it was embossed coated with a spot UV. And that typeface you chose for the grapefruit company? Its form best fit the available space on the wooden crates in which the fruit is delivered.

Our client was on the fence about which design he wanted for a new business card. That is, until he saw these bad boys!

The best technique for us to avoid this regret is one that’s used by many firms in our industry: digital mockups. Photoshopping the graphics onto blank, templated 3D package designs or printed collateral helps contextualize our concepts, providing our clients a greater understanding of our intent with our designs without having to take our word for it.

Our designs are clear. Our intentions are clear. And more often than not, the air is clear of “I’ll know it when I see it.”