Profit,Portfolio, or Soul: Pick Two

Imagine pitching a new project to your boss. You’re going to need about 30 hours for the project, which will include some research and analysis, a full set of wireframes, and some consultative time. The project is for a friend, and as such will probably run over the course of a couple weeks, and the final product may never see the light of day. And to close the pitch, there’s no money in the project.

Now, imagine your boss giving you the green light almost immediately, and actually offering advice on taking the project to the next level. Where does this happen? To explain that story, you must understand this one.

A few years back Pinpoint was a small firm establishing ourselves as the first Experience Design shop in Portland. A project was brought to Pinpoint by a Fortune 500 company for scope and bid. In truth, it was not a project that was particularly appealing, mostly because it was not really the type of work we wanted to pursue. While scoping the project, building a timeline, and working up a bid, we realized we would need to bring on a new full-time employee to meet the demands of the project. The more we talked, the more hesitance was expressed around the project as a whole. Then Dwayne King, owner of Pinpoint, asked a poignant question,

“How do we know if a project is something we want to pursue?”

The meeting turned in to a discussion around how Pinpoint should, and would, decide which projects to take on. Having matured to the point that not EVERY project was a “must”, the discussion and conversation revealed a simple set of project consideration metrics: Profit, Portfolio, and Soul — Pick two. Most will immediately catch the riff off the old “cheap, fast, quality — pick two” saying from the 90’s.

Profit, Portfolio, Soul. All three are the best metrics to measure in that they are simple; either “yes” or “no”.

Profit is the most obvious facet, and the easiest to justify, but the hardest of the three metrics to ascertain. Profit encompasses all the typical business factors of: project timeline, personnel, cost, schedule, estimating the client’s budget, deliverables, etc. After reviewing and determining these important metrics of business, we then ask ourselves, “Will the project be profitable?”

In terms of growing Pinpoint, clarifying our brand and offering is equally important as the impact on the bottom line. Clients typically want to know our capabilities and who we previously have worked with before they get around to asking about costs. Therefore, we also look at projects from the standpoint of, “Does it add to our portfolio?” We seek projects that allow us to demonstrate the breadth of our abilities; strategy, research and design. The Portfolio metric forces us to pursue design thinking and experience projects in the broadest sense, working with a variety of clients, industries, and projects that are challenging, creative and unique.

The third criteria, Soul, is a real check in the mirror for us. Will we feel good about doing this work, and be able to look ourselves in the mirror for having participated in the project? Pinpoint considers social, environmental, and humanitarian aspects of a project when they seem pertinent; so working with big tobacco is pretty unlikely for us. We value projects that in some small way make the world a better place. In truth, its rare that a business proposal forces us to measure it against our moral compass. More often, a project is so inspiring that the Soul metric becomes a key reason to participate.

So Profit, Portfolio, Soul. We demand at least two. Some real world examples:

Mercy Corps — The Mercy Corps is an international aid organization committed to helping victims of natural disasters, economic collapse, and armed conflict by delivering life-sustaining essentials after a crisis. They partner with communities to rebuild infrastructure, and remain in place to work towards long-term recovery. Traditionally a “boots on the ground” organization, Mercy Corps became interested in widening their focus to include advocacy and policy work. Pinpoint was asked to offer strategy and design around messaging and coordination regarding new web properties and organizations acquired by Mercy Corps. In considering the project, the budget provided ample space for discovery, design, and recommendations work. Of course, the humanitarian mission of Mercy Corps was compelling and left no doubt about wanting to participate. Both the Profit and Soul measures were comfortably met.

Reed Admissions — Reed College is a small liberal arts and sciences college in Portland, OR, focused on high intellectual achievement in thought, inquiry, and expression. Pinpoint took on a project to replace their standard acceptance letter with a video of acceptance that not only welcomed incoming students, but made them feel part of a community from their first moment as student of Reed College. The fee was modest and not part of the decision making process. Instead, the project was primarily undertaken for both the opportunity to broaden our market offering, and the prestige of working with Reed College. As for the Soul of the project, we recognized we were designing for a significant moment in every student’s life, acceptance to a prestigious college. Pinpoint won a design award for the project, which was an added bonus. We took pride in delivering a project that both the client and the users truly valued. Both Portfolio and Soul were amply fulfilled.

Cisco — Over the last year or so Pinpoint has worked closely with Cisco, the international Fortune 500 networking hardware company, to understand both their customer’s and partner’s journey’s; from the beginning point of being a prospective customer all the way through to product delivery, implementation and support. Despite being a large and complex company worth billions, they have embraced customer and partner empathy, challenging their own processes as a key strategy for continued growth and prosperity. Pinpoint’s work with Cisco continues to grow as various business groups within Cisco are introduced to our work; seeking their own journey mapping and design projects. In terms of brand and market value, there’s no doubt a client like Cisco communicates that Pinpoint has a fully mature methodology and process that can successfully manage a large enterprise-wide organization. Profit and Portfolio.

Skoll Foundation — Every now and then, we hit a home run, scoring all three metrics simultaneously. One such project was completed with the Skoll Foundation — an organization committed to identifying and cultivating the world’s most successful social entrepreneurs. They hold an annual World Skoll Forum, bringing together social entrepreneurs, and attracting eminent speakers such as Bishop Desmond Tutu and Presidents Carter and Clinton. Pinpoint eagerly took on the task of designing a platform for Skoll members to continue the conversations started at the World Forum, allowing them to maintain their energy throughout the year. The intrinsic value of the Skoll Foundation’s mission and efforts was self-evident. The design and strategy work fit perfectly in our wheelhouse. Due to a generous sponsorship, we were able to achieve a clean sweep of our project consideration metrics.

The words Profit, Portfolio, Soul have been repeated multiple times for a reason. Lately, in any conference or presentation you’ll hear, “If you remember one thing…” Our metrics are that “one thing”. In considering these ideas and making the decision to share these examples, it was important to go beyond just Pinpoint’s use. This is really about the intersections of brand and conscience and the dollar value we, and any organization, place on that intersection. This is about empowering staff to exercise a moral conviction in their company and work, and to engage in a project at a deeper level than just billable hours. And it is about design’s greater responsibility. The value of Experience Design work is being embraced by companies across multiple industries more and more each day. From this new wellspring of understanding and growth has come new strategies, customs, vocabulary and discussion. Much is written about the designer’s responsibility to the user and to making life better or easier. In the more universal sense, designers have the added responsibility to be selective and thoughtful about the companies and projects that we choose to apply our talents. It’s been said, “we vote with our dollars”, but as designers we have an opportunity to also vote with our efforts, passions and conscience.

Johnny Servin came up as a web developer back when Alta Vista was huge, and has been with Pinpoint for two years as a Sr. Experience Designer and expert coffee maker. He gets his twitter on @FuriousStylz, and always replies if you message


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