Shifting Value in Design + Business

My worlds are aligning right now.

I’m participating in a few courses in design, business, and blogging, and the messages are intertwining.

More value, and more time, is put on discovery and understanding the people you want to work with or provide a solution for. It’s a shift in putting time upfront to get into the pain, needs, desires, and goals of a client (or clients) and no longer about efficiency and producing the quickest, cheapest XYZ in hopes that people will come.

Sorry Ray Kinsella (Field of Dreams,) the message is no longer ‘if you build it, they will come’ but rather ‘if you research it, test it, tweak it, then build it, they will be right there with you for the journey.’

Shifting Value In Design

In the Human-Centered Design course (that I’ve blogged about previously here and here,) our group moved into the Discover Phase where we went out on foot and spoke with people in a low-income neighborhood in London about their financial savings.

I’m always nervous when first starting out because I tense up when I’m about to disturb someone and bumble through an explanation of what I’m asking for. But as my teammate reminded me, we’re doing this to potentially help them and if they don’t want to share, then that’s their choice.

After five hours, my nerves were rattled out and we were able to get eight people to open up about themselves, including financial struggles and goals–more than we had planned to find in a neighborhood that we entered without knowing a single soul.

IDEO’s HCD methodology emphasizes putting in time for listening, observing, immersing, and gathering data based on the people, which creates stronger relationships, trust, investment, and, in the end, a better tailored solution. It takes time to understand motives, patterns, and actions, but this can lead to a more sustainable solution that’s driven by the people.

I’ve also had some great discussions with fellow designers about their expanded design process, one of which is Katherine Darnstadt of Latent Design. For a recent community center project, she emphasized time put into programming and visioning with the various stakeholders, from the administration to the neighborhood youth, which then lead to iterating smaller projects. These actions have informed the community center’s design and given them a clearer vision to communicate for fundraising.

Shifting Value In Business

Trailblazer has been my guide in creating my design consultancy. Like how many businesses operate–especially in the tech world–profiling ideal clients/ personas/ avatars is key to setting yourself up to attract who you want to provide a product or solution.

In Trailblazer, we call these Active Seekers. I had two different services in mind–one for designers and one for social organization managers–so I was able to interview two people who I’ve known over the years and would like to work with. The questions started out gathering basic information, such as age, income, and job history, then moved into preferences, beliefs, desires and needs. I had fantastic conversations with both people and learned more about their long-term aspirations. Without taking the time to listen and go beyond immediate needs, I would be making a lot of assumptions that could steer me in the wrong direction.

Lastly, Freshbooks’ co-founder Mike McDerment with author Donald Cowper wrote the free e-book Breaking the Time Barrier, a must-read for strategies on value-based pricing. This is especially relevant for designers because they provide a completely different viewpoint on value of the services–one not based on time but rather based on the clients goals and how your services are an investment in achieving those goals. Just like approaching a design problem based on the end-user, this is about selling your service based on the client. It requires upfront listening, learning, and delving into your client’s pain, struggles, and aspirations, but this will build a stronger relationship and a stronger solution that achieves what the client needs.

Think ‘Human’

I wouldn’t say these are new ideas, but rather more of a conscious effort to return to the ‘why’ of business. The way we as designers practice and the way we develop our businesses should be one in the same–human-centric. It’s not a ‘them’ and ‘us.’ And it’s not about us being the know-it-all. At the heart of all business, we’re doing something for other people. Knowing the pains, desires, and aspirations will lead to sustainable solutions and meaningful relationships. If not, why be in business at all?

What do you think? Do your relationships allow you to sell your value? Do you find discovery to be the most important part? We’d love to hear how these may or may not help your practice in the comments below!

Image source: Flickr user kitepwr

Originally published at on August 13, 2013.