My last post was about the results of a new survey of nearly 2,000 graphic designers.  Some of the findings revealed the frustrations that lots of designers have with clients – including their lack of knowledge about design and the fact that “everyone thinks they are a designer”, despite not having any training. 

Whenever there is a group of designers in a room, the difficulties of dealing with clients is a common enough conversation. But, what isn’t discussed as often is the flip-side of how difficult it can be for clients to work with designers, buy design services, find professional designers and get the results that great design brings to any business. There are a whole variety of reasons, but one factor is the sheer range of design services that are out there to choose from. Businesses need all sorts of design, but knowing which design agency might be the best one to work with is not easy.

Let’s start with a simple “we need a new/revised logo” as an example (a dreaded request for many designers, but common from non-designers). Logos are in the realm of graphics, so surely it’s graphic design services that are required? But that can also be called ‘information design’ or ‘communication design’ or ‘print design’. But logos are one part of ‘visual identities’ and visual identities are one aspect of overall ‘branding’. So a branding agency is what is really required? But before we get to logos, colour schemes, tone of voice, core messages or the need for brand guidelines, there needs to be a ‘brand strategy’ and consideration of the ‘brand hierarchy’. No wonder it can feel like that simple logo request just got expensive!

Or let’s consider “we need a new/updated website”, which is no longer the correct term, because what businesses actually need is ‘digital marketing’: responsive websites, e-commerce, Apps, SEO, social media, UX, database management, video, CMS, animation, motion graphics. A ‘digital design agency’ may offer some or all of these services and the classic split still exists between those agencies that excel at ‘creative digital’ and those that offer robust ‘technical design and build’ capabilities. And of course, not forgetting the all important ‘content creation’ and ‘content marketing’ services. All of these will certainly be far more expensive than the “we design professional websites for £499” proposition that remains a common offer if you start Googling for local ‘website designers’. And there will be plenty of PR and marketing companies also offering a range of social media and website services. Which way is a client supposed to turn?

Digital design is one of the most complicated areas because it is evolving so quickly and comes with a huge amount of technical jargon, but the design industry does not present clear terminology in any area. Product design, interior design, packaging design, exhibition design and others all have their own specific processes and language. I won’t get into the relatively new area of ‘service design’ and what exactly that involves (which the service designers themselves are still clarifying).

I can’t even defend my own area of delivery in this discussion, which covers ‘design management’, ‘design strategy’ and ‘design thinking’ depending on who I’m talking to and what’s involved. And, lastly, we cannot start listing design services without including the related skills of photographers, typographers, copywriters or illustrators.

From inside the design industry it is easy to look at ‘non-design’ clients with frustration and say “they just don’t understand what we do!”. But if we put ourselves in the shoes of a client who (already busy with the pressures of managing their business) is just trying to get the logo, website, pack, product or brochure that they would like – you can see how they very quickly get confused and think they might as well give it a go themselves.