Design is never done: an investment in your future
I have often found myself caught in the debate between 'design as a product' or 'design as a service'. I happen to disagree with both sides. Sure, both sides have their merits and it’s simpler to comprehend if you view it as either product or service. But design is more complex than that. I prefer to think of design as an ongoing investment. One that doesn’t end when the website is built or the brochure printed. Rather a process of constant improvement and refinement.
Invest in your future
Why is design an investment? Well, I am of the belief that design, when approached correctly, can be vitally important to the success of a brand or business. It’s through design that we communicate our purpose. Design is what we use to show the world what we do and how we go about doing it. By investing in design, you are investing in the relationship you will one day have with your customers, as well as anyone else who comes in contact with your business. While this sounds like a once-off investment, and many people do approach it as such, your investment in design should be ongoing. Let me tell you why...
Nobody gets it exactly right the first time
If design were done perfectly the first time and never went out of date, then all would be right in the world. But the reality is, no one reaches Mars on the first try (insert meme of SpaceX rocket explosion here). It takes time, and effort and ruthless criticism to reach perfection, and even then it’s fleeting. Perfection is a moving target, and the best chance of hitting a moving target (unless psychic) is to keep moving with it.
We design primarily for right now. Occasionally we design for the future. However we can only see so far, and change occurs so rapidly that it becomes mathematically impossible to achieve truly timeless design. This is why we make constant improvements. We move with the industry, we endure the current fads and trends, we change when change becomes necessary, and when innovative ideas disrupt the industry, and turn it on it’s head, we work hard to design creative solutions to the whole new variety of problems we’re faced with.
Designing for now is fine, until it’s not
It’s easy to have something designed, then look at it in ten years time and say “we need an update”, and you may get away with doing that. If you want to give yourself a fighting chance, and stay within reach of your competitors, by all means, stick with this strategy. But you will never achieve your truly optimal results by doing this.
If you want to be the leader, and force your competitors to try keep up, then keep designing. Keep iterating and improving. Industry leaders don’t become leaders by doing things once and never putting a foot wrong, they become leaders by never ceasing to make an effort, and never losing sight of that target.
Pirates Code: Any man who falls behind, is left behind
When you’re thinking about your business’ survival, I bet you don’t stop to consider design. You’re probably thinking about profit and loss, supply and demand, sales and expenses, etc. but if design is responsible for getting you a portion of those sales, shouldn’t it too be considered?
Stop for a minute to consider that lead generation is not always enough and no amount of catchy titles and well written ad campaigns can guarantee results if the website or app users are being pushed to is impossible to use. Now consider the profits that can be attained through the design of a decent website/app. Now go one further, and think about how quickly that design can become dated and the potential loss of sales that could come from again having a subpar site/app. The value of good design is directly proportionate to the investment in it.
What app design & development can teach us
Often taken for granted is the constant effort app designers and developers make to keep their apps up to date. In an attempt to stay relevant, app designers & developers release iteration after iteration of their app, releasing entirely new features, and making existing features better. Each version of their app could take days, to weeks, months or even years to create, and all to provide a better experience than before. This is fundamental design and one of the best examples of why it is so important to keep improving. Applications that aren’t updated regularly (known as zombie apps) are discarded and ignored. App creators must fight to stay relevant.
How you can invest in design
Internal design teams are great, for those that can afford to permanently house designers and pay them salaries. For those that perhaps don’t have the resources, retainers are a great idea. Pay your agency regular amounts to continuously monitor and improve your site/app. Having regular meetings and feedback polls can reveal problems you never knew existed. Remember that you are not just reviewing how something looks, but how it works, how it feels, and how well it fills a need.
Another, much less common way to invest in design is to give your designer or agency a financial stake in the business. Make them a partner. This ensures that they have an interest in the success of the business, and share in the growth of said business.
Design doesn’t have to break the bank!
Now I know what you’re thinking… That all sounds very expensive, and my website isn’t even that old…
While there is some sense in that logic, what I am proposing here is not to spend huge amounts on continuous design. I am proposing spending smaller amounts more regularly rather than large amounts every few years, and I believe the results will be drastically different.
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