A few months into the both pregnancies, one thing was certain: we’re having ramen for dinner. I could suggest other options but unless it involved noodles and a broth, any debate was futile. Through past experiences, I understand my wife’s tastes, preferences, and willingness to deviate from the norm.
Now, imagine you and I are meeting for dinner. It’ll be our first in person interaction and we have only sent a few emails back and forth. Generously, you allow me to pick the restaurant. Working off limited knowledge, I try to account for service, taste, environment, accessibility, and dietary restrictions. I’ll find something acceptable but it’s unlikely to perfectly match your expectations.
When comparing my wife’s ramen and the latter one-off dinner, there is no question whose expectations will be best met. Learning the nuance of expectation takes time. It involves developing understanding, credibility, and trust.
From Dinner to Design
A similar tension plays out every day when designing for clients.
I’ve heard it a hundred times in various ways, “We’ve had a bad experience with designers in the past. Our team was working on a project and the end result was not what we were hoping for.” In some cases, I wouldn’t be surprised if our clients felt the same. Time, energy, money, and emotional labor spent but the results still missing the mark.
We need to think differently about the process. Rather than an transaction, it’s best viewed as a relationship. Relationships begin with the understanding that things will improve over time. The first interaction isn’t the pinnacle, it’s the preface. The best days are ahead.
A Step Toward Continuous Design
To realign our thinking, we have been piloting design retainers. These retainers are small, monthly commitments. They allow empathy to increase and a deeper learning to develop. It creates continual investments in the brand and in the relationship that fuels truly great work. Better than relying on one-off projects, consistently exploring design concepts allows for designer and client to get more comfortable working together. It begins as a slow roll but the investments begin to compound over time.
As we’ve invited clients into this process, the results are delightful. There is less pressure on any one moment. Ideas have room to expand and evolve. Now as individual projects are introduced, the team is poised with deeper understanding as well as a backlog of inspiration.
Design is not an event. It is a process.
Let’s Grab Dinner
If the idea of continuous design feels appropriate for your brand or business, let’s chat. It won’t start perfectly, but it’ll get better along the way.