Investing in Understanding
Unless you're a large manufacturer or in the food service industry, you probably don't jump up and down with excitement when someone mentions PLM (which stands for product lifecycle management) but it's actually a really fascinating concept. We recently worked on an ad targeting potential PLM for Process clients and it struck me, the huge number of small business microclimates that are out there and speak their own special secret language. This extends beyond proprietary terms and abstruse acronyms.
Each industry, and even each individual company has unique modes of thought and understanding of the world. For example, as a customer, salmonella-tainted peanut butter in your Little Debbies seems like an egregious and straightforward oversight. From the standpoint of a food manufacturer, it represents the significant challenge of maintaining control over your product over an expansive and often geographically disparate network of suppliers, manufacturers, and distributors. Bridging such gaps in perspective is obviously crucial.
What does any of this have to do with design?
As designers, our job is that of an interpreter, we need to deliver an often complex message in simplified visual terms so that it can be grasped quickly and effectively by the intended audience. Of course first and foremost this demands a deep understanding on our part of our client's business. This level of immersion takes an investment of time that is not common in our ADD and trend-ridden culture.
Often clients themselves don't recognize the need for it at first. Many come to us with misconceptions about what they need, latest buzzwords in tow, eager to be part of the social networking revolution without really knowing what that means and how it applies to their business. To put it bluntly, they are ready to waste their money.
Their line of reasoning isn't hard to follow, design is often viewed as having a surface, superficial function, but the truth is that design, much like verbal language, is a tool intended for meaningful communication. And like verbal language, misusing it has consequences. Loss of time, money, trust. So again our job is to translate, subduing the impulsive tendency to jump on the latest trend without understanding, and instead guiding the client to see how their particular business can be supported and improved by opening new avenues of communication with their clients.
Our long-running clients see the results of our philosophy on a daily basis. Having taken the time to learn their business, we function as an integrated part of their thinking, able to make suggestions and grasp concepts quickly, the speed of communication between us, and the effectiveness of the work which we produce for them has increased dramatically, while the time (and cost) that it takes to get to end result has been reduced. When companies jump from trend to trend and often from designer to designer, they forfeit this substantial benefit.