Mar 15, 2009
For creatives, it’s about finding the opportunity in tough times.
A couple months into an already beat up 2009, and things are looking grim. What’s a creative entrepreneur to do? Earlier this year I chaired a panel for the AIGA called Design Through the Downturn, and the discussion surfaced some big ideas about the challenges—and opportunities—this new economy brings.
Opportunities? Yup, a number of people at the event observed that demand for creative services like design isn’t down, its just different.
There’s many ways demand will be different in the next few years, but here’s the one that might affect the creative businesses more than any other: a shift from artifacts to solutions.
Designing artifacts solutions
Businesses are strapped for cash and axing most items that don’t directly contribute to the bottom line. First on the target list is inevitably “cost-centers” like marketing. I’m not the first to say there’s going to be a lot less work like catalogues, events, and posters this year, but I might be the first to follow with a little good news. Businesses are facing an onslaught of new, unconventional challenges and they’re uncertain how they’ll solve them, or who they can turn to for help. This is where creatives can step up and step in.
Designers are experts in creating new solutions for unique problems, which is what business needs right now. Want proof that business is looking to design for help? Over the past ten years creative agency IDEO has seen tremendous success shifting from a product- to solution-focused agency. Their clients consistently come seeking right-brain solutions to challenges traditionally assigned to the MBAs.
Let me be clear, I don’t mean to stop designing as we know it. As a matter of fact quite the opposite. I believe many of the solutions to this deluge of dilemmas may in fact require design artifacts like campaigns or events—the difference is that in the new economy the design will start much earlier with the solutions.
So how can you begin turning the tide, and making the most of changing industry?
1. BECOME YOUR OWN CLIENT
Start practicing today. Any companies in the business section that could use a little push in a new direction? You don’t need permission—start generating ideas. What about identifying challenges in your own work, life, or community that might be improved with a little right-brain thinking?
2. BUILD ON WHAT YOU HAVE
You’ve already have their trust, now add value to your existing client relationships. During your next project (or even before) put in some overtime and over deliver on a new idea—demonstrate what you are capable of, and the next time around you might get asked to do just that.
3. TALK ABOUT DESIGN AS THE HOW, NOT THE WHAT
You’d never want to give up your bread and butter, but you may want to put a new item on the menu. Reconsider previous work, and reframe how you talk about it. What problem did you solve? What business result did it achieve? Play up the strategy (the how) and play down the artifact (the what). Start showing the work you want.
4. GO WITH WHAT YOU KNOW
Target new clients, but go for what you know. Pick an industry or company you know and identify the problems you can solve. Done work for tech firms? Know a little bit about telecom? Are museums your thing? Whatever your focus, make sure you’re familiar with the company or industry—you won’t be as lost when you begin, and it’ll help build credibility with potential clients.
Business and the marketplace are changing at an rapid pace. Just because no one is certain of the future, doesn’t mean there isn’t enormous potential. What’s a creative entrepreneur to do? What we’ve always done: see the opportunity and design a solution.
If you’ve got an example or two of how demand is trending different let us know with a comment below.