March 6, 2010

Skeet Shooting in the Dark, revisited

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A conversation with a colleague brought up the General Theory of Design, as we discussed the numbers of options that must be presented at in order to receive approval for a design project.

The General Theory of Design is as follows:

“Design consists of creating things for clients who may not know what they want, until they see what you've done, then they know exactly what they want, but it's not what you did.”

In this particular instance, a new corollary became evident:

“On any given project, the number of visual solutions required are inversely proportional to the scope of the project and size of the client.”

For example, an annual report may require one or two visual concepts (a focused shareholder and investor audience), but an ad (a broader and unfocused audience) may require many concepts and revisions.

It is apparent that in larger organizations, at times there is less clarity about positioning and messaging, and a tendency to want to reach as many audiences as possible with as little investment as possible. There is a correlation between organization size, its audience, and its messaging:

As an organization grows, messaging becomes less focused as the result of an attempt to appeal to as wide an audience as possible with as broad a message as possible in as many media outlets as possible.

Instead of targeting a specific audience with a specific message, a less focused message will be developed in order to attempt to communicate to as many people as possible with the lowest level of investment. We call it institutional marketing.

An experienced agency understands that the challenge is to define the problem, more than it is to create the solution. It's critical that as we deal with ambiguity surrounding the project (what will the CEO approve; varying opinions on a marketing committee; lack of research) we stay focused on the objectives and not let the ambiguities become a distraction. We need to be able to associate meaningful visual and thematic symbolism with a concept rather than simply create surface decoration in order to convey the message.

Without defining the problem, the standard practice is to submit multiple concepts in order to second-guess the direction that the concept must follow in order to satisfy ambiguities and effectively communicate the message.

Without a strategic guideline (a design brief), the entire process becomes an “I‘ll know it when I see it” scenario. I call it skeet shooting in the dark.

We guide our clients with the (revised) antithesis of The Theory: “Strategy flows from a creative brief, and all outcomes (solutions) will be evaluated based upon that brief.”

When we work through the Clarity process to guide the client to a solution (within the guidelines of the brief), the General Theory of Design is never invoked. What is your experience?

Successful communicators know that you need to target your message to your audience, and that your organization's positioning will be the filter for your messaging.

Strategy will inform design decisions and solutions, and you’ll avoid the temptation to skeet shoot in the dark.

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