” Good design is fundamental to Good business”
Good design is all very well, but it is important to bring it to the notice of the world, believes Tanya Khanna, Director, Epistle Communications.
Someone has famously said that architecture is a great profession and a terrible business. In today’s globalized world, markets are in constant motion and new business can be generated from multiple means. As architects, graphic designers, product designers or even artists, we are all inherently trained to let our work speak for itself. Stuck in the everyday rut of work, meetings, deadlines and ensuring the deliverance of good design, often we do not tap into our business strengths and how that can be a path to growth and success. Traditionally, most Indian designers and design practices steer away from communication activities that aid in generating business. In fact, we do not recognize that in this world of increasing competition, the success of a firm can simply be hinged on design communication.
The foremost challenge that most designers struggle with is the notion that good design speaks for itself and hence most professionals shy away, or simply do not bother to talk about their work and the ideas behind it. Of course, good design is fundamental to good business, but in the current scenario of technology and information overload, originality, innovation and creativity are simply lost in the deluge of the data that is produced globally. It is hence crucial to enhance visibility in a framework that follows global standards. Specifically in India, the absence of any permissible direct marketing activities means that the portfolio becomes the most critical piece of the practice puzzle.
The premise of communication activity begins with the intention for discourse, dialogue and exchange of design ideas. First, the designers allow their work to be curated to suit the various forms of media outreach. Second, this proliferation of good design in the media furthers the quality of our built environment by inspiring students and younger people in the profession, who have conventionally attached value only to savvy images and last, but not the least, it furthers the cause of design education by raising the bar, each time, a little bit. Success finds its way through this means of design discourse by communicating in various media – designers communicate their thought processes and how their designs are representative of their intentions. Ultimately, this has an explicit impact on the evolution of contemporary Indian Design.
Plan: Have a plan. Designers shy away from words such as strategy, brand recall and brand differentiation; if integrated with the process of design, these can directly translate into creating strategic communication material by showcasing work in appropriate and relevant forums. Having a plan is not a bad idea after all – it helps you focus your outreach on the kind of business you want to attract in the long run.
Perception: As designers and allied professionals, your work speaks for itself. However, the process of getting new business often relies more on how your work is perceived rather than the value it actually represents. Representing work across various media including the firm’s website must be executed with the intent of how the portfolio is being perceived by the audience, how the reader understands the work. New business comes from a better understanding and value perception of services.
Visibility: The biggest barrier to growth and success for design firms is rarely creativity. Securing visibility for good work greatly helps in fostering public appreciation and communication is vital in this regard. While word of mouth is the conventional way to attract work, sustained visibility is essential to establish credibility amongst the trade, and enables better discourse/engagement whilst significantly improving future prospects. It is however critical to distinguish between simple PR and Communications; stories can be easily created, but it is imperative to lay emphasis on communicating design purely based on process and the strength of design intent.
Housekeeping: For most designers and design firms, communication activities are essentially housekeeping. There is usually no dearth of content and all that is required is curation. The projects are all on file, the drawings/photographs are usually available. As much as this is a perceived as a chore, simple processes can enable extraction of content, cleaning it up in order for it to be of communicable quality and curated to generate media visibility.
Be Unique and Be Known : There is no manual or set guidelines that can enable an effective communications plan. Each individual and firm is unique with a distinct design ethos and an inimitable style and approach. The work must resonate the ethos, and of course capture the essence of who the designer/firm is. What is critical is to ascertain what that uniqueness is, and utilize it as both the means and end of a communication plan.
Tools for communication today are evolving from static print media of profiles, brochures and publications, to web media, social media, and virtual and visual tools. Larger, established firms have even started developing apps for i-devices for prospective clients and ongoing project management. To keep pace with rapidly changing practices and be at par with new values of the global economy, it is important to step back and innovate. For someone doing commercial and corporate work, social media tools such as Facebook may not be pertinent, but for others doing residential work, applications such as Pinterest, Houzz and online web presence become essential. What is imperative for both new, young firms and for those who are established is identification of the right strategy, and an apt approach. A simple, ingenuous strategy with a strong vision and a deep commitment to the future of design and the built environment will surely lead the right way.
The fundamental key is of course to ‘Be Creative’. Communication will only help you ‘Be Known©’.
(Tanya Khanna is an architect with over eight years of global experience in Corporate Communications and Strategy within the AEC, real estate and media domain. She has helped design practices garner worldwide media attention for key projects, aid new business acquisition, win awards and improve internal practices for sustained development.)
This article appeared in POOL 37.