Reflections on communicating intrinsic value and the significance of branding in selling yourself.
Many creative designers begin their careers with what they believe to be a clear conceptual vision for the work they produce. Whilst in education certainly, this is reinforced when credit is offered for work which applies a complex thought process, regardless of whether it can be successfully deciphered and practically employed by commercial agents and consumers. In my own experience, this can lead to the emergence of a practice lead by thought rather than clear application, which in turn can make for a complex skillset, difficult to communicate succinctly.
As a freelance designer and product entrepreneur with a back portfolio of personal and commercial projects spanning over a decade, developed from concepts which were hailed as credible from my education, I reached a point in my career where I no longer felt a sense of purpose in what I produced. My output had shifted dramatically over a period of time, influenced by a range of "real world" external factors such as technological shift,commercial trends, market pull, access to finance and an awareness of the ever changing opportunities available to design led entrepreneurs. I had produced a vast amount of project work for various people with wide ranging agendas and as a result, I no longer felt assured of where I fitted as a practitioner. Interest in what I created seemed to rise and dwindle spontaneously with no clear rationale and therefore I felt a growing lack of direction for my work.
In 2012, I decided that this needed to be analytically addressed to make some sense of how my practice was perceived and valued, and so I made the decision to embark on a deep exploration of my skills, outputs and beliefs in the hope that I may find a way to pinpoint direction and determine how to better communicate it to regain direction for my design abilities.I recognised that my skillset was broad and that I was enthused by more than one area of creative thinking and process, so I first needed to establish what ultimately drove me to work in this way. In the past, I strived to produce work which addressed tangible problems, work which applied ecology to material choice and work which held a human story. Over the years this had expanded to include educational aspects, sharing my beliefs on the opportunities that both design thinking and consumer understanding could bring to both individuals and organisations as they developed and engaged with the products we use everyday.
I realised that ultimately I wanted to engage people with the broader significance of the experience of design, and the benefits it can bring to both our emotional state and our practical abilities.Initially I had thought that the key to this might be in working on bespoke briefs as opposed to designing for industry. Producing things of significant functional and sentimental value to an individual rather than struggling with the complexity of attempting to address issues concerning mass civilisation, global cultures and economic matters when trying to create a product which meets a broader need, which often results in diluted impact due to the nature of corporate operations. With far fewer demands to satisfy, I figured that the imagination is surely only limited by the resource offered by the commissioning agent when working on one off outputs to commission.
In considering the balance, it became apparent that whilst I might be more able to deeply involve individuals in the creative process in the realisation of one -offs (and therefore be able to engage a few in the significance of the experience of design), ultimately I would have less impact on a broader scale in communicating the benefits of strategic thinking to larger audiences. In an attempt to readdress this balance, I considered the potential for advocating craft as a method for self fulfillment in both a practical and emotive sense through trialing the development of DIY product packs which employed self crafting. I figured that this might both allow an individual to adapt a design for personal significance, yet take advantage of current commercial systems to reach a wider market through a standardisation process that would streamline potential reach.
For this, I developed a graphic instruction set for individuals to realise their own version of handcrafted lighting from everyday materials thereby reducing labour and material costs. This experiment proved that although self crafting generated design affordability, pride in creation, and the subsequent appreciation of the transformative process, many people lacked the skills, time and dexterity to develop the outcome to its full potential. Despite the fruitlessness of this exercise in assisting me to identify a way to communicate design value, I did discover the importance of graphic projection in the presentation and subliminal communication of work, and recognised that this was a major factor in the extent to which engagement occurred. More importantly, I realised that in my use of graphics to hand over the crafting process to the end user, the emerging value behind my practice was not in what I produced, but in how I consistently attempt to offer a transformative solution through end user engagement with outcomes. The trick therefore was in finding a mechanism or "hook" to get people to engage and relate to the different aspects of my work in the first instance.I realised this could only occur through separation of my output into distinct entities.
This is where "branding" comes into play to tame the undisciplined designer and allow for rational value to be uncovered from the relevant content assigned to each identity. No matter how much a creative attempts to reveal the meaning of a concept, it will remain unrecognised unless it is directed to relevant parties, and positioned in a context that is relatable. Essentially, it revolves around the basic principle of the marketing mix, (or the 4 p's) price, people, place and product. Output must be accessible (affordably priced and easy to find), understandable and visibly beneficial in the context in which it is placed so that the end user can successfully interpret and imagine its application.The result of my study lead me to the creation of three distinct commercial entities for my practice, which each spoke in a different tone for a different set of individual needs.
I believe that we should not force pigeonhole creatives into committing to a single definition of who they are and what they represent, but we should help them to consider, how they can be, however simple or complex and help them to communicate it effectively to the right people in the commercial world. It took me two years to develop my separate brand identities following nine years of existing practice. It astonishes me that today, so little emphasis on the importance of effective self branding for designers to succeed commercially. Divergent thinkers are essential for contributing to innovation, If educators uphold the principle that graduates need to make impact with the work that they produce, yet fail to provide them with the necessary skills and insight to realise methods for such, then the system fails to assist them in signposting the meaning of HOW their ideas can matter