October 2010

Everybody’s a Designer

As I look at all the ridiculous Craigslist job postings in the art/media/design section something’s become very clear to me: most people have no respect for designers or the creative types anymore. That’s the only way I can rationalize why a professional would think a designer or creative, especially one with a degree, is deserving of $9 or $10 an hour with no benefits, no vacation time and yet a ton of responsibilities and duties.

I came to another realization recently: perhaps designers and creative types are at the bottom of the totem pole because no one really gets what we do. People equate design and art with fun and leisure while a job dealing with accounting, finances or working heavy machinery is “real” work. Really, while it’d be ideal to design a PR campaign educating the general masses what a graphic designer does and why a designer or creative type shouldn’t be treated like a fast food service, face it, that’d take more time and patience than any of us have to offer.

Here’s something we can do – we can start convincing people that in some way, shape or form, everyone is a designer. You probably blinked or re-read that statement but it’s true – everybody’s a designer. I recently attended the 125th anniversary of the UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Education. The keynote speaker, Phil Schlechty, made an interesting point during his address: everybody is a designer. Now why would someone in education make such a statement when designers hardly get any recognition or respect? Perhaps that’s because those in the education field would also “get it” or understand or situation.

What makes everyone a designer? According to Schlechty, it’s all about how we set about doing our jobs. Everybody, regardless of professions, has to design in order to accomplish their work. He outlined three general goals of design and how these definitions can fit anyone and any job:

1. Design begins with goals. When you set out to design something, planning is key. Whether it’s a teacher making plans for his or her classroom, a web designer considering the UI before designing a web page or a photographer coming up with a concept for a photo shoot, we all have to start off with a plan. If we don’t take the time to plan and think of all the different aspects of our design such as the intent, audience, motive and goal, we’ll be left with an ineffective design that reaches no one and has no impact.

2. Good design keeps incentives in mind. When you design something, you aren’t designing without purpose. You often times aren’t designing for yourself but for others. Therefore, good design keeps your audience at the forefront. What motivates your audience? A good design of any kind has incentives in mind. Figuring out why people do what they do is going to drive any design towards success.

3. Design is expressive and embraces values. Great designers tell great stories. Think of your favorite teachers in school and the subject or lessons they taught that had the most impact on you. Those great lessons contained both of the previous points – they were well designed plans, they had the audience (students) in mind and took into consideration how to capture the student’s attention and, lastly, they were told in nan expressive manner. Whether you’re a teacher, a writer or designer at large, whatever you design needs to tell a story.

These three key points turns everyone into a designer. Aren’t we all presented with a problem in our work or profession? Don’t we all go about designing a plan with a goal in mind? Yes. In the end, our design or solution is only successful when our target audience truly feels it. Schlechty brought up some other points about design that applies to everyone’s profession: designers of any kind should collaborate – you need interaction to spur creativity and can’t expect to produce anything of real value working alone in isolation. You can’t design things for yourself – design is about the audience and their needs, likes and dislikes. Designers are leaders – they are the ones who take scattered ideas and focus them into effective messages for consumption.

The next time you hear someone downing designers or someone asks you why you chose to be a designer as if it’s a bad thing, point out to them that they’re probably a designer. The moment we start expanding the definition and community of designers to include people of many different backgrounds and professions is the moment we’ll once again be taken seriously and be seen as equals.

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What is Social Media Really About?

Everybody regardless of their creative area of expertise should be engaged in social media. If you’re a designer, a copywriter, creative agency or advertiser, you can’t afford not to have a social media presence. Wisely, many are finally warming to the idea of making the move to Twitter and Facebook and are promoting their businesses and themselves through “social media”. Some are even hiring “social media” experts to help them Tweet, blog, post Facebook updates all in the hopes of keeping up with the competition. The problem? Few people understand what social media really is and thus all that time spent in updating a Facebook fan page or the time spent Tweeting is wasted. What gives?

I post a lot about design and thought it’d be interesting to step away from the design of printed stuff to the design of an effective social media marketing effort. As a freelancer, I rely on various online tools and platforms to promote my business. So do a lot of you out there for your freelancing or business needs. Yet, few actually get social media. When you hear someone utter the phrase “social media” you automatically think of Twitter or Facebook. That’s where many people start and stop and why their social media marketing efforts fail. It’ll take a few posts to describe what a functional, profitable social media campaign looks like but like any form of design, it starts with the mindset. Before you leap onto Twitter and Facebook you should ask yourself an important question: What isn’tsocial media? Figure out what doesn’t qualify as social media will help you approach and design a social media campaign that looks great and functions better than anything you can imagine.

1. Social media isn’t limited to Facebook and Twitter. How many times have you heard a company boast that they have a social media component of their business and all they have to show for it is a Facebook fan page that’s generic and not customized or a Twitter account that’s rarely updated and contains trivial information? The biggest misconception most people have is that social media is defined as being on Twitter and Facebook. It’s not. Social media is an extended conversation that takes place across multiple mediums and platforms over an extended period of time. Meaning one Tweet, a few status updates on Twitter and not even a random video posted on YouTube qualifies as social media. It’s a full-time job and responsibility. If you aren’t working on it a little each day and keeping things current, you aren’t engaged in social media. Sorry to burst your bubble.

2. Social media is not a fad. Some people think social media is a waste of time. These are the same people who refuse to accept the fact that you can no longer rely on print ads or cold calls to generate leads and interest in your business or product. Social media is here to stay and inventions like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (just to name a few) have changed how we communicate, receive our news and interact with others. If you aren’t engaged in social media then you’re already setting yourself up for an uphill battle.

3. Social media is a new way of marketing services and individuals. In the old days marketing experts were all about figuring out the unique selling proposition (USP) of their product. This was a very singular, one-size-fits-all approach to advertising. They created a message to target a specific group and would either create a print ad or commercial spot for radio or television. Fast forward to the present time. Audiences no longer respond to this singular monologue type of marketing. Thanks to the Internet, people expect and look for a dialogue. You have websites devoted to product reviews; discussions about products and advertising taking place on Facebook and Twitter 24/7; the power of print and radio waning tremendously. Social media is all about engaging your audience in a dialogue, being transparent, continuously being present and available to them and in their face. You can’t accomplish that through old ways of promotion or advertising but social media makes that constant presence very easy.

4. Social media is for all ages, races, orientations and genders. People have this silly idea that social media is for the young. They scoff at it being an integral part of any marketing, promotion, design or business because they often hear stories of people posting ridiculously personal or unflattering things online and getting caught doing so on Facebook or Twitter on a regular basis. That does happen, but that doesn’t mean all social media is like that. Effective social media stands as a way to easily reach out to your audience, or even prospects, and connect with them quickly at any time of the day. One study reported that the dominating demographic on Twitter is those aged 35-49 years. The fastest growing group on Facebook? Women who are older than 55! Both of those groups contains people who’d be willing to spend money on products or services. Want to reach them with ease? Build up a social media presence including a Facebook fan page, blog, Twitter account, Flickr, YouTube channel and LinkedIn page (for starters).

5. Social media isn’t limited to the computer. There are those who seem afraid of Twitter and other social media platforms; then there are those who completely embrace it and online marketing … but forget that integral “social” part of the media. Social is what you need to keep in mind when designing your social media efforts. You want to keep people talking and discussing your product and your work both on and offline. Word-of-mouth still is a powerful marketing technique. If you aren’t making people talk or discuss you or your work, then you’ll be left on the sidelines and often times overlooked. Effective social media takes place online and carries over into face-to-face discussions and offline lives. If you’re designing the perfect social media campaign then remember to plan for and develop your efforts to target people’s lives all day, at all times, on and off the computer or smartphone.

6. Social media isn’t something you shouldn’t be measuring. Why are you on Twitter? What’s the point of your Facebook fan page? Are you a photographer? Then why are you on Flickr or sharing your photos online? A designer? Then why are you posting to Craigslist everyday to promote your services? The answer to all of these questions, whether we like it or not, is that we’re all trying to make money. Social media is often about helping the bottom line and making a profit. Businesses don’t produce dozens of videos online for personal amusement. Companies are flocking to Twitter to tell their customers what little Johnny did at school the other day. If you’re trying to make money through social media, you can’t proclaim yourself an expert or that a campaign is successful without measuring results. How do you measure? You can note how much profit you’ve made through online promotions, the number of hits to your website, unique visitor counts, bounce rates to a website, leads generated, number of followers on Twitter, fans on Facebook, whether online discussions of your product are mostly positive or negative. What’s a good design without a bit of criticism and feedback? Start taking note of some of your stats and changes you notice since implementing a social media plan and report your findings on a continuous basis to your colleagues, clients or boss on a regular basis.

Now that you know what social media is not, you can start designing an effective social media campaign based upon what it’s really all about. Come back in the days to come for additional tips on creating your own social media marketing campaign.

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