Design Differentiates

I know of a guy who actually spent thousands on a bicycle. That concept to me is way out there, but, hey, he bikes a LOT. Thing is, the major decision for him of WHERE to purchase that bike (he bought locally – YAY!) came down to the company website. Simple as that.

He found a local bike seller, but didn’t like their website, so he moved on to option #2 (different local bike seller). How many times does this happen?

Every single day.

Design does this. Too, too many times as a designer, I found those who KNOW the value of design. They understand. Here it is in a nutshell – it’s there, whether you invest time and finances into it or not. It communicates to your clients what you are really like – whether you say anything or not.

If you are a photographer, hopefully your website is modern and beautiful, so that a visitor (potential client!) will know that you understand that visuals are important. THEN, they can relax and look at your photos which should communicate the same – that you understand visuals and how to put them together.

Design is everywhere.

It’s all around us – in our homes and how the rooms are laid out. In our coffee cup. Our clothes. Even the glass jar that our salsa comes in.

When you’re a small business, you absolutely have to be different than every other business. If you are a commodity, you are giving your customers permission to shop only based on price. AAarrgh!

THAT is a losing game, peeps!

If you are doing what many businesses do and cutting pricing down to the bone or giving tons of discounts off your costing, you are sending the wrong message – that you are cheap, just like everyone else. That’s BAD!!

Instead – whether you are a window washer, electrician, or dog groomer – you must differentiate. Be different.

HOW do I do that, you say?

Design does that. If your branding is nailed down and well thought out, branding will communicate what nothing else can. If you have a killer logo, business card, and website, your customers will many times choose you over the guy whose branding is stuck in the 80’s or just icky (or branding that communicates the wrong message).

Also, think about other things you can do to be different. If you visit clients’ homes as a contractor, are all of your vehicles newer, so they don’t drip oil on their driveways? Do they have extra mirrors for safety? Do you have a 24 hour emergency service policy? It might seem simple, but each of these things can make you BETTER than your competition!

If you have any of the above policies or items – like safer vehicles – make sure that you plan how you will communicate this to your potential clients.

You KNOW that you are better than your competition, so how will you SAY that?

In case I didn’t communicate it clearly enough before – be different.

Design differentiates.

Finding Your Design Process

One of the things that I love about super juicy knowledge is how it rings true for more than one thing. Case in point – art. The other day I was watching a YouTube video on art. I love to draw, but, frankly, I’m out of practice because I had hit a wall.

It felt like drawing took SO much effort without much improvement. Yes, I can draw what I see (mostly), but I wanted to become much better. How to improve?

Iterative drawing video to the rescue –>

Basically this video talks about being a creative analytical person. Ouch! Right? Yes, that’s me. I am analytical, but I love everything art, design, and creative. Being artistic can be difficult for me.

Here’s where it gets interesting…

The video by Sycra talks about iterative drawing. Basically drawing something 20 times instead of once. Don’t worry about perfect, instead explore the possible. Draw something 20 times and afterwards, analyze how it went and if you like it.

Please understand that I wish I would have thought of it this way 10 years ago. It’s gaining muscle memory (and process habits) that will improve art much more quickly.

It reminds me of an experience…

Several years ago, I was called regarding landscape design for a residence for new construction. It sounded like it would be worth a look, so I scheduled an appointment with them at their home.

Driving along, the road was soon surrounded by trees. Hills rose and fell around me. Eventually, I made it to the residence only to be confronted with a driveway that was so rutted, it seemed almost impassible.

Once I had a look at the site, I was hopeful. Here, the house was perched on the side of a hill. Two levels opened up to the view. Even better, when I met the clients, they were fun, interesting, and open to ideas.

We discussed their hopes and dreams, spoke about their style, and got to know each other over a plywood table. (I was their first visitor in their unfinished dining room!)

As I was leaving, I was feeling that warm rush of ‘new design’. I was eager to start right away as my ideas were already beginning. Then, I heard someone call out, ‘Oh! No straight lines!’


My style is architectural, geometric, modern, classic – it’s all about squares, rectangles, circles, and arcs – forms. LINES!

I didn’t want to freak out on the front step, so I mentally filed the comment to the side for later consideration.

Note: Sometimes clients feel as though lines are stuffy and no fun. As though wavy lines are natural and natural = good. The thing is, it’s just not that simple.

Ok, back to the story.

Back at the office, after the survey, I had drafted the existing landscape on the computer when it happened. I got stuck. I would draft something, hate it, erase it and start over. In the back of my mind I kept hearing, ‘No straight lines!’ It was like those mornings where you have too much coffee and just end up stressed instead of awake.

After several days of this, I was stressed out because now I was eating up all this time with nothing to show for it. How to break out of this awful cycle?

I figure it wouldn’t hurt me to just stop and really think about what was going on. When I did stop, I noticed something – I had been printing out little portions of the design, sketching on it, and then drafting it back into the drawing. THOSE parts were working fine.

Second, I figured I had to let loose and toss out this crazy ‘No straight lines’ thing. Gone! I had some large 24”x36” prints made up and gave myself permission to design whatever I wanted for that day.

Do you want to know what happened?

I designed the entire landscape in 2 hours.

What had frustrated me for days was suddenly beautiful. Yes, I still had to draft it back into the computer, but it was designed. Yes, there were a few straight lines, but here’s the kicker…

The owner never said beans about it. I was ready to defend my choices because they were solid – he didn’t care. He got a landscape with beautiful arcs and circles (and a few straight lines), and he and his wife loved it.

Lessons learned –

  1. Use iterative design to design or draw multiples of times. Give yourself permission to waste some paper. Analyze it AFTER you’ve played with it, not while you are designing.
  1. Figure out how YOU design best – even if it is on paper or directly into CAD via computer mouse – because I have heard of architects that MUST draft directly into the computer. There is no best way – there’s only YOUR best way.
  1. Finally, trust your gut. Stressing out kills creativity. You’re in this because you love design and when you’re in The Zone, it’s all good. Creativity must have that Zone where you play. Cultivating that is especially important if you’re analytical like moi.

I’ve plunged back into things full force — and I’ve drawn more in 3 days than I have in a long time. Final lesson for me — Do what you love, analyze, understand, repeat.