Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Can We Talk? Client communications

Designers- since this is our tip I know I can talk to you. I’m a designer, you’re a designer, we speak the same language. But how many times, after you had client meetings, do you return with your hard work to find a big mismatch with what they had in mind? It’s like you don’t speak the same language. And in many ways you don’t. In a language as rich as English you are each using your own style of communicating. Different careers attract different personalities and lifestyles and communication styles.

Business people (clients) have spent their lives being rewarded for discussing cold hard facts and are comfortable discussing design in literal, specific, definite ways, (left-brain, Mars). When you ask questions to start developing a design they often feel challenged by questions that are open ended, no right answer, or ‘touchy-feely’. So they do their best, grasping for buzzwords, to try to give you something to start on.

Designers, have been rewarded all their lives for creating visual communications, and are often uncomfortable with verbal communication altogether. Their verbal communication (if developed) tends to be unique, sensitive, qualified, questioning and even playful (right-brain, Venus). When starting a design the critical elements for these free thinking questioners is to find overall goals, basic parameters, and how the project is to feel. To us, details can be fit in once a vision is articulated. So starting out we are miles apart, Where does it go from there?

Designers want to develop projects in a free, non-judgmental space and clients think in terms of control and linear progress. So the presentation and revision process can be difficult for both. It’s nobody’s fault but it can seem like a ‘War of the Worlds’. What are we to do?

I was thrilled to find Graphically Speaking
by Lisa Buchanan in 2003. It is a visual lexicon for achieving better designer-client communication. In consultation with other designers she has created pages of visual examples for the 30 words most commonly used in client-designer meetings. She includes fonts and pantone swatches for words like ‘innovative’ and ‘natural’. I was suspicious at first. How could we be sure she was right on all these words? Then it clicked. The idea is to bring it to your meeting. You and your client would be looking at the same thing and it wouldn’t matter what the word was. And that is lesson one on overcoming the communication crisis. Use visuals.

I strongly believe in face to face communication because I get so many clues about a style the client will respond to by meeting them in their environment. I often find that the values expressed in their offices, clothing, and body language gives me more information than they can express verbally. Of course I need to find out their budget and booth size verbally but the rug in their office can tell me if they are more ‘old world charm’ or ‘mid-century modern’ in their personal style. Not that the project will necessarily reflect their personal style specifically. It will hopefully be aimed at their target market. I have found it does have to reflect their values for it to have traction with them.

Bring visuals with you to brainstorming sessions. Always have a portfolio and often scrap files from your research. Be sure to grab their current (and past) visuals and then ask what they like and what they don’t like about them. Never assume that just because they have produced a brochure that it reflects what they like. Ask them to bring visuals to the meeting. Ask them to start looking around with their booth in mind, and who knows what kind of inspiration will strike. At least it prepares them for a different communication experience.

Ask questions they can answer, that leave you room to create. Graphically Speaking has a great starting list and the questions are focused on goals and values. I always find it hard to get clients to focus on these kinds of questions rather than what they think is important to me. If they start talking color, copy and shape right out of the gate, where is my chance to give them my expertise, conceptualizing the visuals to support a message? To get off on the right foot I send them my questions in advance now so they can start thinking in terms of values and vision before we get to our session.

Be sure you are in direct communication with the decision makers. I know not every designer is cut out for this, but hopefully those that are not, are teamed up with a design director who can bring the design mind into communication with the final decision maker. I don’t mean to discount the skills of a sales person or account manager to communicate the client’s needs, but to get the clues to inspire a designer’s creativity in the right direction, I believe in face to face communication. Hopefully so do the rest of you since that is the essence of our tradeshow industry.

Just being aware of our communication challenges is a big step toward overcoming them. The fantastic research that is coming out from the fields of brain science, psychology and sociology about communication helps people to appreciate diversity of thought. I hope that what you learn allows you to create unique ways to touch people of all personalities, lifestyles, and communication styles.

Originally published in the EDPA Newsletter: As a designer tip by Hilary Howes. published here by her permission.

Hilary Howes was a panelist for the EDPA Design Trends presentation at TS2 2005 presented the New System Architecture at TS2 in 2006. Her 30 years of design experience includes Theatrical Sets and Lighting, Retail Store Fixtures, Photography, Exhibition and Exhibit Design. She creates concept designs for GES Exposition Services worldwide from the National Design Center in Washington DC. A trend watcher for many years she serves as a member of the Color Marketing Group that researches color (and other) trends for a wide range of industries.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

EDPA Mid-Atlantic Chapter Meeting

Did you know EDPA is launching its first-ever Mid-Atlantic Chapter?
It's about time, isn't it?
We knew you'd agree, so we're inviting you to roll up your sleeves, start thinking of ideas  and help launch the first ever Mid-Atlantic Chapter of EDPA.
When: 5:00 pm on Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Where: The first meeting will be held at NTP
Why: This is our new chapter's first meeting and your support will help get it off the ground.
Please contact me at 703.706.8208 or kshevlin@ntpshow.com if you would like to attend or if you would like to participate in future events. There is no cost to attend the first meeting as we will be putting together nominations for a board of directors and a plan for future meetings.
Please forward this to anyone who may be interested in this new chapter. All trade show industry professionals welcome!
NTP is located at 313 South Patrick Street, Alexandria, VA 22314.
I hope you'll join us in launching this exciting – and important – new chapter of EDPA!
Kellie Shevlin
TS² Sales and Industry Relations Manager
National Trade Productions
313 S. Patrick Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
"We Know Shows"
Plan to exhibit at TS² 2007, THE Industry Event for Exhibit and Event Professionals, July  31 - August 1, 2007 i Washington, DC.  For more information about TS², please visit  www.ts2show.com

Tuesday, January 9, 2007


Trend to Consider-
Authenticity is our quest for real in a sea of confusion. It is quite simply being real and presenting real textures, materials and ideas. Examples are everywhere. Consider the popularity of “Reality TV”. Dramatic craft and art are sacrificed for the feeling of watching a real experience.
We are searching for connections anywhere with unique but believable stories, and expect products and services to deliver. We have all grown visually weary by the onslaught of images. It pains me to admit (because I am very illustrative as a designer) that it is increasingly hard to impress anyone with a static image. Photoshop image doctoring has made it difficult to truly believe any photograph. We need to touch people with solids and spaces in a way that only a designed environment can. You can sense authentic places and people in a way you can trust. Have you ever felt that you were in the wrong neighborhood, bar, place? What about the feeling in good place, can a picture do it justice?
As our trust in enterprises erodes and human emotions are battered by dissolution, we look to connect with anything and everything to create complete experience in the absence of human relationships. One of the strongest reasons to attend a tradeshow is to get back the connectedness that we loose by working much of our lives in front of a computer. Exhibits are becoming more a place to create that connection experience rather than just trying to attract people visually. Maybe we are witnessing the change from Trade Shows to Trade Events .

My favorite example is an exhibit from EuroShop 2005. In this refrigeration company booth the wall beside the ‘cafĂ©' section of the booth is made entirely of real ice blocks. Yes, they were melting all the time. It is striking because it touched all your senses and it was the most visceral way to explain just what this company is about. It needed no logos cut in it or colors added or artificial anything. Logistically a challenge but the message was clear and the buzz was fantastic.

Hilary Howes, in the Sept. 2005 EDPA newsletter

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

In-House Designer Resources

Here are some resources from Doug Fuller, President, Art Directors Club of Metro Washington  www.adcmw.org
Membership is free in this association of corporate creatives and is required to get to their resources page on their site. There are some helpful articles in the Books and Articles section.


Design Management Institute
Very business-focused with some good resources and seminars. Expensive to join.

Corporate Design Foundation
Also very business-focused. Publishers of @Issue (see description below)

Beautifully designed and has great articles about the value of design for business. You can order back issues, which would be perfect  for making your case to higher-ups for the value of your in-house department.

How Magazine
They have articles on in-house design departments and an online forum for in-house designers.

MS Office Training
Yes, Word and PowerPoint really suck, but they are part of many in-house designers' reality. This place will come to your site and train you to make the most of these and other programs.

Misc. articles




Going Green

The green building movement is primarily being driven by the LEED criteria established by the US Green Building Council. The USGBC sponsors Greenbuild Conference & Expo, which is scheduled for November 14-16 in Denver (www.greenbuildexpo.org). This is the place to explore the impact of green building. Also, USGBC has partnered with McGraw Hill Construction who published a "Smart Market Report" last year on green building. (www.smartmarket.construction.com) $75.00 I believe. This is comprehensive data on the industry.