The Passion and Purpose of Design
Do you want your marketing to be good? Do you want it to be great?
Marketing is really all about design. Great marketing is about quality design. We design graphics. We craft stories and narratives. We compose photographs of happy, smiling people for the advertising campaigns we planned. We design grand brand strategies with flow charts. We even design our budgets.
We design every communication we have with customers, whether intentionally or not. We need to take ownership of our design and design for quality.
Robert Pirsig writes in his book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, that quality cannot be defined, but it does exist, and we all know what it is. He describes quality as a train in motion. Everything we know is catalogued in boxcars, and everything we don’t know yet lays on the track in front of us. To practice quality, we need to acknowledge that reality is constantly changing, and we must combine what we’ve always known with what we’re about to learn. In business, aspects about our customers are constantly changing, and we need to keep up by designing our customer interactions with quality.1
To create quality design, we need to have a passion for it. Pirsig describes it as “caring” and writes, “Care and Quality are internal and external aspects of the same thing. A person who sees Quality and feels it as he works is a person who cares.2″ Passion is a mindset, and that is why we have to establish the quality mindset before explaining specific tools or methods.
In Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, a small group of architects fight for the purpose of design. The protagonist Howard Roark designed buildings to help make living a joy, not to impress the neighbors or conform with precedent. He had a passion for building what “should be” and never settled for mediocrity. As he exchanged with a prospective client who asked him to use supposedly decorative flourishes:
“’Mr. Janss, when you buy an automobile, you don’t want it to have rose garlands about the windows, a lion on each fender and an angel sitting on the roof. Why don’t you?’
‘That would be silly,’ stated Mr. Janss.
‘Why would it be silly? Now I think it would be beautiful. Besides, Louis the Fourteenth had a carriage like that and what was good enough for Louis is good enough or for us. We shouldn’t go in for rash innovations and we shouldn’t break with tradition.’
‘Now you know damn well you don’t believe anything of the sort!’
‘I know I don’t. But that’s what you believe, isn’t it? Now take a human body. Why wouldn’t you like to see a human body with a curling tail with a crest of ostrich feathers at the end? And with ears shaped like acanthus leaves? It would be ornamental, you know, instead of the stark, bare ugliness we have now. Well, why don’t you like the idea? Because it would be useless and pointless. Because the beauty of the human body is that it doesn’t have a single muscle which doesn’t serve its purpose; that there’s not a line wasted; that every detail of it fits one idea, the idea of a man and the life of a man.’”3
Purposeful design is not limited to architects. The purpose of marketing design is to focus on the customer. We want to inform our customers, delight them, help them use our products and get them to do things (like buy something or refer a friend). Don’t focus on competitors, impressing trade groups or what you did last year unless it helps you with your customer goals.
Don’t let your next web page be mediocre. Think again before letting Val-Pak design your company’s ad for you. Realize that a typo speaks more about you than anything else you’ve written. If you seek out passionate, purposeful design, you will see the results in your bottom line.
1. Pirsig, Robert M. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. New York: HarperCollins, 1999.
2. Ibid., 281.
3. Rand, Ayn. The Fountainhead. New York: Plume, 1999. 163.
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