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Building your design business: perceptioning

paper necker cubeNecker cube image by Yazid Azahari.

You have the skills, you have the technology… (to quote a famous TV show from the 70’s), but knowing how to sell them (and you) requires another kind of aptitude altogether. The commercial reality for designers is that having talent isn’t always a guarantee of attaining success or making a living come to that. Man cannot live on artistic brilliance alone.



In a Googlised world where the potential customer based in your city is as likely to choose a designer from Mumbai or Melbourne it is important to formulate a strategy for building your brand as a designer. These days that’s as much about selling ‘you’ as it is about showcasing and demonstrating your talent.



There is a lot of talk out there in the blogosphere about the dumbing-down of the design profession with the advent of increasing amounts of spec work and cheap and cheerful online firms selling logos designed by poorly-paid outsourced workers. Have you ever considered though that this might just present wonderful opportunities for the best designers to differentiate themselves? This might just be your chance to be known for doing great work, choose which clients to work with and leverage your other talents at the same time.



Of course building a brand doesn’t happen overnight, it never has done. But the good news is that anyone with talent and vision can make a start from the bottom with little or no marketing budget and take responsibility for crafting their own credibility.



Building any brand is an ongoing process with much tweaking and re-alignment happening along the way. Therefore, thinking about new ways to increase your profile, nurture professional relationships, and extend the equity of an established business is vital for any brand’s ongoing success.

Instead of asking, “What should we do next?” try asking, “How could we do this better?”



Building your design business: perceptioning

Before perceptioning there was positioning. Jack Trout first wrote about positioning back in 1969. Decades later many still tout it to be the worlds’ number one business strategy.



Positioning was defined as a process by which marketers try to create an image or identity in the minds of their target market for its’ product, brand or organization. The words to remember here are ‘try’ and ‘mind’. From that starting point businesses were meant to go on and identify a market niche for their brand, product or service utilizing traditional marketing placement strategies (i.e. price, promotion, distribution, packaging, and competition).


Traditionally there were a lot of ‘how’ and ‘what’ tactics involved. How do we identify our customers? How do we dominate the market? How can we eliminate the competition? What can we tell them that they will believe? What message are we selling?

Positioning as a strategy was designed to gain mindshare of consumers. Businesses strove for their products to be uppermost in consumer’s minds and achieved this by pushing their message out relentlessly through advertising promotion and the hard sell. Fighting a battle for people’s minds is a traditional old message supported by a world with just three TV channels and no remote control. Shouldn’t we be trying to woo our way into their tweeting hearts?



“It doesn’t matter what people think about you. What matters is how you make them feel about themselves and their decisions.”
— Tom Asacker



Perceptioning is the means by which you convey the truth and understanding about you, your product, business or brand to the world. It is the basis upon which people (clients, consumers, friends) create expectations and thus act on what they sense to be true.



Perceptioning is the quest for people’s hearts and not something that can be managed or manufactured as it is based on how people feel rather than what you can make them think. It is not a science but an art and a new strategy for thinking about how not to compete in the market. The foundations of perceptioning are what you say and what you do to make people feel that they matter.


Random acts of perceptioning in no specific order: (might be an idea to read first then come back and click on the links afterward… your call).

  1. Be different
  2. Do something you love
  3. Work with people you care about
  4. Look for niches and edges to work in
  5. Spend time listening to customers
  6. Show; don’t tell

  7. Be generous; share your insights
  8. Stop worrying about the competition
  9. Fulfill the unexpressed desires of your clients
  10. Build relationships
  11. Look for opportunities to interact
  12. Deliver value
  13. Do something unexpected
  14. Speak human
  15. Surprise
  16. Delight

  17. Connect people to each other
  18. Compel clients to say, “I love this!”
  19. Compel clients customers to say, “I love this, who did it?”
  20. Be Yourself

What else…..?



As designers you are not trying to corner the market in washing powder sales or own the words “whiter whites.” You are not boxes of cereal competing for shelf space at Walmart. You don’t have to be the same. It’s your job to be different, not just to think different.




“Original ideas are created by original people, people who either through instinct or insight know the value of being different and recognize the commonplace as a dangerous place to be.”

— Paul Arden


The full ‘Building your design business’ series:

1. Perceptioning
2. Product
3. Promotion

Bernadette Jiwa is an Australia-based brand and marketing strategist.

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