Hand Made Louis Vuitton Shoes
For our upcoming wedding anniversary, my wife bought me a pair of Louis Vuitton shoes. When we came home and I reviewed my gift, I was overcome with a sense of deep emotion. The shoe I held in my hand was so perfect, it screamed of the ultimate perfection in hand made craftsmanship.
As I fondled the hand made shoe, feeling the smoothness of the perforated calf skin and taking in the smell of quality leather, I began to reflect on my own career, the company I have built and the logo design industry in general.
Craftsmanship And Design – Are you an expert?
Malcolm Gladwell, the author of Outliers, says that to become an expert at something, one has to practice that task for 10,000 hours or more. I liked this concept and when I relate that to myself, I believe I have actually seen it to be roughly true. I have put more than 10,000 hours into my skill as a brand designer and can perhaps be arrogant enough or confident enough to call myself an expert.
Of course there are no absolutes when it comes to being an expert at something. I would have scores of successful projects where my clients would be blown away by the work I present them with and then out of the blue, there would be the rare client who would take one look at the concepts shown and simply say they did not like them and that perhaps they could have one it better themselves!
I am fascinated by all manner of craftsmanship and when I see it celebrated in the design world, it gives me great joy. By the same token, when design is treated like a commodity by the public and by the design world itself, it frustrates me. I must admit I am guilty, in the past, of the same. This was before I had an epiphany and the realisation that I was competing with the wrong crowd and targeting the wrong customer which had forced me to put design in the back seat and sales and volume to forefront.
Is Design A Commodity? Money is!
Due to the proliferation of overseas freelancers and crowd sourcing sites, design has become a commodity. A commodity by definition, is a class of goods for which there is demand, but which is supplied without qualitative differentiation across a market. When there is no differentiation, then customers would go for the cheapest offer. I do understand that this is bound to happen in any industry – even cosmetic surgery has become a commodity these days! – but to see it happen to the industry (Craftsmanship And Design) I so deeply love and cherish, makes me quite sad.
I too had walked down this dingy path, and indeed lead my company down the same path, when I didn’t have the clarity of thought to understand the value of my skills and that of my team, my knowledge and the importance of what I was offering. I am sure many of the designers and design companies out there are or were on the same path.
It all starts with the need to offer services in exchange for money. It is the exchange of the designer’s time, experience and skill for a commodity that the customers have – money.
To gain more opportunities to provide their service, designers would usually be tempted to bring down design to a commodity status in order to convince potential customers to make their choice based on price alone. Their hope is to get enough work to help them get started and build up a portfolio and then eventually start charging clients what they are truly worth.
In reality though, this rarely ever happens. On top of that, the ever increasing momentum of overseas designers who offer design services for peanuts, forces designers in the west to purely look at price as the driving force.
Customers get the short end of the stick!
Even before they realize, designers or design companies, find themselves struggling to fight the price wars and desperately cutting corners. Due to the sheer amount of competition, designers then become needy and desperate for work and in fact acquire a distaste for design and customer service. Where in the past, a designer would find joy in creating a design – spending time and with passion, akin to craftsmanship, now find themselves focusing more on acquiring the next customer and less on taking care of the existing. A customer then becomes an obstacle, a pain, rather than the purpose of the service itself.
Customers on the other hand, want to pay the least they possibly can – and who can blame them – but still do expect the best service they can get. In fact they demand the best service. What they fail to understand is that great service comes at a cost. When another human offers their time, their lifetime of experience and hard earned skills to your cause, then you would need to compensate them well and make it worthy of their efforts. To get the best out of anyone, you would have to reward them well.
When this disconnect happens and expectations are mismatched, you find that neither party benefits. In fact, in this kind of situation where customers pay the least they can, especially in getting their corporate identity or brand created, they end up compromising the future of their entire business endeavour. I can hear you shaking your head and perhaps thinking I am being overly dramatic here. But consider the facts.
Made By Hand
A great design identity would inspire the rest of your branding efforts and in fact set the tone for how you perceive your company and in turn how your customers perceive you. A chef friend of mine recently bought a knife from Joel Bukiewicz of CutBrooklyn. That single purchase literally transformed the way my friend worked in his restaurant kitchen and infused inspiration into his cooking. Joel is well known for his hand made knives that are pieces of art. He spent 5 years and several hundred iterations to coax his signature knife to it’s current state. Each knife spends over 15 hours in Joel’s hands! This fact, coupled with the beauty of the knives that Joel makes, inspires people who use them.
The same goes for design. A beautifully hand crafted logo or identity opens up doors to thinking beyond the current state of the business. It creates aspirations and communicates that to potential customers. People can feel the specialness of a company that has beautiful branding. It shows the company cares. It shows the company is serious. It shows the company respects itself and in turn would respect it’s customers.
To make this happen, an artisan or artist should create designs with care and passion. He/she should show craftsmanship. By understanding the company, the service or product and the target market, the designer should care enough to create designs that communicate the right message and appeal to the audience. This would not work if the designer is more concerned about saving time and getting the work done in the least amount of time so he/she can move on to the next project to make ends meet and pay their bills.
Does design have to cost an arm and a leg?
I am not advocating that business owners should pay through the roof for an unaffordable service. But they should pay the best they can and try and work with designers who are craftsman. I see companies and businesses not bat an eyelid when it comes to throwing company parties or buying spend on marketing or advertising that have low ROI. But when it comes to the fundamentals, they are not comfortable setting about a decent budget for branding.
Designers on the other hand also have to think more in terms of the value of service they are providing instead of simply providing the cheapest offer. Underselling yourself leads to disaster. You lose your soul in the process and before you know it, you are scrapping by on morsels, looking for the next project in desperation. It is understandable to charge low when you are starting out but you must set standards and charge what you think your time and skill are worth.
You do not have to charge as Louis Vuitton does but you do have to charge enough to make your time worth and enable you to feel proud of the service your provide and encourage you to infuse your service with craftsmanship.