making choices, creating value

Making choices, creating value. I constantly think about why people value the things they do, and how design and messaging fit into that larger picture. We recently had a project that gave me a new perspective about these eternal questions.

Without giving away the details, here is the situation: the client is an inventor who developed a product that we  believe will change the world in a small but important way.

In creating materials that foster credibility for this man and his idea, we have many choices before us – an infinity of them. For discussion’s sake, let’s imagine there are just two.

Behind door number one is the man’s illustrious backstory – a cavalcade of glowingly important technical achievements that relate obliquely to a few well known innovations. It is hugely impressive, but arcane – the details a blazingly brilliant maze of terminology to all but a few.

Behind door number two is his family – specifically his son who is afflicted with a serious condition interfering with his ability to lead a full life. The man’s idea came to him as he watched his son respond to therapy, his invention is a form of replicating that therapy.

Which is the right way to go? Both, of course, but if you had to pick one, which would it be?

  • In my twenties, I would have picked door number one, the brilliant as proven by authority route.
  • In my thirties, I would have probably eventually found myself to door number two but it would be a winding route with lots of conditions, and research, and other forms of high mindedness. The final expression of this would be something like “it depends on your audience.” When marketing people say this, settle in. It’s going to be a long meeting.
  • In my forties, my heart and my gut tells me that door number two is the way to go. When I heard the man’s story, I felt I understood the product, the man, and his idea. It made the little boy I used to be, a fragile little voice that sometimes manifests itself in creative work, wake up, take notice, and want to believe. It’s taken me two decades to learn to take that voice seriously.

The first stage is about being clever, complicated and “standing out;” the second stage is about being thoughtful and researched; the third stage is about being meaningful.

Sometimes there is a profound and deeply human quality in what a company does and the goods and services it creates. When we are fortunate enough to be associated with such an effort, is the process of translating their work into marketing strategy an act of crass, garden variety commercialism or high minded idealism?

The answer is both, of course, but if you had to pick, the second door is the better way to go.

Eric Shew is a graphic designer and front end developer living in Bellingham, Washington.

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