We recently won an award. It felt good. It felt so good I broke out of my normally reclusive routine to go the award dinner in the big city. Transform Magazine curated the event. They are a global magazine covering rebranding and brand development. They also happen to throw a great party.
(This is where I save you from the description of me guzzling wine and schmoozing with industry peers.)
As I bounced along the subway on the way from the event back to the hotel staring blank-eyed, I was actually thinking. I was thinking about what enables noteworthy work. Why do some projects turn out better than others? I kept coming back to one main idea. Good work isn’t decoration. It isn’t an afterthought. Good work solves complicated business problems.
That is why the work we did with KyCAD feels substantial. It feels like it is rooted to a place. Here were some of their issues:
When we started the project KyCAD was about to graduate the first class of seniors. There were 4. They were also preparing for the next class of incoming freshmen. There were 100. That is significant. It is exponential. They were becoming more complex in lots of ways. Their identity needed to reflect that maturation.
The problem that follows is that to continue growth they needed to recruit students who were likely to go to a more established school. They couldn’t rely on their homespun quirk any longer. They needed the foundations to create recruitment materials that would appeal to the most visually progressive 16-year-olds around. That means a website with a mobile experience on par with what a digital native would expect. It means creating mailers that encourage someone to open them rather than discard them.
The flip side to attracting more students is that they needed to continue to attract donors. In many ways this is more important. During times of rapid growth you often have to hire before you can justify their salary. That means you need board members, community members, granting organizations that buy into the vision enough to invest in the future. The identity that appeals to a 16-year-old could potentially alienate a donor. We couldn’t risk that.
Now, it is true that good work solves problems. It is equally true that good work is the result of a good process. And, a good process is built with good partnerships.
There is a main stairway in the art building that takes students from their basement studios to the three floors of classrooms. We took advantage of this opportunity to communicate with the students. We wanted to know what sort of people they were. We lined the walls with butcher paper. We suspended sharpies throughout the walkway and prompted doodlings with open-ended questions like: What next? Why here? Who are you?
I am going to be honest. We thought this was going to be terrible. We thought that every professor would think they were smarter than us, had better taste, and could design a better identity if they would condescend themselves to such proletarian activities. But, we were wrong. Very wrong. The working relationship was built on respect. We showed that we understood and respected the students. We showed that we appreciated and valued the professor’s work. And in kind, they repaid us with a collaborative working relationship that resulted in something better than we would have done on our own.
Oh, and we listened. We could have played the prima donna and not entertained any suggestions. And we would have ended up with a toxic relationship and work that would have never seen the light of day. But we assumed the feedback was coming from an honest place. We were introspective. And we came back with solutions that excited everyone.
So, in short, doing award-winning work is easy. You listen. You ask questions to make sure you understand. You listen. You work on the language and design that makes their lives easier. You listen. And then you revise. No problem.