Communicating communication

The art of design communication can be difficult to communicate itself. As a designer, I know from experience what might and might not work, but as a client, how do you know that hiring me will help you? More importantly before hiring a designer, you might not even realise you need one because you don’t feel as if your customers will know or care about the difference in tone of voice of all of your marketing materials.

It’s hard to quantify good design because it can only be really be measured in the success of the business it’s meant to help. If I was a plumber and you had a leak, you would know that I had solved the problem because the leak no longer exists but what about the problem of sales? Improving the overall profitability of a business is not something that is a quick fix and takes months and maybe years to truly realise. With that in mind, the value, necessity and cost of good design can be very difficult to justify, which is why so many people choose not to liaise with a designer and instead try and promote themselves on their own. In terms of necessity, a plumber is still very much ‘above’ a designer. A plumber’s work is quantifiable right there and then, but a designer? That can be subjective.

There a few things that both the client and designer can do to form a good working relationship, reduce the amount of doubt in working together and increase the likelihood of a successful project:

Don’t hold back
Above all else, communication is incredibly important and this communication goes both ways. Before any contracts are signed, both the client and designer need a good idea of what they’re signing up for. There are times when a client knows they need a designer, but they’re not actually sure what for. Other times, they might think they need a logo, but actually, they need something to put that logo on first. Any good designer should think about the bigger picture and try to offer suggestions on how to improve on what the client may have initially asked for.

Offer previous results as proof of success (or failure)
Unlike a plumber, designers have the advantage of being able to show how effective they have been in the past. Some of my clients have hired me based solely on work that might be similar to the work they want me to carry out. For example, the wedding invitations I created for some friends were seen by a client who wanted something similar but with a twist. In another example, I was able to convince a client not to use QR codes because having used them previously on projects, I found them to be useless. (Sidenote: 87.6% of all mobile phones sold worldwide do not come preloaded with a QR scanner – Are you going to target 88% of people who can’t use a QR code?)

Don’t panic
I’ve noticed that sometimes, even though that website or leaflet or logo might be pink with yellow spots to begin with, as the client works more with you and you’re able to show them comparisons of their vision and yours, they often see that your initial idea has merit. You might not get everything your own way, but with enough of an educated explanation as to why A is better than B, the client does often see the light.

Sometimes, the argument comes up that because a client’s customers might be too old/young/male/female/poor/rich that they won’t see or appreciate good design. As a designer, I know this to be incorrect, but it’s hard to fight this argument on the spot without some really good stats at the ready and even then it can be a case of the client not seeing how the stats are relevant to their own business because their business might be smaller or bigger or in a different industry than the stat. In a perfect world, you would be able to do market research on whether someone prefers version A or B of whatever you’ve designed but of course in the real world, the client wants it done yesterday and for minimum cost and so compromises must be made. It can sometimes be a case of allowing the client to have whatever they wanted, set it free into the public, see that it can be improved and then come back to you to make it better, sometimes reverting to whatever you already had on file originally. It can of course be frustrating and tempting to tell the client “I told you so!” – I’ll leave that to you to avoid.

The cost of design

I’ve always found it interesting the way that many people – even small business owners – cannot quite quantify the cost of things that aren’t tangible. For example, if it’s a TV on sale, the price is final and you either buy it or don’t. If it’s a car, you may be able to haggle a little, but still understand you’ll be paying a similar sum to that shown. However, when it comes to design, those rules never quite seem to apply. This post seeks to discover why that is and garner a few responses in the comments from fellow designers but perhaps more importantly, from those who aren’t designers. I’d value your opinions.

As someone who always tries to be professional but down to earth and approachable in my work, it does still surprise me when people are taken back by the cost of design, whether that’s a logo, website or maybe just a flyer. Perhaps the most ironic thing is that my rates are lower than many other designers that offer a lower quality service at a higher cost. With that in mind, the question must be asked: Do clients always go with the cheapest option without regard for quality and service? If yes, are they satisfied with what they get for their money and if they are, is it simply because they didn’t see what they could have gotten by spending a little more with someone else?

The clients that I’ve worked with have all understood that the cost of design is recouped in the extra profit gained through good communication with their customers. Unfortunately, many small businesses see the cost as something that will never be reclaimed and is merely an unnecessary expense and so either choose to go with someone who will do anything they’ve asked for for a very low cost and therefore low quality or, in many situations just simply not bother and continue communicating to their customers through the use of bad design if any design at all.

I believe that a lot of small businesses don’t associate the cost of design with the amount of hours put into it but rather, associate the cost with the final item. Many businesses don’t see the amount of time that goes into emailing, sketching, mocking up, variations and finessing, but rather, just see that one, final logo or flyer that may well have taken you 20 minutes to design, but 20 hours to get to that stage. That’s where most of the cost of design comes into play – the time spent working on your project, not the time spent on the final deliverable.

It is perhaps a little saddening that many small businesses feel this way about improving their image with its customers because there are many out there who could use that improvement and would see a return on their investment in a designer through bigger profits. And that’s exactly what working with a designer is – an investment. An investment does not give immediate returns, but rather, grows over the course of weeks or months, recouping your initial payment plus profit. If more businesses saw working with designers like this, I believe that some fantastic things could happen.

As I said in my opening, I would value the opinions of anyone who owns a small business and has always been afraid of working with a designer. Is it the cost that puts you off? Do you feel as if you don’t have enough of an understanding of what it is you want? Or perhaps you have worked with a designer and it hasn’t been a pleasant experience. Whatever it is, I would love to hear your thoughts.

A Facebook page for The Work Of

Just a quick update to let you know that I’ve made a Facebook page for The Work Of. The Work Of has been around for nearly six years now, but I’ve never really considered using Facebook as a viable means of business. For those who have their own pages, do let me know how well it works for you.

The journey to a new train ticket

Over at Daniel Gray’s blog, a simple observation has been made. One which has probably been observed by most of us at one point or another and especially for long journeys – Why can’t I have one train ticket for one trip?

Upon first glance, it’s not a particularly extravagant request. One journey, one ticket. Of course, as we (and by we I mean those in the UK) know, train operators don’t see it this way. If I have three trains to catch in order to get from point A to point B, they see that as three journeys, not one and so issue us with three lots of tickets accordingly. Things get even worse if you plan on returning from your destination as well, as that doubles the amount of tickets! Things get even worse if your travels include seat reservations.

As Daniel points out, it’s absurd. Why can’t I have my entire journey on one ticket? Is that so hard? I’m not so sure it is, but rather train operators have been using the same method of designing/printing tickets for so long that the problems have become compounded as new methods of actually purchasing tickets and/or services come along without any support for them on whatever proof of purchase the operator wishes to give to the customer. In this case, a train ticket.

With the above in mind, I decided to take a stab at what a new ticket could look like. I had a few key goals.

Don’t reinvent the wheel
There are hundreds of trains, stations and ticket vendors in the UK most of which use the same format of ticket. Because of this, there will be tens of thousands of blank ticket stock already printed with the trademark orange trim and Rail Settlement Plan watermark. With public transport already suffering from a lack of investment, no one needs to spend an excessive amount of money getting a new format of train ticket into circulation. Keep the physical ticket that already exists and improve it, rather than starting afresh.

Everything on the ticket needs to be printable
Currently, when you purchase a train ticket, everything besides the orange trim and watermark is printed right there and then. This includes all category headings like “Destination” or “Price”. This means no pre-printed bars/blocks/colours/logos. Why is this important? With more and more people buying their tickets online before they travel, vendors are now supplying all journey-related information on a ticket. This includes a receipt for the ticket and credit card receipt. As time goes on, there will undoubtedly be other uses for the tickets besides the journey itself and it’s important to keep this in mind.

Reduce the need for extra tickets
Again as above, more people are buying their ticket in advance of their journey and that can sometimes mean they’re able to book specific seats and specific trains. Currently, if you do this, you’ll be given a separate ticket for your reservation, along with one for the journey itself. One of the main goals of the ticket redesign is to reduce the need for these extra tickets by including everything on one ticket instead.

Assume all current information is important
It would be easy to discard some information that already exists on today’s train tickets like price (because you’ve already bought it), ticket number (because that’s unimportant to the customer) or the time the ticket was printed. However, one way or another, that information is important at some stage of your journey. It may not be important to you at the time, but may well come in handy for things like lodging a complaint afterwards and being asked to see proof of purchase.

And this is what I came up with.

The new ticket design. Information is easier to see at a glance and all on one ticket.

Now, you might be thinking “It doesn’t look much different”, but as I said, my aim wasn’t to reinvent the wheel. It was to solve the main problem of reducing the need for multiple tickets and I believe this does that.


One ticket for one journey – Single or return
This ticket allows the customer to go to and from their destination when purchasing a return ticket, even though there’s only one departure/arrival station. When the customer is asked to present their ticket going to their inital destination (in this case London Euston), the inspector ticks off the arrival station to show that the customer is indeed on the way there. On the way back (in this case to Liverpool Lime Street), the inspector ticks off the departure station. The ticket then has two ticks on it, showing full use.

Most important information at the top
On current tickets, information is spread out in no sensible way. This changes things by placing departure/arrival stations at the top, along with the validity of the ticket.

Multiple seat reservations now on one ticket
Even if your journey has five different trains involved, this ticket will allow you to view your seat reservations for them. If some of your trains don’t have reservations, then that train number has a dash instead of a seat number.

Information moved out of the orange trim
I believe that the orange trim should stay clear as this is a border, not a margin. With that in mind, printing information (along with price and ticket number) have been grouped together, finishing off the ticket in a nicer way.

Works just as well for single journeys
Since some journeys aren’t as complex as a 5-train nightmare, here’s an example of how the ticket would look for those on a single ticket.

The ticket works just as well if the journey is only a single.

This time, validity is one day only instead of a range of dates with the return. It also shows a zeroing out of all train reservations. This particular ticket would be more likely to be used on inner city train travel, where train reservations aren’t a requirement.

Although this doesn’t introduce anything new from an eye-candy design perspective, I do believe it starts to address the main problem that many people have of too many tickets for a single trip. In fact, the only thing I’ve done is rearranged the information and added one category (train reservations). Everything else is already present on today’s tickets. Granted, I’ve used Univers for the typeface which isn’t going to be available for ticket printing machines, but again, even with the correct typeface being used, I believe this moves one step closer to solving our train ticket problems.

See also: Tyler Thompson’s attempt to redesign a plane boarding pass.