Design most often, is not considered a business. 

Tanya Khanna is the Director and Founder at Epistle Communications. Epistle is a communication consultancy providing bespoke, strategic consul ng services for architecture, design, planning and allied disciplines.

Someone has famously said that architecture is a great profession and a terrible business. In today’s globalised world, markets are in constant motion and new business can be generated from multiple means. Traditionally, most Indian designers and design practices steer away from communication activities that aid in generating business not recognizing that the success of a firm can simply be hinged on design communication. As designers, we are all inherently trained to let our work speak for itself; however, stuck in the everyday rut and ensuring the deliverance of good design, often we do not tap into our business strengths and lead them to a path of success.

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The notion that good design speaks for itself is the primary challenge, and hence most professionals shy away from talking about their work and the ideas behind it. Of course, good design is fundamental to good business, but in the current scenario of technology and information overload, originality, innovation and creativity are simply lost in the deluge of the data that is produced globally. It is hence crucial to enhance visibility in a framework that follows global standards. Specifically, in India, the absence of any permissible direct marketing activities establishes the portfolio as the most critical piece of the practice puzzle.

The premise of communication activity begins with the intention for discourse, dialogue and exchange of design ideas. First, the designers allow their work to be curated to suit the various forms of media outreach. Second, this proliferation of good design in the media furthers the quality of our environment by inspiring students and younger people in the profession, who have conventionally attached value only to savvy images and last, but not the least, it furthers the cause of design education by raising the bar, each time, a little bit. Success finds its way through this means of design discourse by communicating various media – Designers communicate their thought processes and how their designs are representative of their intentions. Ultimately, this has explicit impact on the evolution of contemporary Indian Design. Key points to enable this are:

Plan: Having a plan is not a bad idea after all- it helps you focus your outreach on the kind of business you want to attract in the long run. Designers shy away from words such as strategy, brand recall and brand differentiation- if integrated with the process of design; these can directly translate into creating strategic communication material by showcasing work in appropriate and relevant forums to eventually achieve visibility.

Perception: As designers and other professionals in the creative domain, it goes without saying that your work speaks for itself. However, the process of getting new business often relies more on how your work is perceived rather than the value that it actually represents. Representing work across various media including the firm’s website must be executed with the intent of how the portfolio is being perceived by the audience, and how the reader understands the work. New business comes from a better understanding and value perception of services.

Visibility: The biggest barrier to growth and success for design firms is rarely creativity. Securing visibility for good work greatly helps in fostering public appreciation and communication is vital in this regard. While word of mouth is the conventional way to attract work, sustained visibility is essential to establish credibility amongst the trade, enables better discourse/engagement, whilst significantly improving future prospects. It is however critical to distinguish between simple PR and Communications; stories can be easily created, but it is imperative to lay emphasis on communicating design- purely based on the strength of the design intent.

Housekeeping: Most often, designers and design firms do not recognize that communication activities are essentially housekeeping. There is usually no dearth of content and all that is required is curation. The projects are all on file, the drawings/photographs are usually available, the sketches have all been done. As much as this is a perceived as a chore, simple processes can enable extraction of content, cleaning it up in order for it to be of communicable quality and curated to generate visibility across diverse platforms.

Be Unique and Be Known©: There is no manual or pre-determined guideline that can enable an effective communications plan. Each individual and firm is unique with a distinct design ethos and an inimitable style and approach. The work must resonate the ethos, and of course capture the essence of who the designer/firm is. What is critical is to ascertain what that uniqueness is, and utilize it as both the means and end of a communication plan.

Tools for communication today are evolving from static print media of profiles, brochures and publications, to web media, social media, to virtual and visual tools. Larger, established firms have even started developing apps for i-devices for prospective clients and ongoing project management. To keep pace with rapidly changing practices and be at par with new values of the global economy, it is important to step back and innovate. For someone doing commercial and corporate work, social media tools such as Facebook may not be pertinent, but for others doing residential work, applications such as Pinterest, Houzz and online web presence become essential. What is imperative for both new, young firms and for those who are established is the identification of the right strategy, and an apt approach; A simple, ingenuous strategy with a strong vision and a deep commitment to the future of design, and the built environment will surely lead the right way.

The fundamental key- is of course is to ‘Be creative’. Communication will only help you ‘Be Known©’.

Tanya Khanna

Director, Epistle Communications

(Originally featured as a part of a publication in Pool Magazine)

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