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ECPA Wire: Industry Issues

The Heart Behind Design by Torrey Sharp

Tuesday, February 2, 2016  
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    As we all know, consumers respond favorably to products and services that are well designed. We like them because they work. They deliver on their promises. They satisfy our needs. And in some cases, they surprise us by anticipating our needs and desires before we know it.


     The smartest companies understand that design is not just what we do with products to make them look good. Design is about experience. To this end, every touch point with consumers and buyers needs to be well thought through and intentionally designed. In the book, Do You Matter, authors Robert Brunner and Stewart Emery refer to this as the customer experience supply chain. They say, “Design is the overt, thoughtful development of the interaction points between you and your customer. Effective design establishes the emotional relationship one develops with a brand through the total experience.” 


     Over the years, I’ve really appreciated following the innovative experiments of thought leader, speaker and author, Mike Foster. Mike’s entrepreneurial approach to ministry and business is rooted in his keen ability to identify real needs. Currently running People of the Second Chance, I caught up with Mike to ask about his strategy for anticipating needs and gaining access to consumers. How does he do it? What fuels his passion for helping people live more fulfilled lives? Mike shared several things that help him connect with people. First of all, he’s passionately curious about people and how things work. For him, this innate desire to discover, learn, watch and listen is imperative in understanding the felt needs of people. A big part of this curiosity manifests itself in active listening. Mike says, "Listening is a lost art in our society.  We spend so much time ‘proclaiming’ and adding to the noise that we forget to actively listen. You won’t create things people really want or need without listening and paying attention."


     As Mike collects data, quotes, articles, photos and other vital research material, he stores this information in Evernote. According to Mike, it’s important to curate data efficiently and use technology.  “Then it’s a matter of synthesizing all the collected material into simple truths and felt needs.” Lastly, meeting these needs with well designed content requires simple solutions that resonate with deep seeded emotions like the need for reassurance, safety or resolving fear and pain.  As Mike notes, “Too often we work from some ‘ideal’ of how human beings operate. I see a lot of people build things for people from ‘assumptions’ and from an ‘idealistic place.’ This is really dangerous and why I think a lot of things fail to resonate with people.”


     Too often we make decisions based on instinct, personal taste or a fleeting hunch. However, in order to continue producing great books that sell well, we need to enhance our collective capacity to identify, understand and meet the needs of our consumers. Are we vigorously investing in research and development as much as informing buyers our books are available for purchase? Do we have a handle on the pulse of our consumers in deep and meaningful ways?  Do we know if they are emotionally invested in the authors we publish? Do we invest in meeting the real needs and wants of our consumers as much as we invest in pushing books into the market? 


    Of course this level of care and attention to consumer needs and design should enhance sales. Recently I came across an award winning book printed by Crossway titled, The Biggest Story written by Kevin DeYoung and illustrated by Don Clark of Invisible Creature. According to VP of Creative, Josh Dennis, Crossway is on it’s third printing and it's been their best selling book in years. Kevin’s whimsical and meaningful text was paired with an innovative illustration style that inspired consumers. Josh hired several illustrators before landing on Don, but ultimately found a connection that allowed the vision to materialize.  Josh says, "God is blessing the book and people have fallen in love with both the story and the artwork.” Illustrator Don Clark notes, "I just hadn’t seen a modern version of this story done in a way like this. I wanted to create something that would make kids (and their parents!) ask questions and create real dialogue while reading. I knew that it would be the most challenging thing I’ve ever tackled in my career, but I really felt that it was worth my time and energy.” Crossway discovered an unment need and then took great care to package this book in a way that would resonate with its audience and consequently sell well.


     Lastly, we can’t forget about the content creators... the authors. For as much as we need to invest in the real needs of readers, we need to empower authors to reach those consumers. Markus Dohle, CEO of Penguin Random House says, "Publishers will only be relevant if they can give authors evidence they can connect their works to more readers than anybody else.” And in the January 4th edition of Publisher’s Weekly Chantal Restivo-Alessi, chief digital officer and executive VP of HarperCollins, says, “Today it is more about how many options we can create for consumers and how many potential revenue streams we can create for our authors. If we can optimize overall revenue for an author, whatever the format, why not?”


     In the end, great design flows from genuine heart. A heart that’s passionate about innovation, customer’s needs and the hard work it takes to deliver a great product and a great experience. If we care deeply about consumers, we’ll do all we can to innovate, leverage and distribute books in creative ways. If we care deeply about authors, we’ll do all we can to help them access their readers — to build relationships, communities, and allow them to offer their content in multiple formats and mediums. It’s hard to design effectively without having heart. Illustrator Don Clark sums it up best, "I think we should have the purest of intentions when creating or doing anything. No pandering, no skimping, no cheating. Honest and authentic. Can you imagine what the world would look like if that were true?"


Torrey Sharp is owner and principal at Faceout Studio, a market leading firm specializing in book design. He is also involved in the industry's design track at PUBu.



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