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design startups

How to Sell Design

The first step to selling design work is to stop selling design

We all know design is important but if your a designer trying to grow your design business, or you’re an entrepreneur trying to buy design services, you could be selling yourself short.

We all know that design is a key product differentiator:

  • Well designed products and software can be sold for a premium.
  • Products that are designed to be easy to use have fewer customer support issues and higher satisfaction.

But if your a designer trying to sell the value of your designs you may often hear that design is too expensive or that things like research seem unnecessary steps.

Designers and entrepreneurs aren’t always speaking the same language. While we know design is valuable, designers often have a hard time explaining or selling this value.

Three key principals:

#1 – Don’t Sell Design


When I first started my business I would try to sell the value of design. The problem with this is that no one wants to buy design. They don’t. You don’t want to buy the design for an iPhone, you want the iPhone. Most people don’t separate the value of design from the thing itself.

We were designing products, websites and mobile apps and similarly, the founder and entrepreneurs didn’t want the design of an app or a website they wanted the outcome, the result.

Design is just one of the ingredients that goes into building a product, but typically the person buying it is interested in the product, not the ingredients.

And as an entrepreneur, try to be specific about the results you’re looking for. Results can be based on metrics such as conversion, retention, bounce rate… Or it can be based on aesthetic qualities: professional, friendly, quirky, stark, colorful…

  • Do you want something easy to use?
  • Do you want it to look friendly or attractive?
  • Do you want thoughtful designs for the setup experience, the error experience or more.

Often times design isn’t just what happens on the screen, sometimes it’s the decisions of the business itself.

#2 – Don’t sell the design as a phase.

It’s common for designers to propose the incorporation of design as a discrete step in a larger project. Try not to do this.

Design work tends to happen through the entire continuum of a product life-cycle so if you propose a discrete phase you’re doing a disservice to yourself and your customers. If design issues can be introduced late in a product life cycle they can also be corrected. By treating design as a continuum you’re less likely to be without a designer when you need one.

Secondly, phased design means your designers will have less or sometimes no overlap with your engineering team. Great products are the combination of design and engineering and it’s only through shared time that hard problems get solved. If you sell your design as a phase you’re creating a scenario where it’s easy to cut or trim the phase and end up with something functional but not usable.

#3 – Great Design is about solving business problems

When showing your work, it’s about outcomes and benefits more than the pixels on the screen. You’re selling yourself and your team. You’re building trust and at the end of the day you’re selling your ability to deliver on specific business results.

Your character, charisma and ultimately your confidence are key to solving a design problem.

The ways things look and feel are important but put as much or more emphasis on your ability to drive business metrics.

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