Mar 2012

Business Speak for Designers

This is from a post a wrote a while back.

We designers spend years perfecting our craft and learning how to come up with elegant solutions to creative challenges. We describe our creations using words like aesthetic, gestalt, visual flow, and brand identity.

Do the suit-wearing people who employ us understand our jargon? Many of them understand our words, if not the concepts behind them. But do we understand the jargon of The Suits? As professionals trained in facilitating communication, we certainly ought to.

Now, if you feel the least bit icky about memorizing business acronyms and marketing buzzwords, remember this: when you learn how to talk the talk, you’ll be able to sell your designs much more effectively, thus expanding your creative freedom. The Suits will trust you more. They’ll think you’re a superstar if you can tie your design choices to better business performance.

And you may even be able to reason with that marketing manager who insists you use their favorite color instead of the approved corporate colors.

Sound like a deal? Let’s look at some common business acronyms and analyze what they mean for designers.

RFP (Request for Proposal) :: A document put out by a client who needs work done. The RFP essentially tells designers, “Show me what you’ve got.” In response, you’ll want to submit a proposal that makes it clear you can do exactly what they’re looking for. Ideally, you’ll include a price quote that’s cheaper than your competition, but not so low that you end up looking like a rookie.

SOW (Statement of Work) :: A contract with the client that explicitly states important project details, such as schedule, project scope, deliverables, and payment schedule. Why bother with a SOW? For one thing, it protects you when a client starts asking for additional deliverables in the middle of a project. By gently yet firmly pointing to the original SOW, you can make it clear that more deliverables will require more time and more money.

ROI (Return on Investment) :: The value a client receives for spending their money. Depending on the type of project, this may be expressed in terms of revenue, website traffic, publicity, or sales leads. ROI measurements give clients a way to justify their budget and feel safer about spending cash. (Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to tie ROI back to specific design decisions.)

SEM (Search Engine Marketing) :: A form of advertising that seeks to attract website visitors from search sites (Google is the biggest player). Marketers love SEM because it delivers an easily trackable ROI that’s often directly proportionate to how much they spend. You’ll usually hear about SEM when you design landing pages.

PPC (Pay per click) :: The pricing structure used to buy ad placement on a website. The client only pays when a user clicks on their ad or banner :: rather than paying for every “impression,” or appearance of their ad on a website. For designers, the upside to PPC banners is that they need to be visually enticing. The downside is that clients often want you to include huge, ugly buttons.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) :: The art of making a website appear as a top result from keyword searches on Google (or any other search engine). Clients who are heavily into SEO will want all the words in your web designs to be HTML text instead of images. They’ll also want you to include a lot of copy in the design.

CTA (Call to Action) :: The link or button that urges the reader to click through to the next page. The CTA is often some variation of a big, red, shiny button that says CLICK HERE.

KPI (Key Performance Indicator) :: Any really important metric that determines how successful a business is. Typical KPIs include the total number of sales or how many people open an email. Most design projects are intended to improve one or more KPI. The more you can move those numbers, the more they’ll love you.

CMS (Content Management System) :: Any system, such as WordPress, in which web pages are created in two parts, with the layout structure handled separately from words and pictures. Most clients love using a CMS because they can update their website without going back to the designer. A CMS also enables you to serve up one website in several different languages, rather than creating several language-specific sites.

You’ll probably hear hundreds of other acronyms tossed around in meetings, but learning the ones on this list will give you an edge in communicating your designs. Once you add this business speak to your design arsenal, perhaps The Suits will accept you as one of their own (but with better fashion sense).

What have I missed? Do you have any business speak that you’ve translated to Designer? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.


Leave a reply