Multi-color sparkling glitter background from All That Glitters blog post

All That Glitters

January 9, 2024

I have been thinking a lot about value over the past year. What do our choices say about what we value? What value do I provide clients through the work they ask me to do? I am struck by a collective unease as fundamental shifts in business, technology, and culture happen all around us. And with those changes, a growing sense that all that glitters is not gold.

Is this necessary?

As another festive holiday season fades in the rearview mirror, I have begun transitioning my home decor back to ordinary time. This includes filing or recycling a fresh collection of holiday greeting cards from friends and family.

For 25+ years I participated in this tradition, usually sending an elaborate, custom-designed greeting. Then, when kids arrived, we started sending the ubiquitous family photo cards – often with the “year in review” letter.

There are many things about the holidays that I really enjoy, but sending the card wasn’t one of them. It felt like a reflex, something you’re “supposed to do” – a chore with little to no upside. So, I stopped. This activity did not deliver enough value for the recipients – or the sender – to justify continuing.

Is this useful?

Had you asked me as a recent college graduate what a designer does, the answer would have been far different than it is today. With experience comes a more nuanced understanding of value, summarized nicely by Apple’s visionary founder.

Design is not just what it looks and feels like. Design is how it works. – Steve Jobs

What problem are we solving? If a design looks good – if it glitters – but doesn’t make a task easier, inspire action, or move money to the bottom line, then it’s just not that valuable.

Problems can be so complex that identifying the root cause takes time and skill to unpack. It’s surprisingly common for people to take shortcuts, solve the wrong problem, or solve it only superficially.

Is this valuable?

There are many things I am good at that just aren’t that valuable to clients. Sure, a client may pay something for a design or illustration or photo, but the more comparable substitutes available the lower the price they are willing to pay.

Unless, I’m actually solving a persistent and frustrating problem.

One of the hardest things about developing a new product or service is assessing its value. Potential customers are often intrigued by shiny new ideas, but that doesn’t mean they are willing to pay for them.

The most common mistake when evaluating an idea’s value is failing to understand and address the actual needs and preferences of your customers. What are their persistent, frustrating problems?

Is this a false positive?

People are surprisingly bad at predicting the future. Similarly, perceptions about the current state of your business can lead you astray.

The excitement of early adopters can give an impression of widespread demand that may not exist. If you’re too invested in an idea, positive feedback may be unconsciously emphasized while negative reactions are discounted.

And assumptions about what your customers want – the problem they would happily pay you to solve – can be justified by measuring all sorts of things that ultimately don’t matter (e.g., likes, followers, page views, engagement, meetings, proposals, etc.)

Is this a problem you can solve?

It’s easy to get distracted by new tools, new trends, and predictions about a future that glitters brightly – or one that’s going to hell in a hand basket (often at the same time)!

Everyone wants their problems solved. To deliver value, first understand your customers’ problems, and then identify which one you can solve. Here are two simple questions to ask:

  1. Have they already tried to solve this problem?
  2. Is your offering significantly better than what they’ve tried?

You not only need to answer yes to both questions, your solution must be perceived as (at least) twice as good in areas that matter to them. The goal is to be the reason they stop looking for a solution – and the reason they’re relieved and delighted to pay you to help them.

For more thoughts on the power of design, read Design Can Be a Force For Good.

Dan Woychick is a problem solver, creative collaborator, and owner of Woychick Design. He helps purpose-driven organizations raise awareness, inspire donors, and move people to action. Connect here: Instagram | LinkedIn | Twitter

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