The Business of Design: Desirability, Feasibility, Viability.

By Nick Riley

I recently had the experience of being interviewed by a group of highly respected peers in the New Zealand design industry as part of my application for a PDINZ membership – a coveted position acknowledged by the Designers Institute of New Zealand (DINZ).

Over the course of an hour we covered a broad spectrum of topics ranging from sustainability, ethical practice, business models to design philosophy. Some of the questions were simple and some were challenging. One question in particular provoked a deeply thoughtful response: “Imagine you are back at the beginning of your career - fresh out of university, seduced by the prospect of agency life; the coffee, the awards, the late nights. What would you tell a young version of yourself, or any other young creative at the inception of their professional career?”

As a young creative it’s easy to be absorbed with a one-dimensional view of what design and creativity is. The questions I would usually ask myself at the beginning of a new project would be simply, “will this be fun to work on?”, “How can I turn this into a great portfolio piece?”, “Will I be able to challenge myself through this brief?”, “Will it make me look good?”, “Will it win me an award?”

These are all relevant questions for a young creative to ask. However, I now understand that this view of design is a purely one-dimensional perspective centred around a single principle – desirability.

Running a design business allows for a much wider perspective. The truth is that design is not one-dimensional at all. It’s three-dimensional. The advice I would give to a younger version of myself would be to view design through the lens of not just one principle but three: desirability, viability and feasibility.

This is a balanced view of how design works. Every project we do, we have to ask ourselves some key questions based around these three principles.

Desirability

Firstly, will this produce incredible work - a desirable outcome for both our clients and for us? Will it challenge us and them to push ourselves to places we haven’t been before and to learn something new? Will it potentially open us up to new markets, new categories and new business opportunities? Will it inspire and engage our clients and our own team? Will we all have fun working on this together?

Feasibility

Can we deliver? Is there a realistic timeline? Will taking on this project be to the detriment of other clients and projects we’re working on? Will it burn out our staff, our most valuable asset? Will this be a great working relationship? Will they allow us to do great work that’s up to expectations?

Viability

Does the budget allow for the amount of time and investment required to make it desirable for the client and for us? Ultimately, will this be a profit-making or loss-making project? After all, we’re running a business, not a charity, and design without profit is essentially ‘art’.

The three-dimensional model of desirability, feasibility and viability is not to be confused with the dumbed down version that circulates through the blogs like, ‘How would you like your design? Good, cheap, fast? You have to pick at least two!’ That is a pedestrian perspective that suggests that you can easily let one of the three principles fall to the wayside, thus devaluing the entire process.

Back to the question at hand. If I could offer advice to my younger self, it would be to take a more business-minded perspective. Successful creativity requires a holistic perspective that blends all three principles of desirability, feasibility and viability in equal measure. This is the sweet-spot – a mutually desirable outcome for both client and creator.

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