A Paradox

Tangible Evidence for Intangible Deliverables

How do you evidence craftsmanship within intangible design practices? You can’t simply point at it; there’s nothing physical to see. You also can’t always tell your client how it will work. Although you may know it front to back, the straightforward list of touchpoints and events is so long and/or detailed that it can be hard to follow or just downright confusing.

My advice? Do it indirectly using stories and artifacts. Sure, stories are also intangible, but they are remembered and understood the same way as personal experiences. The fact that folklore has been compelling societies for eons tells me people find good stories interesting and will continue to do so as long as they both exist. As for tangible artifacts, well they provide multi-sensory experiences that transcend anything words can do. They are real, and thus add depth to the discussion. They can be explored, kept and reviewed and provide solid grounding when the conversations seem to be up in the clouds.

 

Evidence: Stories

As designers, we are familiar with the array of story frameworks, from simply highlighting the chronological design process to envisioning use case scenarios. It’s easy to sacrifice or simply neglect the quality of the story and focus on the details of the process instead. This leaves the story dry and uneventful, like old bread. However, these are powerful tools for creating mental models and framing perspectives, two things that are imperative to help clients understand the context and value of the work that has been done for them. Though still intangible, the quality of these stories directly implies the quality of the service or experience to the client.

 

Evidence: Artifacts

When it comes to artifacts, a similar relationship exists. The higher the quality of the artifact, the higher the quality of the service or experience. It can be incredibly challenging to convey an experience through anything short of enactment, and this is rarely a possibility given budgets and time. To help your client visualize and understand the experience you created, try creating customer journey maps, look books and other tangible artifacts. While these artifacts aren’t the experience themselves, they act as representatives and metaphors for the experience. The quality of these artifacts directly implies the quality of the experience.

When these two things aren’t done well, they can release a torrent of anxiety for a client. Stories and artifacts that don’t corroborate each other and work together create conceptual gaps and uncertainties; the client is left to do the designers work, putting together the pieces to build a cogent whole. This is particularly challenging for this field of intangible design, because conceptual uncertainties hark to the anxiety of emptiness, a fundamental source of fear for all of humanity.

 

Avoid the Faux Pas

When clients are struggling to understand an intangible deliverable, they may not always speak up. And if clients do speak up, it will most likely be in a much less helpful manner. Either way, you’re setting yourself up for potential failure. The best way for a designer to avoid these kinds of run-ins is to foster an environment of open and honest communication. Emphasis on collaboration and interest in reaching a shared understanding are an absolute essential. This empowers clients to feel comfortable talking to you, the designer, about their misunderstandings. It also allows you to frame those discussions in an iterative, productive way rather than as a failure.

Achieving this high-quality peripheral work is beneficial from both an offensive and defensive standpoint. By emphasizing the quality of these two pieces, you’re not only implying the quality of the experience, but crafting your clients’ experience of engaging with you as a designer. By demonstrating your attention to detail and quality when enacting this experience face-to-face, clients can’t help but relate this level of quality to the work you produce for them.