The Value of Design

The Value of Design

Have you ever wondered how much value design adds to your organization?

As the design field moves toward greater accountability through data & analytics, we are finding more ways to measure the value of design. A 2015 report by the Design Management Institute found that design-driven businesses are correlated with greater profitability. Design-driven companies outperform the S&P 500 by 211% over the last ten years.

You don’t have to be a Fortune 500 company in order to benefit from investment in design. Whether you’re running a non-profit or a start-up, ROI of design increases as it moves up the organizational ladder. When design strategy is integrated with business planning at the highest level, you’re setting yourself up to win.

Here are a few ways to increase the value that design brings to your organization:

Improve visual quality.

This applies to products, services, and communications. It’s not just about looks (it’s never just about looks, come on, you know that!). Search for ways to optimize the experience your audiences have with your organization. Show your audiences that you care about them by first understanding them, then developing communication materials that are clear, consistent and engaging.

Unify your design approach.

As customers interact with different aspects of your organization, make sure they are getting the same message and the same quality of presentation and care. Consider all of your materials (print and digital) as a cohesive unit. Identify areas of disconnect and move toward a more consistent organizational look and feel.

Integrate design with overall business strategy.

Perhaps the most important way to boost the value of your design is to think of graphic design as a business tool, not as window dressing. To see the real results design can deliver, time and effort must be spent developing strategic materials with the audience in mind. Skipping over this crucial step limits that value that design can add — and why would you do such a thing?! Develop a design strategy that supports the most important goals of your organization. Using an iterative process around design to drive innovation will improve the user experience and pay off for your organization.

As you become more intentional about your design strategy, measure the results of design improvements so you can see what resonates with your audience.

Get in touch with Union Design to learn more about what good design can do for you.

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You can read more about DMI’s findings here.

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2018 Moon Calendar Is Here!

2018 Moon Calendar Is Here!

In case you haven’t noticed, Union Design’s 2018 Moon Calendar is here!

We love our Moon Calendar tradition and are always so happy to have people display these in their homes!

The second full moon of 2018 is already upon us — January 31 will mark the second full moon of January.

And while usually “once in a blue moon,” means something rare, there are actually TWO blue moons in 2018, they happen in January and March.

A year with 13 full moons typically happens once every 2-3 years, depending on when the moons fall.

2018 also started with a full moon.

We enjoyed finding the moon patterns and facts while working on this calendar. You can purchase the 2018 Moon Calendar here!

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Snail Mail

Snail Mail

Union Design is excited to be working on some fun things to send your way this year, and we think you’ll be excited about it too!

We invite you to click here and leave your mailing address for some sweet surprises.

Don’t delay, the first item is set to go out soon!

*it should go without saying that we respect your privacy and will never sell or share your information, but the internet is a weird place, and we don’t want you to have any concerns about your privacy.

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You can still use your phone to call people.

You can still use your phone to call people.

You know that feeling you get when you’re reading some important article on your phone, or scrolling through Instagram, and suddenly, the phone rings interrupting your important business?

You might feel disgruntled at having your bubble burst, but then you remember: phones are for calling people! I think we all forget.

In 4th grade, my teacher would go on and on about the importance of writing skills, and how vital writing would be in our everyday lives as adults. I’m not here to get into a conversation about the loss of proper spelling, debate the double space after a period, or discuss my favorite new slang terms (savage). I do want to say, my teacher was right — given the prevalence of texting, email, and social media, writing is more important than ever.

The problem is, with email being omnipresent, we feel pressure to write and respond quickly, not always giving ourselves the time we need to process information. While it’s true that some people process and express best through writing, many people benefit from a conversation. I was reminded of this when I called a client with a question instead of responding to their email.

Over the phone, we were able to quickly get over the obstacle with the revisions I was working on — and it was something neither of us had thought of until we spoke to one another.

Design is a conversation. It’s a visual conversation with the audience, and that is why good design is rooted in real conversations between real people.





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How the magic happens.

How the magic happens.

Last week we talked about how a consult can help you get to the root of the problem you’re solving, and I find it’s helpful for people to know what comes after identifying the problem.

My process is highly intuitive, which comes from experience, but there is a strategic method underlying that intuition.

We start with a kickoff meeting where we dive deeper into the problem we need to solve and also make sure all of the relevant parties are identified and involved at necessary points. We also audit existing materials.

The audit is a key part of the process for understanding what has been done, what has gone well, and what direction the organization wants to go in, we really strive to get all of the relevant information out in the open. Discovery is an intense but necessary process.

Like death and taxes, we predictably start with strategy. One way to frame the strategic thinking is with who, what, and how?  The “what” phase is really about the “why.” And Who’s on first. You’re following, right? 🙂

A great deal of what we work on in the first phase of discovery is understanding the SMIT or the Single Most Important Thing. With the focus provided by understanding our SMIT (not to be confused with Smurf) we are able to navigate the entire project with clarity. When we try to do too many things at once, we can’t excel at any of them.

The second goal of discovery is to help the team get buy in from their superiors and decision makers. This goes back to having clarity around goals and understanding the stakes and the why of the project. Often people closest to the project get excited about the new direction, but struggle to “sell” that to their superiors. Discovery helps put the project in context so that the meaning stays connected to the goals and metrics.

After what and why, comes who. Who is the audience for this project? We delve into questions around the audience and existing landscape. If an organization doesn’t know who they are talking to, their ability to communicate effectively significantly diminishes.

The third phase of discovery is the “how.” During this phase we ask what the strategy for achieving our goals are, we discuss the tone, message, and visuals. I draw on all of the information that has been discussed up to this point and I create something that aligns with the goals and messages we’ve discussed.

While design can be central to our daily lives, we rarely take the time to stop and think about the process of how something came to be what it is, (unless it doesn’t work). The purpose behind the Union Method is that we think about what we want something to be so that what we create is effective. Join us in the journey to design intentionally.


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Can you ever really solve your own problems?

Can you ever really solve your own problems?

Is that philosophical question, or what?

It could be argued that if you could solve the problem, it wouldn’t be a problem in the first place. But most non-profits deal with problems — problems of their clients, problems of their employees and usually people end up on this blog because they’re trying to solve a design problem. The good news is that you don’t have to solve your own design problems.

The first step to working with me, and getting your problem solved is booking a consult.

When people book a consultation, I start gathering information, my gears are spinning from the first contact. The investigation starts right away!

This can be overwhelming, but my experience helps me guide people through the process. At times, people aren’t clear on what their project goals are, or what they need, I get to the core of the project right from the beginning. We talk about all of the things I’ve been writing about for the last few weeks — audience, purpose, goals, intention — so that I can draw out the most essential information and start the design from a place of strategy. 

After a call I’m able to put together a project proposal, outlining all of the deliverables, deadlines, client responsibilities and cost. This ensures we all start the project with the same expectations and understand our responsibilities.

Once the ink is dry on the contract, we get to work!

If you’re struggling to articulate your goals, or understand the purpose of what you’re doing, don’t feel bad, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture when you’re focused on the day to day. Why not book a phone call and get some help?



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Intention + Intuition

Intention + Intuition

*The Union Method*

Uniting strategy and visuals to create the impact you need.

What happens in the mind of a “creative” person is always mysterious to a “non-creative” person. It’s true that intuition is a powerful tool for creativity, but it’s also true that intuition is born from experience. Creative work is work — it takes practice, discipline, thoughtfulness, and skill.

While creating something that is visually pleasing is always an important part of what I do, something that is only visually pleasing, that doesn’t rely on any strategic intentions, is worthless. Getting to the goals, intentions, and strategy is the foundation of the Union Method — the process every client and every project go through to make the most effective design possible. 

What’s valuable about having a repeatable method is that it’s strategic in and of itself. The Union Method is designed to be flexible enough to work on different types of projects, but concrete enough to get the results needed in different situations. It’s both intuitive and intentional, so clients can trust that the work we’re doing is effective, without needing to micromanage every aspect of the creative process.



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Five Questions

Five Questions

Here’s the truth: design alone can’t solve your communications problems. It’s easy to think there is a magic bullet in business, but there isn’t, and treating design like it could solve all of your problems won’t address the need for strategic thinking that gives structure to a design concept.  

If the strategy isn’t there, even the most beautiful design will be hollow.

It may be pretty, but it won’t be effective.

Keep your projects on track by answering these 5 questions.

Why does this project matter?

Check out last weeks post for a succinct punch on this topic.

This question gets to the very heart of the problem that you are trying to solve — not just what the problem is, but why it’s worth solving. What changes for the better when this work is done? 

While business goals are important, it’s also worth asking why your work matters to you, to your colleagues, to your audience, to the people your organization helps. You need to understand who this project will touch, how it will impact them, and why that impact will matter! 

No matter how many times you have done this, you have to know your why. Why is rooted in your values, and when decision making is rooted in values it gives your entire project a powerful emotional foundation and trajectory toward real change. 

Thinking in this way sets your project up for success. 

How does this project fit with our broader business goals?

Once you know the values a project is meant to uphold, you need to compare those values with your more practical business goals and available resources.  Knowing that a project is important and has value is not the same as knowing a project is right for your organization.

Keep in mind the organization’s overall goal and note how this project will move you toward that goal. If it doesn’t align, reframe the project into something that will be more effective.

Who are we trying to reach?

Make your audience real and know who you are talking to. Often when I ask my clients about their audience, they draw a blank or feel that they have to speak to everyone. And if you’re talking to everyone, you’re talking to no one! If you lack clarity, start by identifying who you are not speaking to. Set aside nonessential audiences and then narrow in on your key people. 

Some questions to get you thinking: What do they care about? Who are they trying to become? What do they need from you? What journey are they on? How you can you help them arrive?

What do we want them to do?

Simply: what is your ask?

When someone comes across your annual report or direct mail or brochure, what do you want them to do? Write a check? Refer someone to your organization? A lot of the work we do gets filed under “raising awareness”. While that can be helpful, it’s not specific enough (and it can’t be measured). What do you really want? How can you give your audience what they really need? Your ask lands at the intersection of those two things. Be bold — know your ask.

How will we know if we have been successful?

Don’t forget this one. Define what success looks like. Decide how you will measure your progress.

People can hesitate to define what success looks like, because that makes failure easier to stomach. If you weren’t aiming for anything, it doesn’t matter what you didn’t hit. But you can do better than that!

Deciding how to measure your progress ties everything together — Why are we doing what we’re doing? How does this align with the resources we have to offer? Who will we help? What do we need them to do? What measurable change will we see?

Successful organizations iterate and grow year after year. Knowing what progress needs to be measured is key in being able to expand on what has already worked and strengthen where necessary.

Every new endeavor builds on what is already there, so the more work you do up front with your strategic planning, the stronger every new project will be as you build and grow.


Download this worksheet and try it out!

The key here is to write in your own voice, using simple, clear language. Discuss your answers with your team and get everyone to sign off.

With a clear vision, you can do amazing work.






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Thinking about Design Thinking

Thinking about Design Thinking

Recently, my assistant, Krysta and I attended an AIGA event series entitled “Design for Social Impact” that focused on how to use design thinking to solve problems in the nonprofit sector. I follow a similar process in my design practice, so it was great to hear them break it down and show the steps they took.

If you’re not familiar with design thinking, I’ll give you an overview and share why I think it’s so valuable.

Design thinking is a process for solving complex problems. It was developed by the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (known as the It can be applied to all sorts of situations, from designing a product, service or brand to designing a system, business or idea. Design thinking is a flexible process adaptable to many situations.

Design thinking is characterized by a bias to action. Ideas that spend too much time in development can lose touch with the real people and problems they are intended to help.

So, let’s get to the process itself.  There are five steps.


1. Empathize

Empathize with your audience. Do you know who they are and what they care about? Create personas and and look at the world from their point of view. Go out and ask about their point of view! Use observation, engagement and immersion to discover what matters to them. Creating an interview process that includes another teammate is also helpful. One person can engage and be present in an interview while the other makes notes. Ask open ended questions and dig into interesting and relevant areas.

Remember, the key to empathy is “feeling with,” so taking the time to suspend your judgement or personal opinions is the only way you’ll gain the valuable insight about another persons perspective.

2. Define

Define the problem. Often we begin a project and discover later that we are solving the wrong problem. Sometimes it is a matter of going deeper or reframing the situation altogether. Get very clear on what problem you are trying to solve and why it matters. The example given in the first week of our AIGA workshop was, that we were first asked to design a vase, then we were asked to design a better way to enjoy flowers. Going from broad thinking to narrow in your consideration of the problem is a key element of design thinking.

3. Ideate

Once the problem is defined, ideate as many solutions as possible. Have a wild brainstorm and generate hundreds of ideas. Be creative and do not judge or rule out ridiculous-seeming ideas. The objective here is quick, dirty and collaborative! Build on the ideas of others, see what common ideas are emerging, and don’t let yourself get bogged down in what’s good/bad/realistic, etc. Be playful.

4. Prototype

Take a few of your best ideas and quickly prototype them. Do not make perfect, finished products. Make basic prototypes that get the idea across. Even if you’re not creating a physical product, you can prototype an idea. One technique is to create a specific character and storyboard their problem, and how they would interact with your solution — what are the beginning, middle and end of this process?

5. Test

Take your prototype out into the world and test it. You can do focus groups or user testing. Interact with people and get feedback.


Once you have gone through the steps, reevaluate and start the process again.

Every step will teach you so much about what you are trying to accomplish. Once you begin the process of defining the problem and ideating you will likely realize where the holes in your information about your audience are. This is why the process can be done quickly and repeated many times.

The emphasis on quickly prototyping ideas gets you out of a hyper-critical mindset that wants you to be “right” all of the time. It also helps you move away from wrong assumptions that can derail a project. Testing gives you immediate feedback that you can use to make your project better. Because the steps are done quickly, you do not invest all of your time or energy into one idea that must work. You can sprint through the process in a week or even a day, depending on your project. Again, the key here is flexibility—and failure. You can get the bad ideas out of the way quickly so that you can get to the good ones.

Design thinking is an apt way to design for an ever changing world. Gone are the days when one solution works in every situation or people are working toward a fixed point of perfection. We live in a multifaceted and complex world that needs diverse solutions and design thinking provides a framework to work toward better solutions every day.



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What could possibly go wrong?!

What could possibly go wrong?!

Sometimes it’s good to change up your technique.

In a couple of weeks we’ll talk about 5 questions to answer before getting started on a project. This week we’re taking the same idea of strategic planning, and coming at it from a different (potentially more playful) direction.

We’ve all heard of, and possibly done, a post mortem — discussion after a project of what went wrong and what could go better.

As opposed to a post-mortem, which is conducted after the fact, a premortem attempts to determine what could go wrong (and why) before it happens.

How to do a premortem  

  1. Assume that your project has launched and that it did not go well.
  2. Brainstorm all the factors that could have contributed to the poor outcome.
  3. Come up with ways you could have prevented the bad outcome.

Keep an eye out for any crises that could have been averted or obstacles that you had not considered.

Incorporate this new information into your planning and strategy. If this focus on negative outcomes sounds pessimistic to you, I assure you that it’s not. It’s so easy to overlook warning signs.

By imagining what could go wrong, we anticipate possible pitfalls and create an opportunity to change course.  

This process helps you uncover weaknesses so you can address them and launch with more confidence.

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