BL&T No. 182: Design & Meaningful Client Engagements

Agency Leadership

This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Borrowed, Learned, & Thought. BL&T is sent weekly on Mondays. In every edition, I share lessons learned in agency leadership, life, and e-commerce. This post does not include all the details shared in the newsletter sent via email. Subscribe here.


"Design Thinking is about resolving the realest, biggest problem, with an open mind rather than assuming you know the right answer. It allows you to design a rewarding solution for both parties as part of a two-directional, co-creative conversation."

From "Naked Sales: How Thinking Reveals Customer Motives and Drives Revenue" by Ashley Welch, Justin Jones [Book]


For as long as I can remember, I've been a maker. As the story goes, I was the kid more interested in creating toys with trash than playing with those off the shelf. Or you'd find me designing environments to play in, realizing worlds dreamed up in my head. The passion to create didn't wane as I grew; it only transformed. The maker in me turned to art and writing, first poems and artwork and then music and design—writing songs and creating everything from posters to album artwork.

I'm grateful to have spent the early days of my career in design, creating digital experiences for a range of clients with their own unique challenges. While writing is still (obviously) a part of my life and I design from time to time, the meaning of 'design' has taken on new meaning in my career, yet it's just as fulfilling.

The role of 'design' in my life has been on my mind lately, especially over the last couple of weeks, as we've had a string of client opportunities that have challenged us to think differently about our approach and create engagements that resonate with each client's unique needs. These experiences have been a fun test of our creativity but have also deepened my perspective of what it means to design in the context of client relationships. Here are some recent examples:

  • A new-to-market celebrity brand, under a tight deadline, needed to launch its website in just 5 weeks. With their wireframes and Shopify theme ready but lacking the resources to build, our team designed a sprint plan within 24 hours. We kicked off the following week and hit the ground running.
  • In the case of a rapidly growing fashion brand, our initial analytics audit led to discussions about the potential for e-commerce website optimization. Despite the brand's growth, they hesitated to invest significantly in an engagement. To illustrate the possibilities, we did an initial audit and built a 6-month roadmap of strategic initiatives. Pricing negotiation led to a longer-term commitment to work together.
  • An influencer-backed startup sought our help for their brand launch. Our initial proposals, though well-received, exceeded their budget. By prioritizing features, we designed a streamlined engagement, focusing on their immediate needs while leaving space for post-launch optimization work.
  • A current client referred us to an eyewear brand. Given our expertise in the space, we knew we could add value and impact their goals. However, all decisions had to pass through their board, which was initially hesitant to invest in an audit. After some back and forth, we landed on a more focused, cost-effective audit engagement, which has led to a pathway to take over their current agency's role and implement the enhancements.

Though some of these conversations moved faster than others (and some are still ongoing), they've reminded me that designing for clients isn't just about aesthetics or utility; it's about understanding and empathy, about crafting solutions that resonate on a deeper level with those we serve—a task that requires patience and listening.

One of the constraints mentioned above is budget, a consideration that I believe should not solely drive client engagements. Instead of viewing budget constraints as a roadblock, we see them as a challenge to innovate—asking ourselves whether we can design an engagement that delivers value within the client's financial parameters.

I love thinking about our capabilities as a toolbox filled with various skills, methodologies, and insights that we can assemble to fit the unique context of each client. It's not merely about repackaging the same solutions for every client but about genuinely understanding the situation and designing a solution that meets their needs.

While the mediums have evolved, I'm realizing the role of 'design' in my life has been constant from those early days promoting my music: to solve problems, express ideas, and create meaningful experiences. In that way, design extends beyond art, aesthetics, and functionality.

From this perspective, I see the concept alive and well in my personal life, seeping into how I 'design' my environment alongside the habits and rituals that structure my day. Or how I organize my morning, create the weekly dinner menu, or the joy I find in planning well-lived weekends with my family. Whether discovering a new coffee shop, exploring a trail, or savoring togetherness at home, I love intentionally crafting these moments together.


How does 'design' play a role in my life?

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