COMMUNICATING THE VALUE OF ETHICAL DESIGN
HERE'S THE QUESTION: As designers, makers, and creators, how do we explain cost to our customers?
We're lucky to be living in a moment when people have started becoming more interested, once again, in the provenance of consumer goods. In a fast-fashion, snack food, flat-pack world, many people have come around to an aesthetic and personal philosophy that privileges living with fewer, better things. And as those of us who embrace such an ethos know, when an item has been carefully and beautifully crafted it feels different than flimsy, factory made things.
We saw this movement gain popularity first with foodies, who have widely embraced ideas about shopping local, consuming amounts that make sense, and thinking about the ethics behind what is being bought and consumed.
As yet, conscientiousness about what we put on our plates hasn't translated wholly into what we put in our homes. As someone who has served a typical mix of high street shoppers, I've learned that while people want to support local makers and fill their homes with unique, handmade things, they're not quite prepared to pay the premium in the way they'll happily pay handsomely for great quality food and drink. There’s a hesitation to invest in the design market, I think, primarily because there’s a lack of understanding about the cost that goes into making. Most customers I engaged with at Showroom did appreciate beautifully designed, high quality objects. But it seemed to me that there's an inverse correlation between how much the average shopper will spend on an item and how 'permanent' this item will be in their lives. How many of us drop $100 on a weekend meal and have at least a couple $200 pairs of rarely worn shoes in our closets? And although we would agree on the importance of living with great, ethical design, when it comes to dropping $800 on a locally made chair, how many of us balk and head to Ikea instead?
Tips for communicating the value of your products and services to customers who aren't used to paying for them
For those trying to make a living from making and selling products or services birthed from our own creative energies, the truth is that we need to work harder and smarter to communicate the value of what it is we do.
1. GET THE BASICS RIGHT It goes without saying, of course, that the product itself has to be beautiful and functional... If it’s sustainable or handmade as well, that’s a bonus as well as a marketable selling point. It’s the same with food. A dish has to be first and foremost delicious... If it’s delicious and organic, even better.
2. MARKET TO YOUR IDEAL CUSTOMERS Your marketing strategy targets people who care about things that are designed and built locally. Choose to stock your wares in shops targeting customers who 'get it'. Then, self promote. Instragram has been a pioneering platform where artists can explain their process to the buying public and many new and old media publications (blogs, online magazines, print magazines) have cropped up to serve this audience.
Designers need to tell their story so that can trickle down to retailers. In a shop, having designer names on a product that customers recognise from social media brings a clearly articulated back story to the fore in the crucial moment when that customer is deciding whether or not to buy.
3. EDUCATE THE BUYING PUBLIC The next step is to convince a bigger proportion of the market to pay a premium for the quality you offer. So what can designers and retailers do to educate the buying public? Create content - images, blog posts, interviews, videos - that help people contextualise what you offer by giving them a behind the scenes look at who’s making your goods, what they do, why they do it, and what they need to live. When consumers know a maker’s back story, understand their artistry and realise how all their years of training are represented in the exquisite quality of a piece, the higher price always seems more justifiable.
4. FIND INNOVATIVE WAYS TO BE MORE COMPETITIVE Do everything you can to reduce differences in price between you and your competitors. Makers who care about being commercially viable should always be thinking about ways to produce things that are retail friendly, or at least a little more mass market friendly. People do want special stuff, but artists need to consider how they can scale their production, or partner with other people in their communities or overseas to produce beautiful things with integrity at a price point that’s economically viable. The future of small scale manufacturing depends on it.