'Can Do' vs 'Should Do': Tackling the trend of DIY Design

Art Director / Principal Shirley Riordon RGD and Accounts Director / Principal Ric Riordon RGD of Riordon Design in Toronto explore 'the DIY phenomenon' and how creatives can use this trend to enforce the value of real design expertise. 


There’s an undeniable satisfaction that comes from doing something yourself—fixing that leaky faucet, building a bookshelf. With unlimited resources at our fingertips, learning how to do almost anything has never been easier. But the success of a “do-it-yourself” solution is ultimately measured by its effectiveness over time. And when it comes to the creative world, history teaches us that innovative solutions outshine the common approach. For that reason, designers don't need to fear the DIY phenomenon, but should embrace it as an opportunity to produce better work and assert the value of our expertise. 


Interestingly, the DIY trend is occurring alongside the rise of simple, intuitive design. Brands like Apple and Google, key players in the digital world, are making the ‘brainiac creative’ approach look easy, championing impressive developments and shaping society’s sense of what is ‘good design’. These solutions appear simple but are actually the result of intensive research, development and design thinking, ultimately setting a higher bar for creative work—one that will rarely be achieved through a DIY approach.


Up until recently, clients looked to designers as experts on the leading edge of technology, communication and creative trends, motivating us to stay current to meet their expectations. Now that the average person has become so darned informed, we’re being challenged even further. The resourceful esprit behind the DIY movement means we must aspire to even greater frontiers of awareness, to master and surpass what’s readily available. And we think that’s a good thing—or at the very least a good kick in the pants.


When it comes to tools and resources, pre-designed templates and user-friendly platforms like WordPress and Squarespace make it possible for anyone to have a DIY website up and running in a few clicks without breaking the bank. But tools are just tools. They are not the key to creative thinking. While these self-made sites could be seen as a threat to designers, we prefer to look at them as providing a unique opportunity for our industry, challenging us to produce work that showcases professionalism and innovation, going above and beyond the template model.


The DIY mentality is not limited to clients. Designers also share a penchant for self-sufficiency. The software and user-friendly platforms developed with the intention of bypassing designers are easily repurposed within the industry to become part of the designer's own toolkit, improving efficiency and making it possible to present clients with customized website designs without turning to programmers. Platforms like Adobe Muse are a step towards a more seamless future for website designers, where design and code are completely integrated and we are able to focus energy and budget on creative, rather than seeking outside sources for customized programming.


Another positive outcome of the DIY phenomena is the ability to more quickly identify “client fit”. We recently met with a potential client representing a multi-million dollar corporation. While discussing project scope and expectations, their head of marketing expressed interest in pursuing a $90 WordPress solution. When this issue comes up, you get a clear idea of the client’s perception of design value—it was easy for us to see that this client was not a good fit for the qualitative design process our firm provides.


Contrast and comparison are helpful aids for establishing value. When clients see a myriad of other companies sporting the same design trends or the 'template du jour', the sameness of the masses underlines the merit of investing in a professional designer who will bring a more in-depth process to the table. By working with experts, businesses learn who they are and what they want to say—and it’s through this designer/client dynamic that they figure out how they want to say it. We as RGDs don’t provide a one-time “off the shelf” deliverable, instead we offer a specific and targeted strategy—which is something you can’t buy on the Internet.


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