The 10 'Rules of Acquisition' for Designers

Co-written by Errol Gerson.

If designing value is the head of the coin, capturing value for oneself is the tail. Without taking care of both sides of the coin, one will never achieve a win-win situation and will be doing a disservice to both self and client. Here are 10 "Rules of Acquisition," that were acquired from decades of business and design consulting with leading U.S. firms, as well as academic research and design schools.

1. Be proactive. When engaging in business, take it upon yourself to own and frame the challenge. Make sure you are accountable for what you can respond to and no more.

2. Co-create an inspirational and actionable design brief. Do not assume others are clear about what they want to achieve; the brief is part of the design process.

3. A strategy is a set of delineated actions to achieve a stated goal. Include strategy, context and performance criteria in the design brief and agree on what the metrics and tradeoffs are, e.g.: price, time and delivery quality.

4. One obtains the value that is negotiated, and one can negotiate anything provided you have leverage. Leverage is the science of creating advantage. Just as using a lever will aid in lifting a heavy object, exploiting design leverage gives you strategic advantage.

5. Wherever possible apply the law of F.A.N.A.F.I. -- find a need and fill it (Ruth Stafford Peale). Most often, a need arises out of a particular problem, and thus, problems are opportunities in disguise. See the world through the eyes of the client; this is the essence of design empathy. Selling is not telling, it's listening to the needs of the client.

6. Profitable design requires the application of critical thinking strategies. One of the most important is to develop a comprehensive, thorough analysis of the industry and its key players. Using Michael Porter's, "Five Forces," Clayton M. Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma or The Innovators Solution, as well as Richard Harrington's Hearts, Smarts, Guts and Luck will profoundly change the way one thinks about business and how to approach it with the end in mind (i.e. profitability becomes a state of mind).

7. Creating value is in fact the "Holy Grail" for creating a profitable model for the design business and the utility proposition is one of the pillars of this commercial potential, Kim & Mauborgne -- Blue Ocean Strategy. The buyer utility map can be seen as a tool, which can be used for segmenting and positioning.

8. Design business myopia can emerge when the designer "falls in love" with their product-service. This form of myopia tends to be borne from a complete failure to apply sound strategic thinking and logic (such as S.W.O.T. analysis) to the product or service. Successful and profitable design business opportunities must be subjected to microscopic scrutiny in order to discern potential weaknesses in both the product-service itself and its commercial application in the general market. Once again, the rules of F.A.N.A.F.I. apply here.

9. Design is creativity and good decision-making. A decision is an allocation of resources that is only partly reversible. Actionable decisions are joint decisions. Good decision-making is comprised of two essential elements; (i) good data (defines as timely and accurate) and (ii) a good decision-making process. Watch out for biases as we all have them. To get exceptional insights on this issue, read Thinking Fast and Slow by Dr. Daniel Kahneman.

10. Sunk cost is money that has gone, or gone wrong. Do not let the past influence future decisions when allocating resources. All one can do in that instance is to learn from what happened, get over it and move on.

Remember this old adage: "At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what one majors in, as long as one minors in business."

Special thanks to Errol Gerson for researching and co-writing this article.