paper necker cubeNecker cube image by Yazid Azahari.

You have the skills, you have the technology… (to quote a famous TV show from the 70’s), but knowing how to sell them (and you) requires another kind of aptitude altogether. The commercial reality for designers is that having talent isn’t always a guarantee of attaining success or making a living come to that. Man cannot live on artistic brilliance alone.

In a Googlised world where the potential customer based in your city is as likely to choose a designer from Mumbai or Melbourne it is important to formulate a strategy for building your brand as a designer. These days that’s as much about selling ‘you’ as it is about showcasing and demonstrating your talent.

There is a lot of talk out there in the blogosphere about the dumbing-down of the design profession with the advent of increasing amounts of spec work and cheap and cheerful online firms selling logos designed by poorly-paid outsourced workers. Have you ever considered though that this might just present wonderful opportunities for the best designers to differentiate themselves? This might just be your chance to be known for doing great work, choose which clients to work with and leverage your other talents at the same time.

Of course building a brand doesn’t happen overnight, it never has done. But the good news is that anyone with talent and vision can make a start from the bottom with little or no marketing budget and take responsibility for crafting their own credibility.

Building any brand is an ongoing process with much tweaking and re-alignment happening along the way. Therefore, thinking about new ways to increase your profile, nurture professional relationships, and extend the equity of an established business is vital for any brand’s ongoing success.

Instead of asking, “What should we do next?” try asking, “How could we do this better?”

Building your design business: perceptioning

Before perceptioning there was positioning. Jack Trout first wrote about positioning back in 1969. Decades later many still tout it to be the worlds’ number one business strategy.

Positioning was defined as a process by which marketers try to create an image or identity in the minds of their target market for its’ product, brand or organization. The words to remember here are ‘try’ and ‘mind’. From that starting point businesses were meant to go on and identify a market niche for their brand, product or service utilizing traditional marketing placement strategies (i.e. price, promotion, distribution, packaging, and competition).

Traditionally there were a lot of ‘how’ and ‘what’ tactics involved. How do we identify our customers? How do we dominate the market? How can we eliminate the competition? What can we tell them that they will believe? What message are we selling?

Positioning as a strategy was designed to gain mindshare of consumers. Businesses strove for their products to be uppermost in consumer’s minds and achieved this by pushing their message out relentlessly through advertising promotion and the hard sell. Fighting a battle for people’s minds is a traditional old message supported by a world with just three TV channels and no remote control. Shouldn’t we be trying to woo our way into their tweeting hearts?

“It doesn’t matter what people think about you. What matters is how you make them feel about themselves and their decisions.”
— Tom Asacker

Perceptioning is the means by which you convey the truth and understanding about you, your product, business or brand to the world. It is the basis upon which people (clients, consumers, friends) create expectations and thus act on what they sense to be true.

Perceptioning is the quest for people’s hearts and not something that can be managed or manufactured as it is based on how people feel rather than what you can make them think. It is not a science but an art and a new strategy for thinking about how not to compete in the market. The foundations of perceptioning are what you say and what you do to make people feel that they matter.

Random acts of perceptioning in no specific order: (might be an idea to read first then come back and click on the links afterward… your call).

  1. Be different
  2. Do something you love
  3. Work with people you care about
  4. Look for niches and edges to work in
  5. Spend time listening to customers
  6. Show; don’t tell

  7. Be generous; share your insights
  8. Stop worrying about the competition
  9. Fulfill the unexpressed desires of your clients
  10. Build relationships
  11. Look for opportunities to interact
  12. Deliver value
  13. Do something unexpected
  14. Speak human
  15. Surprise
  16. Delight

  17. Connect people to each other
  18. Compel clients to say, “I love this!”
  19. Compel clients customers to say, “I love this, who did it?”
  20. Be Yourself

What else…..?

As designers you are not trying to corner the market in washing powder sales or own the words “whiter whites.” You are not boxes of cereal competing for shelf space at Walmart. You don’t have to be the same. It’s your job to be different, not just to think different.

“Original ideas are created by original people, people who either through instinct or insight know the value of being different and recognize the commonplace as a dangerous place to be.”

— Paul Arden

The full ‘Building your design business’ series:

1. Perceptioning
2. Product
3. Promotion

Bernadette Jiwa is an Australia-based brand and marketing strategist.


Perceptioning? Really? Perceptioning?

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to read this blog again.

Thanks for offering your contribution, once again, Bernadette. I particularly like this sentence:

“Instead of asking, ‘What should we do next?’ try asking, ‘How could we do this better?’”

I’m unsure why a few of the hyperlinks are adding a little additional code (and therefore pulling a 404 error). They seemed fine when the post first went live. I’ll look into that asap.

Ben, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Bernadette having coined something new or previously unheard. Of course you’re entitled to your own opinion, and if you’d prefer not to read this blog because of a single word, that’s completely your choice.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with coining something new — that’s one of the beautiful things about our language. But only when there is some sense to it — when there’s a need for a word, and the new word sounds like it could be a real English word, and the new word implies its meaning so that it makes sense the first time you hear it. “Perceptioning” is just awkward and nonsensical.

For what it’s worth, I asked some friends (literate friends — authors, journalists, etc.) whether I was being close-minded about this, and they all agreed that they couldn’t stand it.

Anyway, I guess there’s no reason to argue about it. I doubt after writing an article about “perceptioning” that you’ll be persuaded that it’s a poor word.

Hi again Ben,

The intention was never to focus on the word but on the idea that there are other ways to reach out to customers and clients.

Positioning is mostly about telling people what to believe and focusing on the competition.

Perceptioning is more about demonstrating why, focusing on your art and your audience and just doing something remarkable.

I don’t believe it matters what you call it. That’s the wrong focus altogether.

Hi there!
Great article! I agree with Bernadette that it doesn’t matter what you call it, the content of the article is a good read and as a new designer i enjoyed the tips.
Many new words have found their way into the english dictionary, perhaps this is next :)

Looking forward to the next 2 articles!

Your link should work now, Lee. Thanks for the tip with the trailing slash. I’ve not come across that one before. I’m sure there’s some htaccess fix for it if you’re losing traffic elsewhere, too.

I can attest to Bernadette having no overriding intention to focus on the word “perceptioning.” Her initial draft made no mention of it at all. What’s important is definitely the idea (as should be the case with all great design projects).

Regarding the broken links, it was my fault. I copied and pasted from Bernadette’s draft, and left a space after some of the URLs (which added line separator code to the addresses and broke the destination). All fixed now, with the help of the Fused Network support team (thanks Lawrence).

Bernie, thanks for the article and the interesting points of view in it.

We don’t own our brands, they’re a figment of other people’s perceptions, so in that context it makes sense that perceptioning’s might be on your mind.

But I don’t agree with you that positioning is about trying to position oneself in the minds of others, it’s about being clear about what your own position is, what you’re trying to do and how well you do deliver that position so people can trust it.

The downside of trying to gear a business or a person around how it’s perceived can be a path to nowhere because people build trust around authenticity.

What we try to be is not nearly as important who we are. Anyone who has ever scratched the surface of any business or brand knows that a mismatch in that area is usually at the heart of any discomfort they have with it.

That instinctive truth we feel about things and people happens at a gut level. Brand promises have to be delivered. I think a lot of how businesses crack this problem is in working out how they be what they promise, at least as much as what they should promise, authentically, as much focusing on any random acts of ‘perceptioning’.

That artistic brilliance and sales skill needs good management skill as well. Very many people would say being self-assured is a most direct path to leadership there is.

I’ll look out for the other posts that may address this, perhaps you’ll cover how it relates to the development of products and promotion? Looking forward to that.

Hi Anne,
Thanks for taking the time to really give this some thought.

I think your take on positioning is very different from Trout’s and that of many brands and businesses.

I don’t believe that your definition; “being clear about what your own position is, what you’re trying to do and how well you do deliver that position so people can trust it”; is a million miles from mine.

“Perceptioning is the means by which you convey the truth and understanding about you, your product, business or brand to the world. It is the basis upon which people (clients, consumers, friends) create expectations and thus act on what they sense to be true.


Trust is built on truth.

I just read this piece written by Tom Asaker about why these dated concepts (like positioning) still flourish in these postmodern times.
It’s well worth a read.

Here’s what Tom had to say on positioning;

“Here’s how Ries and Trout defined positioning in their seminal book of the same name:

“The basic approach of positioning is not to create something new and different, but to manipulate what’s already up there in the mind, to retie the connections that already exist.”

And that may have worked well twenty-seven years ago when product and service options were a fraction of what they are today and people were still influenced by propositions like, “We try harder.” People today are better informed, hyperconnected and marketing savvy. We’ve been trained to be highly skeptical of any type of company communication or claim.

Which makes ours an era of action, not talk. We expect you to prove your pitch with new, exciting and relevant products, services and business models. We’re living in a marketplace driven by creativity and innovation. The concept of branding is a much more dynamic idea. Sticking to your knitting, and trying to persuade people with clever advertising and image-building campaigns, is a sure route to the retirement home.”

My thinking is that the aim of the majority of people who read this blog is to do exactly the opposite of what Ries and Trout suggested and to create totally something new and different.


Perceptioning is indeed a confronting word. The problem is that it smacks of that kind of marketing babble to which we have become cynical. Yuck.

Also, Google simply respelled googol, the number representing 10^100. They didn’t exactly coin the word, it’s an appropriate choice considering their focus.

That said, I appreciated the article.


Hi Matt,

Thanks for appreciating the article.
I think Google’s choice was genius actually.

As I’ve mentioned in previous comments, perceptioning as a term was used to highlight how one of the most well used ‘marketing babble’ terms ‘positioning’ doesn’t work so well these days. Neither word is elegant. That wasn’t the point.
Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Hola Alexis,

Muchas gracias por tomarse el tiempo para traducir el artículo.
Me alegro de que haya disfrutado de la serie y esperamos que sus lectores también.
Los dedos cruzados para que Google traduzca hace un buen trabajo con este comentario :).

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