Design is like baseball.
Designers are pitchers and clients are catchers.

We’re in planning mode for where we might work ‘away’ this year, so I’ve been thinking through past destinations. One of my all time favourites was San Francisco. Like Melbourne, but not. Like America but not. And I loved baseball. Like AFL but not.

I love baseball because I think it’s like design.

A great pitcher is hyper-aware of their surroundings. They are aware of the crowd, the wind, and they know exactly who’s up next to bat. And although they are the focus of the action, they are not working independently. They know exactly where each one of their team is standing, and what their role is in the play.

And great pitchers don’t just chuck the ball in the general direction of the plate. They lean back and pitch it with all their might at a well-researched target on a well-rehearsed trajectory to a well-researched strategy. They have a clear goal in sight.

In short, the pitch is focused.

But you know the pitch is nothing without a competent catcher — and I fear that’s where many designer’s pitches have come unstuck.

Unlike the catcher for the San Fransisco Giants (the great Buster Posey), our catchers (clients) have no formal or objective methods for assessing creativity. Our catchers — even the most experienced — often revert to subjective (and often inaccurate) criteria to form an opinion.

But we can do something about that.
We can help by never pitching a ball they do not expect.
And we can help by educating them how to catch.

First step is to remind them why we’re pitching. Often when designers retreat to the studio to focus on a brief, the client switches mode to work on a myriad of other issues. We return with the brief fresh in our mind, whereas they have long forgotten the details discussed.

So we can help them catch by reiterating the brief. We can help them by talking about the market, the research, and the strategy, giving them time to draw breath and anchor their feet before we stand back, swing our leg high up in the air and hurl that great pitch.

Better still, maybe we don’t throw an unexpected pitch at all. Maybe we enlist clients to our team and help them to participate in the game.

Research has shown clients respond better to an idea if they have been part of the development. That’s why agile, co-creation and collaboration is so successful.

When clients work alongside designers, the pressure of the big pitch is lessened and clients catch better. There’s less fumbling because they’ve been part of the decision. They know how fast it’s coming and whether it is a curve ball.

Design is much more fun when we’re all part of a team.

Carol Mackay


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Carol is a designer and co-founder (with Greg Branson) of the Design Business Council, an organisation advocating design and its role in a successful and sustainable business; and the Design Business School, Australia’s the only business school for designers. Together they are working towards the 2019 Business of Design Week

In 2018 she partnered with another two Melbourne professionals to launch the Clear Communication Awards

Carol’s design career focused on helping the financial, legal, insurance, superannuation and service sectors use design to add clarity to their often complex message. She now uses the same skills to help business understand design, and designers understand business. Contact Carol for more information.

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