Do designers all look and sound the same?

Recently I met a few friends for a (zoom) drink. One of the group surprised me by saying she needed some help … she was looking for a new design supplier and finding the search tough. Part of the problem, she said, was many designers all looked and sounded the same.

I sat back and looked at our industry through her eyes.

What client’s want

Research shows most clients want a design partner. A creative who will take time to understand their challenges, their product and their business. They want to build a relationship of mutual benefit and trust. Problem is, they don’t know where to look and they have no criteria to judge what they find.

I think finding a designer is a bit like finding a new hairdresser. There is great risk involved. It’s unlikely a client will trust their trusses or budget to an unknown or on a whim. It is more likely they will decide by asking others for a referral, and then they will shortlist options.

Designers look and sound the same

I challenge you to look at our industry through her eyes. A ‘quick ‘n dirty’ audit of designer’s websites tallied a total of around 20 words/phrases used consistently.

It is a real problem. We build sites using similar templates and software, and populate them using a similar vibe and vocabulary. Many, many designers describe themselves as boutique, authentic and creative. Others are passionate and innovative. It’s not that these words are wrong, it’s just they are commonly used.

Everyone has an unfair advantage

Designers are not clones. Despite our similar tertiary education and use of the same hardware and software; we’re wired completely differently.

Our heritage, homelife and processing ability differs. The way we approach, distil, and solve a problem differs. We have an onlyness … a way of seeing, acting and creating, that differs to others.
That’s our unfair advantage.

It’s our special powers.

Problem is, it’s really hard to identify our own specialness … we can get too close to see our special skills.
We need distance.
Or we need a special tool to help the process. That’s what I want to share.

Finding your onlyness

The first step to finding your onlyness is to find clarity about what you do differently from others.

One way to get the separation we need for clarity is to turn a human centred design tool more commonly used for clients on ourselves: a personal journey map. It’s a simple (fun) process you can use to map what you’ve done and how you’ve done it, making it easy to identify what makes you, you.

Google personal journey mapping and you’ll find heaps of resources. It’s an easy process to follow. You can document your whole life, or just an experience, like your tertiary education or a stint in a studio.

The next step is to stand back and extract the valuable information. Look for re-occurring patterns, feelings, and thought processes. Where you felt strong, confident and capable. Use that information to write your own design value proposition – articulate your strengths in a language aimed specifically at your clients.

That’s the magic dust because if you can define what you do differently to other designers you no longer compete. You have a something completely separate to offer.

Shameless plug

If all that sounds too hard, spend $15 and an hour and a half to join myself, Sarah Gross and Lea Wearne to hear how we’ve used personal journey mapping to define what we do, how we do it, and – perhaps more importantly – how our skills benefit clients. We’re sharing the information at an online Creative Women’s Circle event on September 22 at 6:30pm EST.

What others think…

Personal journey mapping is not something I thought about doing until I saw Carol’s presentation at a Bravely Managing discussion. We create journey mapping for CX, change management, even holiday planning, so the idea of reviewing the journey of your career as a tool to move forward made so much sense. Not only did it help to join dots and open up pathways that I previously didn’t consider, it was also a great confidence booster for me.
Anjali, Traffic and Project Manager, Right Angle Studio

Carol Mackay’s work on finding your ‘onlyness’ is really awesome to help you articulate your value. I’ve been working on my personal journey map ongoing and it’s been really helpful for me to articulate what I enjoy, and how I articulate the value that I bring. What an awesome tool!!!   Libby de Souza, Senior Producer, Portable.

What do you think? Got any problems/questions? As always, happy to discuss further, just email.

Carol Mackay

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Want more?

These articles talk more about working in the creative industry:

  1. Results from the What clients want? survey
  2. What clients say they want from designers
  3. What clients say they want to hear in a pitch

About Carol Mackay

After 30+ years running a graphic design firm, Carol pivoted from client-focused projects to consult to the design industry.

Carol’s special power has always been an ability to use design to translate difficult to understand or complex messages. She believes design brings clarity to complex issues. From clarity comes understanding, and understanding leads to knowledge.

As a designer she used those skills with clients like The Magistrates, County and Supreme Courts; Ombudsman schemes and Emergency Service agencies. At DBC she uses the same skills to help designers de-mystify the complexities of managing a small business.

Outside of DBC Carol mentors graduates and is an active volunteer at Never Not Creative, a community of creatives pushing for change in the creative industry.


An archive of Carol’s previous career is at
Current work can be viewed at and

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