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A Guide to ‘Having Potential’ in Detroit, Web Design, and Life

Detroit is a city that has just recently reached a stage that I aim for as a web designer. I call it the stage of ‘having potential’. Here’s what I mean: when you’re designing for a client, there tends to be a lot of rapid back and forth in the earliest part of a project. Most of that back and forth consists of the client saying ‘no, we’re thinking more of this.’

Then, after maybe an hour or two or maybe a day or two of back-and-forth, you hit on a design that ‘has potential’. In other words, the client recognizes that this is a design that he can work with — that can eventually become the finished product he wants. I feel like people around Detroit are starting to see that the city ‘has potential’: that it might one day be the city they want to live in.

Here are my humble thoughts on how a city like Detroit, web designers, and basically anyone can get from zero to ‘having potential’ as quickly as possible.

Step one: Know Your Client
If you’re a city, you want to know what your people value and what they’re proud of so you can find a way to emphasize that. If you’re a web designer, you want to know your client’s industry — not in depth, but you want to immerse yourself in their competitor’s sites and get a feel for the way they address the audience. I know it sounds like hokey business jargon, but “understanding your client’s core values” really has a lot of impact on your ability to create something they will see potential in.

Step two: Know Your Audience
If you’re a city, your ‘audience’ isn’t your population — it’s the population you want to attract to your city. What kinds of people come to be tourists in Denver? What do they like? Can you persuade them to move here? If you’re a web designer, your audience isn’t your client — it’s your client’s clients. What problems do your client’s customers have? How can you solve them via the Internet?

Step three: Tap Your Creativity
Inspiration is not a miraculous thing that just happens every once in a while. It’s like a muscle — you can practice being inspired and having great, creative ideas. When it comes time to create the actual product, whether you’re a city planner for Detroit or a web designer, spend a day marinating in other people’s work, looking for elements that stand out. Then sleep on it, and get to work fresh in the morning, thinking about the coolest stuff you saw the previous day. Inspiration comes easy when you prime your brain with great ideas.

Attend To The Details
Your clients and your audience are attentive to your product. The clients are looking for mistakes because they don’t want to see any, and the audience is vast enough that eventually someone will look at every tiny aspect of your work. That’s why you have to make sure that not only are the t’s crossed and the i’s dotted, but they’re also italicized, colored, and spelling the correct words besides. Creativity and a brilliant design are good, but if there’s a flaw that would make a client or a consumer question using the tool you’ve built, it could all be for naught.

There’s no such thing as a design that doesn’t need to be revised — the perfect design simply doesn’t exist. But there is such a thing as a design with ‘perfect potential’, and that’s the first major hurdle that I try to clear in my communications with my clients. Rebuilding Detroit, designing a web page, or any other process of creation starts with finding that potentially perfect idea. Only then can you move forward with a good chance of success.

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