Our family has a small, sunlit and enclosed front porch where, during the three warm months of the year in Canada, we can sit and relax and watch the world go pretty happily by. It’s lovely. That is, the sitting and relaxing part is lovely — not so much the old couch that sits there. We knew we needed a change. And Ikea was the default for a simple replacement.
Ikea is a form of loveable purgatory. You arrive full of energy, buoyancy, and excitement and ten minutes in, you start to feel enervated, crowded, and unsure. The Ikea experience is built upon finding the unexpected and locating something new and even unnervingly useful. It does not typically stem from finding the product for which you actually came. We saw love seats and small couches in many styles and configurations — and, not surprisingly, none of them quite were quite right.
What we did find was a new mattress for our daughter. And, hey, if we’re going to get a new mattress, why not also get a box spring (or as Ikea more aptly calls it, a foundation, as there are no actual springs in the box). After hoisting the bed and the box onto the cart, we checked out, paid for home delivery and the next day both items arrived. Happy day.
But nothing is ever easy. While the mattress flew upstairs around the tight corners of century-old house, the box was another story. Even after removing the stairway railing and post, the full-size box simply could not get up the stairs.
Mattresses shape-shift. Boxes seemingly do not.
Now, I’m stuck with this. Why relate this story? Shopping at Ikea is a unique experience but it’s not fundamentally unlike shopping for any product or service. Looking for a firm to build a website, identity or product can be as equally harrowing.
“A round man cannot be expected to fit in a square hole right away. He must have time to modify his shape.”
There are at least three lessons here for anyone shopping for professional services like design, technology implementation and strategy.
Check Your Head
First, the obvious: Don’t buy things you don’t need. While my daughter actually did need a new mattress, she didn’t need that box spring. We could have just as easily used her old mattress as a foundation. In fact, this is exactly what we did. The planet does not need another mattress at the bottom of its seas and the box is going back to the store.
In the same way, when we speak with a prospective client, the first item of business is reviewing their assets, including identity, website and any related technologies. If their site is fine, we tell them so. If their identity or logo can be fixed with a gentle update, we tell them that, too.
Inventing work is not only unethical — it’s a waste of precious time and resources.
Perfect Planning is Perverse
Next, Murphy’s Law is immutable. How could we have imagined that buying a box spring would waste the good part of an afternoon? Maybe we should have.
Our clients expect us to help them not only solve their problems at hand but to, within reason, anticipate the unexpected. During the course of a client engagement, most things go very smoothly. We develop an online strategy to move an organization forward, build a visual identity and launch a site that engages, informs, and cajoles.
But sometimes, things go haplessly even after months of planning. A domain name cannot be purchased or expires. A website host cannot support the kinds of tools that a site needs. We price projects to accommodate the unexpected — to be sure that, when something does go wrong, we will come up with a smart, useful and possibly even better solution. We’ll find a more apt domain name. Or we’ll relocate the site, at great expense on our part, to another host.
In general, Manoverboard policy is that whatever happens, whatever it takes, we will make it work.
Finally, we should not only expect the unexpected in our shopping, meandering, and research; we should relish it and rejoice in it and seek it out. I find myself going back to The New York Times far too often for news knowing all the while that there are other, better sources for news content.
When looking for professional design services, try something different. If you manage an investment firm, it is likely tables and charts alone can no longer communicate the complexity of your products, especially if bottom lines are multiple. As a new nonprofit, maybe online donations are less important than gaining 1,000 active email newsletter subscribers. Ask hard questions of service providers and be open to their solutions, as crazy as they may seem or actually be. And always be bold.
As a consumer, as a client, you might not find what you’re looking for but you’ll get what you need. (And apologies to Mick.)
Top photo book credit: Encyclopedia of Immaturity