Core values

Just google ‘core values’, and you’ll get heaps of scientific reports on the subject. I won’t go down that way. Instead I’m going to focus on what core values mean to the designer and why they are critical.

My take on core values

I always emphasize the importance of core values to my clients. Sometimes they understand what I mean and hand over a 45-page marketing plan, sometimes they shrug and laugh in  my face. In general I prefer a client somewhere in between – you don’t have to have a degree in marketing analysis – but it’s nice to have an open mind.

Okay. The core value helps me as a designer to understand your company’s fundamental drives and visions. It becomes the framework in which the first ideas turns into a sketch. If the framework is not set up properly, the result won’t be in line with the company’s marketing strategies. Where good art sends different messages to everyone, good design is supposed to send the same message to everyone. With guidance from your core values the work from a professional designer will do that.

If you haven’t got core values, sit down and try to get four or five words down on a piece of paper, preferably derived from a SWOT you should have made at some point, or maybe from your company’s vision, manifest or even elevator pitch. The core values must be easy to remember, so there should never be more than five or six of them. They must quickly come to mind, and must not be forgotten.

Useless core values are easy to spot – they are so generic and over-used that they actually don’t mean anything. They are dull and non-descriptive and should be avoided at any cost. For example:

  • nice
  • focused
  • good
  • cool

Useful core values should be as narrow and pin-pointed as the brand they represent. The core values also have to be as vivid and colorful as possible, and need to emit tons of emotional impressions. Here it is imperative to take your SWOT into consideration, to be able avoid using values and words your competitors use. Moreover, this will help you avoid placing your core values to far from your strengths and opportunities or to close to your weaknesses or threats.

For instance, if you run a company dealing with renewable energy sources, useful core values could be:

  • eco-conscious
  • spearheaded
  • sunbathed
  • perpetual

These are far more colorful than the generic – and inspirational – for a designer to use.

With great core values

When a designer can build a design upon great core values, he or she gets his hand on a gold mine. It’s like letting a coach do whatever comes to mind with raw athletic potential. A great core value works as a well of inspiration, giving birth to new concepts and ideas that can work as a discussion platform to get a deeper knowledge of the company or brand.

The inspiring Swedish speaker Fredrik Härén states that great creativity happens when someone combines two already existing great ideas, into a new even greater idea. The same thing can be said with core values. A set of great core values, can combined become something better, more creative and more inspiring than by itself. With this as a tool, a designer can creative something great for the client.

Without core values

Needless to say, without core values, or even worse, with generic and and pointless words describing them, a project can become a game of Russian Roulette for the designer. Having to go only on gut feelings, it might turn out okay at best, but it might as well become a disaster. Even if the client pays up front, spending time on a project that even in a best case scenario only can turn out ‘okay’, is not time well spent for a person dedicated to create truly unique and effective communication.  In the end, a designer without core values to follow and be inspired by, the client’s business will suffer as well.

A conclusion?

It’s always important for a designer to know about your vision, your dreams, your marketing plan and your core values. If the designer gets a handful of well thought-through, colorful and useful core values, great things can happen. When the designer asks you to take a  moment to describe them, or to re-evaluate the ones you have if the are considered dull and generic, do it. See it as a possibility to get some new insight into your own company and the ideals you have set as your core values.

As a final tip, here’s a short clip from Mr Sean Burke, President of Six Disciplines, describing three important components of core values.