10.07.07: Writing 1: DIY

“Thank you for calling Design Control, this is Lisa.” She shifted the phone to her left hand so she could continue mousing with her right—no sense losing valuable design time during a phone conversation.

“Hello Lisa. This is Helen Ahandbasket from Anonymous Nonprofit,” announced the matronly voice at the other end of the line.

“Oh, good afternoon, Helen! What can I do for you today?” Lisa opened the organization’s file up on her screen so that she could quickly reference whatever project her client wanted to discuss.

“Well, Lisa…” Helen’s voice trailed off uncomfortably.

Lisa’s gut twisted. She wasn’t sure what would come next, but she knew it wasn’t going to be good.

“Yes?” Lisa asked. She realized she was compulsively clicking the “Send/Receive” button in her email program—a nervous habit—and stopped herself in order to pay full attention to Helen.

“Lisa, well, I don’t really know how to tell you this, but…”

“Helen, what’s wrong? Was there a problem with that last mailing we did?” Lisa was beginning to worry. She felt her throat tighten.

“Oh no, no, no dear, it was great—everything you do is lovely. We’re really pleased with Design Control’s work. I mean, I am really pleased. That’s what makes this so hard! There’s no easy way to say this, so I’m just going to tell you: Kurt Andterse, the new chairman of our board of directors, thinks we should design this next fundraising campaign…ourselves.” Helen blurted this quickly; she was obviously not happy with Kurt’s decision.

“I don’t understand,” Lisa swiveled her desk chair away from her monitor to face out the window. “Are you starting a new in-house design department or something?”

“Not exactly,” Helen sighed. “Kurt thinks—well—he thinks we can design it ourselves!” She repeated.

“What?!” Lisa struggled to maintain her client-conversing tone. “But nobody over there is a designer! You are all policymakers and administrators. I mean, you’re good at your jobs but…”

“I know, dear,” said Helen, attempting a soothing tone, “I’m not sure this is the best decision, either. But Kurt seems determined to try it. Apparently he knows a lot of people who aren’t designers who have been creating things lately. There’s even some book about now, he brought it to the office to show us.”

“A book?” Lisa asked, though she was fairly certain what Helen would say.

“Yes, it’s called Design it Yourself, by someone named—”

“Ellen Lupton?” Lisa interrupted. She felt slightly sick.

“Yes, exactly! So you’ve heard of it?” Helen asked, relieved that Lisa might understand.

Lisa took a sip from her coffee mug. “I’ve seen it.” Her stomach churned. The coffee didn’t help.

“Oh wonderful!” Helen exclaimed, ignoring Lisa’s flat tone. “What do you think of it?”

“Well,” Lisa began, reminding herself to be diplomatic, “I think it’s always a good idea to encourage people to be more creative. And of course it’s fun to make things. But…”

“But you don’t think we should do this?” Helen asked.

“I just don’t think you can get the experience and knowledge you need to design a successful fundraising campaign from flipping through one book.” Lisa said.

“I think you’re probably right.” Helen fidgeted with her phone cord. “Unfortunately Kurt has persuaded the board that we should give this a try, and he thinks it will be worthwhile to—oh, this sounds just awful—save the money we’d spend on a designer so that the fundraising campaign will have a greater outcome.”

“‘Probably right?'” Lisa thought to herself. She didn’t really know what to say. She knew she was walking a fine line with Helen, who clearly felt pressure from this Kurt guy to line the organization’s coffers by firing the design team. Whether Design Control kept them as a client or not, Lisa did not want to see the folks from Helen’s organization shoot themselves in the foot.

“Helen, I realize that Kurt thinks you’ll save money by doing the campaign yourselves. I really do understand his perspective. But I have two things to say that I hope you will convey to him.”

“Of course, Lisa. I am always interested in your opinion.” Helen realized she had wound her telephone cord into a tight knot. This conversation would be much easier if she hadn’t developed such a friendly working relationship with Lisa. But she didn’t want Kurt to make the call. That would have been even worse.

“Well, Helen, as you know, I haven’t worked with Kurt, and because he is new I don’t think he realizes that hiring designers actually makes a positive impact on the organization’s bottom line, especially for these campaigns of yours. He may be determined to try this himself, but first of all, I don’t think he has considered the time and energy you’ll all be spending away from your other duties while you try to assemble this campaign. And secondly, I wish Kurt would realize that working with a designer—whether it’s us or someone else—is an investment in the overall outcome of the project. Yes, hiring a design team is an initial investment, but you’re hiring our knowledge, experience, taste and expertise. We’re trained and practiced in this, and the responses and contributions you receive are directly connected to the communications we create for you.” Lisa took a deep breath and another long swig of her coffee.

“I will talk to him, Lisa. Thank you for being so understanding about this.” Helen picked at the phone cord knot.

“Good luck, Helen. Let me know what happens. You know where to reach us if you need our help.” Lisa said.

“Thanks again, Lisa. I’ll be in touch.”

After they hung up, Lisa turned to her business partner, Nick.

“Another DIY-er?” he asked.

Lisa shrugged. “We’ll see.”


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