Who’s View Matters?

tool theme for publishingpioneer

One of the first things my father taught me about business is: “Never start a business letter with the word ‘I.’” Taking that to heart, as a graphic designer, I learned how to extend that concept to an extreme: to adopt the reader’s point-of-view, to transfer the topic from about me to about them. When I pitch new business ideas, I have to make a business-case or decision-makers would never listen. Confronted with a world of narrow viewpoints, making all topics and plans and aspirations about the listener’s own interests—expression becomes communication.

95% of exchange (other than politics, weather, or other shared circumstances) is about the dominant of the two conversants. Observe this and see if I’m not right. Try a day where you don’t talk about yourself at all. It isn’t easy to do. It is as if we are so programmed in our own worlds that our greatest joy is talking about ourselves when we have a receptive listener. Few people have the ability to step outside their own references to discover others.

Looking at websites, 95% of home pages seem to be about the organization they represent: “this is who we are.” So predictable! So what?! The sites that really grab speak to the viewer. (For example, see my reviews of websites in my past The Sebastian Study.)

Trying to apply this concept to my own website has proven more difficult than doing it for clients. I’ve been working on it for ten years. Because my background is eclectic, I find it difficult to say that I do just one thing. From design to illustration to photography to editing to writing headlines to research, my projects cover a wide spectrum. And then I publish my own works. My previous site designs presented my work like a patchwork quilt and didn’t address who should be viewing or their concerns directly. Chipping away at this like a sculptor with a huge block of marble, visualizing the form that will work the way I want it to has been a nagging obsession. It had to capture the reader point of view as an example. My parameters may mirror some of your own:


tools of the trade by Liane Sebastian 1. Define and address viewer—tilt the homepage to quickly describe who I am but allow the audience to self-define. This makes them feel at home and through my diagnostics, I can tell which of my market segments are viewing the site the most. The strategic set-up, focus, and clarity are the hardest parts.

tools of the trade by Liane Sebastian 2. Be clear about what you are selling that solves the viewer’s concerns
—although I make royalties on books, the bulk of my income derives from design projects for clients. So if the site looks too much like I am only selling books, I don’t address my major occupation. Designing the right portion of the screen to represent the kinds of projects that I handle, it becomes like a laundry-list and they must delve further. The graphics are used as a theme, an identifier, and a tease to get the readers further into the site.

tools of the trade by Liane Sebastian 3. Strategically cross-sell
—trying to merge two businesses has plagued me throughout my career. The books that I write come from my business experience, so they are symbiotic to the ebb and flow of my client work, which is my emphasis. Clients get written about. The two activities of writing and design merge in my work. It gives my creativity a distinction. Using my own products as a design porfolio flips the way I am presenting these products.

tools of the trade by Liane Sebastian 4. Watch emphasis—use products as supportive of design services. Design of the site itself is a sample of my work. Similar to judging an architect by the house he lives in, designers are judged not only by what they do for others, but what they do for themselves.

 tools of the trade by Liane Sebastian5. Polish as much as possible but leave the door open—the website replaces the initial first-impression meeting and personal portfolio-showing. It has to sparkle—and not with complex bells and whistles. It needs to have information that the reader can use and that will entice them to come back. Now with blogs, the pressure is off the website to be as timely. The interplay between site and blogs is one of the most exciting areas for new publishing that I explore.

The toughest design for a designer is self-promotion. My best campaigns have always been hinged on the viewer point-of-view. Perhaps because being outward in vision is so rare, it stands out. I had an argument with my sister about college graduates. She claims that their ego-focus—the telling employers what they want versus direct their focus to supplying what is needed—defines a new way to do business. She relates how each generation redefines the business landscape. This seems erroneous. Sound business strategy—i.e. the skills to pay the bills—don’t change. Tools change. Techniques change. Trends change. But the ability to make money doesn’t. A Bill Gates born to another generation will be as enterprising.

So it isn’t the times that make most people self-obsessed—I submit that all college grads aspire to have as much fun not working as working. Their immaturity doesn’t know how to mask it or direct it. The bottom line is that if they can’t make their employers money, their point-of-view is irrelevant. How many college grads know how to propose a business-case for a new idea?

Personally, I prefer to struggle with point-of-view and try again to mold my website into one that can contribute to the business case and demonstrate that I am part of the viewer’s world more than stuck in my own.

Liane Sebastian, illustrator, designer, writer, and publishing pioneer


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