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This freelancer’s stunning web designs help hit business goals. Here’s how

3 words: business objective design.

Imagine that you’re a designer. Someone comes to you, saying that they need this image.

So, you draw that image and give it to them.

Later, someone else comes to you and asks you to draw something else.

You also draw that and give it to them.

Your designs are based on what you’re being asked to design. Your questions also tend to fall along the lines of:

  • “What do you want?”
  • “What colours do you want?”

This is part of the “pixel pusher culture” that freelance identity and web designer Renessa S found herself struggling under, and which she now makes a point to avoid as far as possible.

Renessa helps clients define their corporate identities through the designing of logos, business cards and other brand collaterals. She also offers web design and front-end development services.

Now in her late twenties, Renessa’s love for code started during her early primary school days—where she began learning HTML and CSS from various sites. She also picked up the code and graphic skills for designing Blogger templates and now-defunct social networking site Friendster.

If you’ve ever used Friendster, you may remember how the site allowed you to personalise your profile page. Renessa took full advantage of that, and it wasn’t long before her friends noticed.

In school, they would come up to her and say:

“Your [Friendster profile] page is so cool, could you do that for me?”

Renessa was happy to oblige, charging her friends $2 a pop. (It was a lot of money back in primary and secondary school!)

Fueled by her passion for graphic design, Renessa then went on to get a degree in Design Communication. She worked full-time for a couple of years after that, but the turning point for her freelance career was when she joined a local e-Commerce and Wi-Fi marketing start-up as its Art Director.

Because about a year in, she found she had to spend a lot of time out of the country due to personal reasons.

Fortunately though, Renessa had a “great relationship” with the people at the start-up. She asked if she could work remotely to support the sudden change in events. The start-up said yes, and Renessa’s job “morphed into this consultancy role”.

Before this happened, Renessa had already been doing the occasional freelance project on the side. But when she started her remote working arrangement with the start-up, that was when she decided to start freelancing full-time.

Differentiating herself with business objective design

It’s been a year since that pivotal moment for Renessa. Apart from the Wi-Fi marketing start-up (which is still one of her clients), Renessa also works with agencies and other businesses in need of her design and web development expertise.

Coco promotional activations and graphic design agency
Coco, one of Renessa’s clients

When potential clients approach her for work, Renessa makes it a point to understand their business so she can propose designs that not only look amazing, but also meet their business needs. She calls this practising “business objective design”.

Renessa’s process is as follows:

1. Research and discovery of the client’s business

Among other questions, Renessa asks the client about its:

  • Company values and aims
  • Unique selling point
  • Products
  • Target audience
  • Competitors

For example, if the client says “I want something fun”, Renessa would ask:

“What does ‘fun’ look like to you?”

She tries to understand how she can best represent what the client wants and how to communicate it in a visual form. After all, different people see ‘fun’ in different ways!

This process might take up to 2 weeks depending on the scale of the project. However, it is a pivotal step in understanding the client’s business, wants and needs, and translating these into the logo, brand collaterals and website to be designed.

2. Visualisation of the design

After getting the client’s responses, others might immediately start working on the “final design”. However, Renessa comes up with 3 different style guides based on the discovery phase first.

Each of these style guides has a different degree of intensity. Renessa dubs these different levels as being “mild”, “hot” and “spicy” respectively.

The “spicy” level would be “super super hot”, while the “hot” one would have a “in-between” intensity, and the “mild” level would have a more of a “safe” approach in colours, typography, imagery and elements.

The style guides open up the communication lines, as seeing them side by side helps the client actively participate in the design process. They also play a big part in refining and setting the visual tone for the rest of the project.

3. Arrangement of website content

The next step is to arrange the website content—products, messaging, calls-to-action and so on—according to their hierarchy of importance.

But how do you decide what content should go first?

For this, Renessa borrows from the copywriting playbook.

Take the AIDA copywriting formula (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) for example, which she shares “also works for websites”:

  • Attention: What are the client’s services? What is this site about?
  • Interest: What’s so interesting about the client’s services?
  • Desire: Why does someone need the client’s services?
  • Action: The call-to-action that the client wants visitors to take

4. Laying out the content

After establishing the content hierarchy, it’s time to translate such hierarchy into visuals.

Renessa produces wireframes to visualise where all the content should go. When doing so, she asks herself whether the flow of content makes sense for the user, or whether it can be improved.

She does this for every single webpage the client needs.

5. Producing the final design

Finally, Renessa does up the actual design.

This incorporates the imagery and colours that she and the client had agreed on, after she has researched and understood the client’s perspectives, and strategised on the content placement.

And the final result is beautiful.

Here are some webpages she previously designed for a corporate advisory client:

Caravel Capital corporate advisory firm
Caravel Capital, one of Renessa’s clients

Not just pushing pixels, but making a greater impact

Renessa explains this process of hers during her first meeting with every client. Although some clients might not fully understand it at first, they go along with it anyway.

And then as the process unfolds, they begin to see how it helps with the creation of the final designs. The light dawns.

Practising business objective design definitely takes more time and effort compared to designing based on others’ requests. But doing so has paid off for Renessa: she regularly has clients who return for more work, and who refer her services to others.

Renessa also cherishes the process and the greater influence it gives her over the final product.

Contrast this to when she was working in a corporate environment, and largely took instructions from others on what was to be drawn. This led to burnout—and a motivation to freelance so she could take on a bigger role in projects.

“There are always going to be pixel pusher jobs. Some people enjoy it and some don’t. I am one of those people who don’t,” laughs Renessa.

“I am one of those people who would like to be a bit more impactful as a designer.”

Images courtesy of Renessa S

Tan Siew Ann
I’m a freelance writer for some of the most amazing software businesses in the world. On this blog, I share tips on how you, too, can run a sustainable and meaningful freelance business. Let’s forge your freedom. 💪

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