Design buzzwords -- do they really work?

Has anyone else noticed the overabundance of cliche design buzzwords that are found in the “About Us” sections of many consultancies’ websites?

Frankly, it makes me want to yack. At the same time, I am thinking it must be wildy successful because most of the leading consultancies use this approach when describing their company strategies and methodologies.

Do these cliche phrases even mean anything these days? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel like this really became rampant during the dot com boom and has been going strong ever since. I would like to know what others think about this phenomenon. Here are some examples (I’ve left off the company names so hopefully we can avoid bias). I collected these from both major and minor players in the design industry:

“…strategic services can set an appropriate direction for an innovation effort or catalyze creativity within an organization.”

"Our convergent design process allows us to create innovative, profitable, high quality products quickly and efficiently. We create a vortex of creative collaboration early, during the critical conceptual design phase. "

“At the front of a full-scale design engagement, we will analyze your internationalization strategy to ensure we design with the appropriate considerations in mind.”

“Whether working domestically or internationally, innovation is grounded by practical knowledge of the tactical realities of the marketplace.”

…design speak…what they should be doing is expressing what makes them different from every other design firm, but they don’t or cann’t because they are not.

I disagree, MRD. Just as each of us is a unique individual with our strengths and weaknesses, and talents that set us apart from each other, with stories that revolve around our personal “brand”, each design firm has it’s own unique identity. After all, every design firm is composed of at least one, if not more, designers. And designers, more than other professionals - accountants or C++ programmers, say - are not “plug and play” components. You can replace an accountant working on your tax return with another, without any effect on the end result. But when you replace one designer, or design firm, on a project, with another, you are not going to get the same end result as you would have, had you continued to work with the original firm/designer.

Each design firm has it’s own philosophy, outlook and approach to a project that sets it apart from all the others. But often, this is the hardest task for a design firm to undertake, to look at themselves and discover what sets them apart from the others, how to differentiate their particular “design” from every other, how to articulate and present their brand story and position themselves in the market, such that they stand out from the crowd.

If they don’t do it on their websites, it’s because they cannot articulate it, not because they are NOT different. Then again, they can just ask me to help :slight_smile:

Well, personally, I’d never use any of that rubbish on my website, because it makes me cringe too. It’s not about knowing how to articulate it - to me it’s just empty, meaningless pretentious waffle. I’d rather present prospective clients with the facts about my consultancy and let them decide from that.

Note that almost all of those are about Strategic Innovation. That tells me that they understand the changing role of design and the value they offer.

Okay “vortex of creative collaboration” is goofy, but I get it. The most creative people tend to be goofy, so this might actually say something positive.

“Convergent design process” is a new one to me. What ever happened to good old iNPD? At least I know what I’m getting with that.

…in our new product development process; the ‘convergent design process’ or phases 1-3, is what happens after the ‘fuzzy front end’ or phase 0, when new product development is a ‘divergent design process’.

That’s exactly what you’re doing - cutting through the phrases all the firms use and telling them the facts about your consultancy.

I just have a bad habit of circumlocuting.

But it all sounds so pretentious though! Can’t they speak in plain English? Surely it’s possible to run a design consultancy and market it without coming across like some pretentious wanker.

Is it?

I think I understand what you are getting at, CG, but I’m not convinced the above examples really say anything about the specific values that companies offer. It might as well be a section called “About Design” instead of “About Our Company.”

Well put, Shoenista. Maybe there are some examples of more straightforward, well written, easy to understand marketing out there? (Specific to design companies). If anyone has found any good examples, please post them. I am having a hard time finding any–which is why I started this discussion in the first place.


As someone in a position to hire them, I care more about their process than their culture. If you’re looking at this as a sign of their culture, then yeah, it looks pretty pretentious!

this whole catchphrase hype started in the 80s/90s by big corps who wanted to sound different and was slowly dragged into professional business schools because compared to other fields specially sciences they were completely lingoless, and now it functions like a developed made-up language. but compared to their counterparts in sciences these words are usually either very illusive or lack soild theory or application behind them.

when a scientist for example creates the word debugging it’s different when a design firm uses a similar term like analysis.

in design business world buzzwords work like sign language to get your attention, although for designers they definitely sound bland, boring, and overused.

I don’t think it necessarily comes from ego or arrogance, although it may feel that way to the reader. I think it is really tough to speak in plain English without sounding like a common moron. Seems like writing well is not a standard skill and the best way to cover it is to construct denser sentences instead of clearer sentences. I think it points to the poor level of writing that is common, more than anything else.

And perhaps there’s a parallel expectation within the business world that to sound smart and competent you have to sound complex and verbose. If it’s plain speak it must not be very good.

So maybe that is pretentious, after all. But I believe it’s an innocent pretentiousness, if that’s possible.

I think your comments make a lot of sense. An alternative theory might be that these companies construct denser sentences to cover up the fact that they don’t really have anything important/unique/different to say about themselves. I think sometimes plain English only sounds like it’s coming from a common moron when it is stating the obvious.

Oh, yeah.

We deliver high-quality work!
Our team is well-trained and talented!


…we draw cool shit…we drink beer. hey, works for me. now if i could only understand what the hell marketing and finance are talking about.

I just don’t put any of that shit on my website at all - why should I say

‘I’m really great, me!’

They can look through the site - see our c.v. and portfolio and draw their own conclusions.

Shoenista - anti corporate bullshitist :sunglasses:

Hi Shoenista,

It makes sense when you write it out like that, but in reality, us marketing and advertising types aren’t trained to read 3D renderings and sketches the way designers are over the years of education and practice. So what happens is that what looks obvious to you, i.e. why your sketch or concept is SO much better for the user than some other concept or sketch, and obvious to other designers, all trained to read the cues of good design, those who aren’t from that background or do not have that experience or training are unable to distinguish good design from bad.

Sad to say, until every marketing manager, finance person and CEO has some design training, the onus is on the highly skilled designers to translate their work in a language that your buyer (the biz folks, the clients) can understand.


To be honest - the buyers I know (and there are lots) refer to that kind of bullshit speak as ‘designers talk’ and laugh at it.

They are competent enough to be able to read a design, please don’t patronise them. Our trade moves fast and buyers quite often have to buy from our sketches as there is no time to see prototypes so if they couldn’t read them, it wouldn’t be much use would it? I don’t have any contact with ‘advertising types’ and I don’t need to in order for my business to work.

If I didn’t get any work perhaps I’d worry. But it hasn’t turned out like that. I’m a plain speaking type of girl and I find that kind of laungage ‘fake’ for me, because I don’t use it. I present the facts about my business such as percentage sales increase with certain brands over a timeframe, that kind of factual stuff as opposed to ‘design waffle’. It doesn’t take a cough design expert to read that.

Anyway, tell me how exactly a meaningless phrase like the ones posted is going to help someone pick the right consultancy to use.

Surely by going on the buzzwords they use you are judging them on copyrighting and not the product? Isn’t that a bit dodgy? Wouldn’t they be a bit thick to pick out a firm without (if they really can’t tell themselves), finding someone who can ‘read’ their sketches to give them a valid opinion of whether they are any good or not?

But this is excelent,Shoenista! This is exactly what I was trying so hard to say! I’m sorry that I was unable to communicate clearly enough that I wasn’t referring to designer waffle or bullshit, but the very facts you point - increase in sales and growing a market to support a particular design or concept.

Well, this has actually turned out to be a great discussion. Thanks to everybody for contributing.