01 / Article

When a person is the product

Chris Calo
Chris Calo
7 min read

Sometimes as a creative professional, there is a chance of having a client, in which the product or service being sold, is simply a single person's face. For example, the client may be either a politician, comedian, or a motivational speaker.

This really is a difficult scenario to be in, particularly as a designer. Even more so, when the client is new to the scene. There are often - near-zero - tangible goods to be offered, nor a lovely product UI to be found. Their self-branding usually revolves around how loudly they can shout their own name. Oh, and speaking of user-interfaces… designing one here is a nightmare. Generally, the material is extremely copy-heavy, with little left to elegantly break up the verbal noise.

At Vulcan, our ad agency has had the pleasure of working with several clients like this, including Tom Ferry and former presidential candidate Rick Perry. Each experience has been an adventure, in an effort to ensure they can best reach their target audiences.

So, what to do when found in this position? First, let's try to briefly sum up this sort of individual.

Our specimen

He or she is likely very charismatic, and has some history of hosting, or participating in, live performances or conferences for their audience. What they say holds weight, and their fans hang on to their every word.

This person is likely dealing in either ticket sales and/or the sales of merchandise. Sometimes, if they really have their stuff together, they are also offering recordings, or even lesson packages associated with these recordings.

Assuming this is a person of some reasonable clout, what sort of branding assets do they bring to the table you ask? This is where it gets difficult.

Faces and photography

Illustration of multiple avatar faces

One thing that's almost a guarantee - there will be plenty of photography/videography of your client's face. Maybe even some out-of-the-norm ones that the client provided to help with variety. (Yes, they know there is some tedium here.)

These are great, but unless the client is a cult leader, the images provide little detail in terms of the "product" being offered.

In this area of marketing, video is king. Variety is still paramount; no one wants to see the same speech, performance, et cetera multiple times over. However, being able to live their message speaks volumes. Ever listen to a joke on the radio, obviously recorded in front of a live audience, only for it to fail? That's what is happening here. The client's clients really need to see the joke/talk/sermon. If it's visually bland, break it up with additional materials (various other camera angles, animations, or even stock), but don't write it off.

We have found that the best way to capitalise on the available assets is to rely on heavy use of photo-manipulation, in order to get the best result. Due to provided video being a useful compass for look and feel, we are often able to extrapolate on the core vibe the client is trying to get across. From here, we can blend and merge resources, in order to get the point across.

For example, we have worked with Tom Ferry for several years, in the realm of digital product design. For those who don't know of him, I often describe him as the Tony Robbins of real-estate sales coaching. He has poised himself as a very authoritative person in the industry, with his friend (and virtually second-in-command), Bill Pipes, alongside.

As such, when we started initial prototypes for his On-Demand platform some time back, we were given Google Drive directory of in-office photography, a few headshots, and told to go to town. 20, or so, stock photos later, a whole lot of digital painting, and we had a plausible splash image.

Photo illustration of the website Vulcan built for Tom Ferry

UX copywriting

On the topic of user-experience writing/microcopy, the goal is to be as unobtrusive as possible, while still selling the client's message. In most cases, you're dealing with the "star." As such, their content should be front-and-centre, and the fluff surrounding it needs to either help or get out of the way.

This is true for all interfaces, though. If it doesn't contribute to the solution, it impedes it. And then, once you have a hypothesis in place to corral your users: test, test, and test some more!

When we were working with presidential candidate Rick Perry, in order to help build a platform for him to best connect with his audience, the goal was simplicity. As you might expect, the tools we built were used by a revolving-door of volunteer help, and the last thing we wanted to do was either confuse them or impede their ability to move swiftly. Thus, we went the "business-friendly" route, used very minimal, to-the-point language, and provided lots of simple, clear-cut, inline help.

User-interface design

User-interface design for a single person is a bit of a mixed bag. Each individual's brand is different, so it's a given that the aesthetic will be unique, no matter what.

In our experience, no matter the size or scale of the client in-question, this is usually the area they have the least experience/comfort in. I'd estimate 85% of individual entities we've worked, fitting the criteria described here-in, do not have (or have never had) a User-Interface Designer on their payroll, already.

As you may imagine, this can be either a godsend or a waking nightmare. The client will either trust your professional experience to the fullest, or question and be worried about every pixel. The only advice I have in this instance is to stay firm, be kind, and deliver the best product you can!

When we have worked with musicians in the past, we usually note the largest initial disconnect. Who can blame them? Most are overnight sensations, and the need to touch a user-interface - at least, from the design side of things - is often completely foreign. We've always alleviated this by attempting to be as understanding and clear as possible. At the start of the project, briefly provide a sentence about each step, set clear timelines and deliverables, and make sure you meet the goals you set.

Oh, and most importantly: if the band has more than one member, make sure they nominate only one to sign off on stuff. I know this is about working with a single entity, but couldn't resist mentioning it. Thank us later!

Defining success

For us, our work with Tom Ferry had many goals, but here are some of the key highlights:

  • We had to create a simple, easy-to-navigate, e-commerce user-interface, in the same space as products like Skillshare, Udemy, et cetera.
  • We had to craft a custom player (which we've since been able to open-source), capable of delivering realtime video to a global audience, while adapting dynamically to their download speed.
  • We had to build a custom analytics/admin platform from the ground-up, to enable Tom Ferry's team to manage the application we were creating.
  • We had to do it all in about 3 months.

Now, these are pretty solid goals, with clear means of completion. Challenging, but we either met them or we didn't. (Hint, we crushed them!)

In this case, we were in the fortunate position to be given these goals directly by our client. However, in many circumstances, the client doesn't know which way is up and rely on your professionalism to help guide the project. Ya, fundamental project management?

With a deadline in mind, start by helping your client understand what qualifies as wins and losses, what quantifiable, accurately measurable tasks can you 100% promise to deliver on at each phase in the project, what counts as a phase, and so on. With any of our projects, we always chunk out materials into a feature outline, a low-fidelity pass, a high-fidelity pass, and a production pass. At each of these we guarantee a single, on-time deliverable, and lock-in the work at that step, once tested and approved. Therefore, we aren't chasing our tails double-back throughout the project, and burning valuable time.

For Tom Ferry On-Demand, the platform we've discussed above, this went swimmingly. They grossed $16,000,000 USD in the first week of production.

Want to know more? Ask us how we did it.