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Ask a designer: virtual vs. face-to-face


This post is part of the Ask a Designer series. You ask me questions, I answer them to the best of my ability. The questions can be about design process, branding, software, technical things – or even completely unrelated. Want to play? Leave me a comment here, or use the contact form.



I’ve followed your progress this past year, Lisa, and your work is nothing short of impressive. Much of your work is virtual where you’ve never met the person IRL, yes? It used to be that people met F2F. How have you overcome this challenge?

by ReloMary


I am sitting outside in my garden as I write this. My garden in Italy, just outside of Rome. Thousands of miles away from you.
Thousands of miles away from most of my clients and collaborators.
And yet, as I scan through my Twitter stream, read my emails, respond to comments, I feel close to the people I talk to. We’re all in that virtual space, connected by common goals and projects, similar perspectives and inside jokes. Sure, it will never be quite the same as meeting face to face – but every single one of those virtual encounters is wonderful in its own way.

How did this happen for me? It feels so natural by now that I am not clear on all the details.

However, one year ago, I had a fairly lonely site that said all the things you’d expect to see in a graphic design portfolio site. Nothing more. It did and said all the “right things”, but it didn’t feel right.

Everything began to change when I found a community whose beliefs were very close to mine. People that inspired me and people I could inspire. People who, simply by interacting with me, made me realize I could do more. And that I wanted more.

For me, Twitter was the starting place. Maybe for someone else, another social network would feel more natural. It isn’t about the where, it’s about the beliefs:

Believe in what you do; make it about more than money; be very very clear about that added value.

In a nutshell, this is the theme that runs through most of my communication. Somehow, finding the community that shared the underlying faith in this gave me the courage to stand up for what I believe in.

To me, what I do is about much more than money in exchange for services. It’s about helping others express what they deeply believe in; help them say it in such a way that will resonate with their public.

If you truly believe in what you do and say, then show it. Shout it. Let it shine!

This is the way I have always felt. It’s what I have always helped others do.

As soon as I started applying the same principles to my own communication (this website is a result of that), something changed. You can say this was predictable –yet it also feels magical. Even if I had faith it would happen.
My ideal people heard me. They started to show up. My writing resonated. My work inspired. Emotional connections were created.
And this was just the beginning…

Is it really that unusual?
If you think about it, the big brands have been doing it for years.
I don’t really need Steve Jobs to show up at my door to convince me that Macs are the perfect tool for someone like me – he had me at 1984. (though I admit that I only saw that a dozen years later)

Brands that stand for something don’t really need door-to-door salesmen, or corporate meetings.

On a much smaller scale than Apple — for now — this is what I am doing: creating a brand that stands for something. And it’s much more powerful than sales and discounts, or the persuasive power I might have in a face-to-face meeting… I can use that same persuasive power virtually. It doesn’t matter. As long as I can truly stand behind what I am offering.
The rest, of course, is in the delivery.
Anyone can make promises. Keeping them, or even over-delivering, is what makes a difference.

I am pretty certain that if I delivered just run-of-the-mill work — no matter how shiny my website — my clients would not be impressed.

The actual quality of the work; living up to the expectations, plus a billion little details that make IdeaStylist different from the rest: how I talk to people, whether I stick to my deadlines, the tone and scope of my follow-up emails or even what my agreements and invoices look like.

Delivering what you promise is the key to getting not only repeat customers, but fans. Virtual word-of-mouth is just as powerful as the traditional version – if not more so.

Virtual relationships can be as strong as the ones where you meet the people face-to-face. I am just as excited about new projects that are explained to me in an email as I would be about the ones explained in person. I jump out of bed every morning because I can’t wait to get started.

I am pretty certain it shows in my work. Because the response so far has been the virtual equivalent of a standing ovation.

And while I do look forward to meeting some of my favorite clients and collaborators someday, for the moment, this is enough.

4 Comments on this Post.

  1. I can hear you – on SKYPE – saying all of this. It all makes sense. You have found your center and you are helping others find theirs. We met initially on LI. It was your b’day and you had rescued a pup, yes? We began to talk (via Skype) and I found you changing before my eyes (so to speak). You were morphing into this incredible butterfly, Lisa. Perhaps it had started to happen already but I’ve seen you get better and better since meeting.

    I already knew the answer to my question since you HAVE done some work for me. I am always so very impressed how you take a basic idea and make it SHINE. There is no stopping you now! You have found your voice and you have found an audience who will help you get the word out because you have an incredible talent.

    Hope to see you in NorCal one of these days. It’s about time for a visit back to California, isn’t it? :-) We can have lemonade in MY garden by the pool.

  2. lisa

    Yes, I remember that. I was just getting my feet wet in this world wide web of wonders. And yes, I had spent my entire birthday trying to get a puppy back to his mom and brother. (They are living with me now, and the rescued one next door. In case you were curious, here they are: and

    But back to your question: I really think the key for me was not being afraid to say it, to shout that what I do is special — and then to prove it. For many others, it might be figuring out what is the most special and unique thing about their offering. I am lucky, I knew the answer right away.

    And because I feel so strongly about this, and can demonstrate it, no face-to-face is necessary. But of course, it’s still welcome. I’ll make sure to stop by NorCal when I visit my sister in Canada. Shouldn’t be more than a year. And if it happens to be in the winter, we’ll just have a coffee instead of lemonade, yes? :)

  3. I think you’ve got diversity, too, having lived in different countries. This has GOT to help when you are relating to folks from all over the globe. And it didn’t hurt you went to Pepperdine – that beautiful school overlooking the Pacific in California – it has a diverse student population, I’m thinking. You’ve seen a bit and it’s built strong and creative building blocks. Or added to what is innate to begin with!

    Your pups are great. Bigger than I’d pictured but not sure why. What a b’day gift you got last year! That dog can count his lucky stars he found you.

    Oh, winter? Are you going skiing in Canada? Yes, I’m pretty flexible and will have the coffee pot on for you.

    • lisa

      That’s very true Mary, I guess I take it for granted, but my background of living in different countries is a huge part of who I am and what I do. Yes, my roommate in college was from Singapore, and some of my best friends from Germany, France, Finland, China… you get used to it, that’s why I take it for granted.

      And yeah, my pups are almost as big as I am. :) They’re big babies though.

      Skiing in Canada — but mostly seeing my sister and nephew — is the plan. If that works out, I’ll be sure to stop by, so keep the coffee ready. (or tea, or whatever… I’m flexible too.)

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