• Phyllis Harbinger


As most of you who follow me know, I have been doing a great deal of traveling over the past few years, both for business and pleasure. In December, en route to our Miami apartment, I came across an interesting article which focused on brainstorming with paper.   Yes, paper!  In an age where we are all focused on digital tools and sustainability, this article intrigued me.   I for one prefer to type when taking notes or sending correspondence because I can actualy type faster than I can write by hand.   That said, this article gave me pause and reminded me of the importance of the brain to hand power in response to creativity. I have always supported hand drawing in class and while we use AutoCAD every day in our office and could not survive without it, there is something visceral about starting the design process with hand drawn bubble diagrams, plan sketches and 3D vignettes that you cannot accomplish in as meaningful a way if you begin with technology.   As I read this article, I realized that the collaborative process, documented on paper, can be such a profoundly helpful tool when collaborating with others on your team and with your clients.  The trick is to keep the time to one hour – no more.  If you go longer, you lose critical attention of the participants and the results will not be as meaningful.   This methodology does not ban technology as it still plays a part.  You can scan and send digital copies to all for reference and taking the ideas to the next level!   Interested? Click here to learn more!

  • Phyllis Harbinger

This week, I gave a presentation on Communication Styles at the Domotex show in Atlanta. While there is a great deal of psychology that we must understand to deal with our clients, our vendors and our team, there are also some rules that I insist upon in our office.


As a designer, strategist and professor, I have seen it all. I try to instill in my first-year students, what I learned from my first mentor, how to effectively communicate!


This is a CRITICAL skill and if someone does not possess this or have a willingness to learn quickly, they cannot be a part of my team. When I first joined the workforce, people were still hand-writing (or typing) letters and you had to use a landline to make a phone call. Fast forward and some of the people we are now employing have never used a landline and would rather hide behind a screen than speak to someone “live”, and not having a protocol or a phone and email etiquette policy could potentially send a client searching for a new designer. It is your job to make sure that your brand is represented properly in every way and professional communication is key.


I still receive emails, phone messages and the like that are so unprofessional I wonder how the person sending can ever move forward in business. While there are many things that irk me, here are my biggest pain points:



1. Lack of response

While we all have multiple inboxes and they are full of unsolicited emails, we still have an obligation to respond to those emails from people we have met, spoken over the phone or emailed previously. Especially our clients and prospects!


Even if you acknowledge with a courtesy reply, no matter how short, that tells the sender that you are professional. Not responding to people you know is not only rude, but it’s costly. If a vendor is trying to reach you, it’s often because he or she may have a new product line, a promotion, or something else that may help you or your firm and this information could positively affect your profits. Ignoring emails and phone calls puts you at risk of losing out potential opportunities. A good businessperson has to communicate effectively. We all can make the time to do it correctly.


2. Grammar and Spelling

I have many clients who are CEO’s or high-level executives at very large companies, wildly successful and still cannot construct a sentence with syntax, spelling and correct grammar. Team members and vendors are also culprits of poor email etiquette. What does this reveal about a person? It might signal that they are lazy, too hasty, don’t pay attention to details, or, sadly, are just not very intelligent. That could be the furthest thing from the truth but if you are taking shortcuts, it may dissuade people from doing business with you and your firm. I truly believe that if you cannot take the extra time to spell and grammar check, make an email congruent and clear, than how do they know that we will do a good job on our project?


Business interactions require a professional responsibility to make sure your communications are grammatically correct. This is not rocket science and while it will take you a bit more time , the person on the other end of your communication will appreciate it.


3. Honoring Communication Preferences

One of my clients is now ninety-one years old. I have been working with her since 2006 and we are now starting on a third home for her. She is sharp as a tack, still uses a flip phone and does not have a computer or an Ipad. Her only means of communicating with me is via phone and if I do not answer, she leaves long voicemails. She loves telling me in detail the news of the day and while I truly do not have the time for this, I set boundaries. I explain, and she knows, how busy I am and that I have a limited amount of time to chat. So, I ask that we discuss things pertinent to her project first and then if time permits, we can catch up on her personal life. She understands and has adapted to this methodology.


I prefer to communicate via email as it is a time-saver but there is truly no substitution for the phone when a matter of importance needs to be discussed with a client or a vendor. I have many clients, particularly younger ones, who prefer to communicate with me just by text. I like text for delivery updates or something very quick but I establish during our first meeting that all communication should be done by email and text should only be used for quick confirmations.


While we all have preferences, people communicate better when they’re comfortable with the method used to communicate. If you want to avoid costing yourself an opportunity, it’s to your benefit to find out how the people you do business with prefer to correspond with you. Some may tell you to only send a letter. Others like to talk on the phone or send emails. A few may insist on a face-to-face. If the relationship is important and profitable enough, then you’ll need to adjust to their preferences.

  • Phyllis Harbinger



Anyone who knows me, is aware that while I love technology, I tend to be very loyal to what has worked for me and it is hard to change. Case in point, it took me years to move to the Cloud with DesignManager – my design business software.


I have been better at making the transition to newer technologies in the past few years, mostly through the urging of my mostly Millennial and Gen Z team! If you stick with something just because it works, you may be missing out on increased productivity, ease of workflow and new business opportunities. Many of our old stand-by tools have become obsolete. The fax machine, the answering machine, and others which we will address below.



Fax machines and phone systems

I do not know any designers still using a fax machine since E-fax has entered our lives. It makes it so much easier and quicker to get documents transferred safely. Be sure to always use an encrypted service!


Do you remember when you needed a phone system designed for your office? This was a heavy hit to many designers’ budgets. Not only did you need to purchase a significant array of equipment and phones, you had to hire a special vendor to implement it all and then train your team. Whether you leased or bought outright, it was a huge investment. As we move into 2020, things have changed.


You can now have a virtual phone system, such as VirtualPBX, which can cost as little as $10 per month per mailbox. Other vendors include Grasshopper and RingCentral, and they all provide the benefits of having an in-house system but they operate through the Cloud. Your clients and vendors calls will be answered by an automated attendant and then they can then choose from a dial-by-name directory to reach the desired party. Miraculously, through technology, calls are transferred to smartphones or purchased units. Voicemails can be stored online for historical reference and all messages are forwarded via text and email so you never miss a beat! This is especially helpful for smaller firms with smaller budgets!


In-office accounting services

I used to have a bookkeeper who came to my office weekly. One thing that I did earlier than many of my coaching clients, was to move to a virtual model back in 2008. At that time I was doing screensharing through my computer on Join.me. Now with Quickbooks being online, my bookkeeper can log in at any time and update my records and get me ready for Sales Tax reports, Worker’s comp audits, P&L at the end of the year and so much more. The Cloud has offered us flexibility and has lessened the need for face-time with many professional vendors.


Credit Card vs. Mobile Payments

I have been making payments for clients with credit cards for at least a decade but the credit card machine will soon be a thing of the past. Many people are opting for mobile payments and new mobile read credit card scanners, which have been used all over Europe for quite some time now, are coming but many Americans are resisting the change. If you wish to reach more Millennials who have a new status in our consumption realm, you wish to lower your transaction fees and get on the technology bandwagon, than you may wish to explore this option for the new year! Mobile payments are more convenient, more secure!



There are many technologies that you are using in your business which will become a distant memory in the next few years. The new year is a time to take stock and make sound decisions rather than investing your money in the wrong place.

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