3 years ago

Putting The Art Back in Marketing and Design

As an individual who works in marketing and advertising I’ve aways resented the perceptions most people have that it’s a sleazy industry. When really good marketing and design get together, it can be a beautiful thing.

Yes, there are a ton of douchenozzles out there that ruin everything good about the web, but they aren’t real marketers, they are idiots.

The general perceptions of marketing and advertising by the average person I run into are just so off from the way it really is.

The idea that some profit hungry board room of evil old white men are conspiring to manipulate you into buying some vapid garbage for their commercial gain just isn’t accurate.

Well sh*t. I’m pretty sure that’s half the fortune 50 actually.

Still, the way even a lot of designers and photographers I work with see the entire premise of most marketing fundamentally flawed.

I will commonly hear them say stuff like…

“If you make good stuff, it will get shared and become successful by it’s own creative merit. Why promote crap people don’t care about?!”

I actually partially agree with this, but I also think when done right, the best marketing is just good art.

Best Marketing Is Good Art

The Rise (And Fall) Of The “Creative” Class

If you work in this industry, you have to have some empathy (and sympathy) for the people actually coming up with the asset.

Not the 20 other people involved attaching their names to it and taking credit for it, but the guys and gals who actually bleed day in and day out to deliver something that makes the cut.

They have a never ending mountain of hurtles and endure a great deal of personal misery in getting even a shred of their original vision to see the light of day. You can quickly identify which side of the table each person involved in the process sits on by the language they use.

For example, when have you ever heard a copywriter, developer, designer commonly refer to anyone on their team as a “creative”. I’ve heard a few older art directors (over 50+ years old) I worked under in the early part of my career refer to the people they were managing as a “creative”, but in large part, people who refer to you as a creative in the process simply don’t understand the scope of what you actually do.

Their vague description speaks to their vague understanding.

This is a topic I agree with Mike Monteiro on a great deal.

If you allow people to marginalize your role, you will become led by people who have no idea what they are doing. To add insult to injury, you’ll probably get blamed for the end result too – because hey, you’re the “creative” right?

I’ve seen executive teams turn a well designed and coded asset into a horrible atrocity so many times. At least half of those instances, they would blame the outcome on the designer and / or programmer and fire them just to cover their own ass.

That’s probably why you see so many senior designers these days with strict, overprotective contracts.

You’ll get sandbagged by morons and then blamed for the mess more often then not, you have to.

Design and Marketing

The light at the end of the tunnel is the prospect of creating something people value. If you are really lucky, perhaps something that affected them in a positive way or even changed their lives for the better.

Connecting people to those experiences is and always has been what keeps me doing it.

All The People Between You And The People

Just beyond all the sleazy sales people, the account executives, project managers, consultants, CIOs, CMOs, CEOs and garden variety of VPs – there is a brilliant generation of designers, developers, writers and creative content producers who are fighting to do good work.

There are in fact doers out there who can transform your brand if you would simply get out of your own way and allow them to do their job.

That’s the tricky part though.

All the people in the middle make that impossible.

Too Many Cooks

The aforementioned people in the process – the account executives, the CEOs, VPs, relatives, pee wee league soccer coach and your brother in laws 3rd cousin all get involved. Suddenly what should have been a simple 15 page brochure website quickly becomes the biggest dreams and aspirations of the entire company.

They all want to be able to say they had a hand in it. It becomes an extension of their egos and preference, not a marketing asset meant to build trust and convert new business.

Design by committee usually mutates out of this phase of self doubt brought on by the project being weeks (or months) over the deadline (because of revisions, after revisions, after revisions…), and well… the rest is history.

Good Marketing Is Good Art

They Call It “Design Hell” For A Reason

Coming up on 15 years of taking creative requests from clients / customers and turning them into tangible, functional business assets has made me cynical.

This work, if you do it long enough… will give you some weird form of design PTSD. The sad reality is, more often than not, your best work will be mutilated by the corporate anti-bodies.

Don’t take my negativity as defeatism. To this day I can always make a customer happy, but never at the expense of my (and my teams) professional self respect.

I say no a lot these days.

You are going to have to fight for good art. It’s not easy. It’s not pretty. It’s not glamorous. It’s a messy business.

Design can be way more political than content.Click To Tweet

It irritates me to watch clients shoot themselves in the foot with bad design, typography, color theory, composition, messaging, etc… just as much now as it did when I started all this craziness.

Maybe that’s a sign I still care.

Maybe it’s just a sign I should remove myself from it more.

Design Is Often Undervalued

Ultimately, the value of the creative asset is often questioned and evaluated by people who are not really qualified to make an educated decision on that value.

The thinking that went into it is seldom conveyed effectively in these final evaluations and a lot of brilliant art has never seen the light of day because of it.

Designers should own it though and ask themselves: How do you really perceive something you don’t value (or value less than other things)?

Designers often do the same thing by ignoring the context of some of those revisions, thus dragging the project on longer than it really needs to because their comps are simply not positioned right for the target audience.

Failing at weeding through all the execu-speak and buzzwords and listening for the why.

Because we value composition and color theory more than sales and positioning.

Because kerning and white space is more important than conversion rates and analytics.

We do this because we have different values, and that’s perfectly OK.

Design Has Become A Commodity

Isn’t this all to be expected? The last 20 years has seen the commoditization of the design trade. We’ve lost our seat at the table.

Now we are “guided” by business process, sales and marketing managers and executives who do not know or care about what we do.

We’re no longer the directors of communications and branding that we once were (even if that is our title). The days of being able to make the final decision on a design comp are long gone.

Designers have been reduced to a marketing utility. We drove the entire process 30+ years ago.Click To Tweet

It will stay this way until we start leading the process again. That will happen when more designers start to code and learn more about the functions of marketing.

Moving beyond creative assets and trying to understand the data that validates our designs.

That’s the great thing though.

We have an ace up our sleeve in the future ahead of us. The web is moving into a much more visual phase.

Content of all kinds is becoming increasingly dependent on higher touch design work from you guessed it: Designers. Those bastards.

I’ve watched older marketers and business process people who are losing their place in the industry speak in terms of fear of this happening.

Why is the idea of artistic people leading the process again such a bad thing? Would you prefer your open heart surgery be done by an accountant?

I’m glad to see the tide turning, even if it is another 8-10 years away.

The idea of data centric content developers and curators in league with user centered designers and developers working together to weave web 3.0 sounds pretty epic to me.

Let’s see how things unfold.

I Want To Get A Few Things Straight

Let’s be clear, there is a real art (and science) to this whole web design / web development thing.

To everyone else in the process who can’t actually do anything but put together some spreadsheets of data (that they pulled from an automated tool) do me a solid:

Unless you can code a website, perhaps design one from scratch, or at least know how to do real segmented user testing and run an A/B test, just shut up and sit down, then let’s take a step back and try to understand each others perspectives, goals and responsibilities before we review your opinions on the presentational layer.

There are three simple things we can do to make the next ten years of the web a little less poop filled than the last ten…

  • Let’s adopt UX frameworks that help us collaborate better and add the most value at each phase of a project.
  • Let’s develop better documentation on projects so everyone is on the same page and understands how and why organizational perspectives can impede project performance.
  • Let’s stop trying to do each others jobs, while understanding exactly what goes into them.

Just a few ideas that will make all our lives a little better.

Putting Art Back In Marketing and Design

Although well intentioned, it seems the best designers driving the ideas in our industry are rarely the ones with the loudest voice.

Appropriately, most that I’ve ever known are not driven by that. If they were, they would’ve probably been a marketer.

Bringing It Home

I do believe marketing is an art just as much (if not more) than a science though.

Call me idealistic, but just imagine if everyone else in the process kept these words as the guiding principles for what they were contributing to the project:

Marketing is the art of making something that people want to talk about…

– Seth Godin

Is what you're creating really worth talking about?Click To Tweet
Photo Credits: Rosscott & Surian Soosay


Check this out, you will really dig it.

Written by Steve Floyd

Analytics & AdWords certified growth engineer with over a decade experience in making businesses successful. I own and operate AXZM and often speak at top national industry conferences on the topics of strategy, design and marketing technology. Work with me or learn more about me here. Follow me @nawlready

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