In the age of programmatic media, machine intelligence, and agile algorithms, the positions of creative director and designer seem ever more tenuous. Our careers have always been staked on the understanding of human behavior and the venerated principles of design: pattern, contrast, emphasis, balance, scale, harmony, and rhythm. With the onset of digital platforms and their ever rapid ability to assess, test, and report consumer behavior in near real time, you may just feel like the dinosaur gazing worriedly at the fiery orb in the sky.Fear not! In a world reliant on continually changing technologies, designers need to adapt, and become (to quote an old mentor of mine), “the furry little mammals safely feeding under the rocks.” I’m reminded of the early struggles in digital, where creative teams aligned to print or broadcast disciplines and dismissed digital marketing as some sort of passing fad; an annoying miasma of tiny, insignificant pixels, designed to interrupt your self-guided flow through the digital ether. Clearly, they were wrong.
So what to do?
- First, stop treating the work like it stands alone, belonging to you, your agency or your brand. While we certainly have some sense of ownership for what we create – brands certainly think of the work in this way – we must understand the entire path a consumer takes to discover or engage with a brand’s content. The consumer owns the relationship. In order to deliver the most effective work, you must go beyond designing beautiful and engaging experiences; the work must be relevant and contain value for the interaction. Effective communication should be bound in tightly integrated experiences, leading to a desired behavior or feeling.
- Second, if you’re not participating in social media, bite the bullet and get there. Social and digital platforms have destroyed the previous reality of linear marketing communications. Consumers can now move from awareness to conversion in a matter of seconds; the better you understand a user’s experience through that process, the better you can create the bridges between a brand’s position and the consumer’s engagement.
- Finally, the direct connection and knowledge of your consumer gives you the powerful ability to address them in uniquely creative ways. The speed of social platforms in particular, allows rapid testing and realignment of messaging when things don’t perform as well as expected. We must be willing and able to create work that harnesses the power of data and use our creativity to captivate audiences. Assets specifically aligned to the person and not just the demographic, combined with direct user feedback, can confirm that we’ve delivered the most optimally useful content. Befriend the machine.
Remember, evolution is the key to our future success as creators of content and ideas. Think about how design principles apply across all aspects of communications: the balance of messaging, the rhythm of a user’s experience across multiple devices, or the emphasis on what the consumer wants. Applying these universal principles beyond design leads us into new, interesting, or ultimately successful paths – and you won’t get stuck being the fossil fuel of tomorrow’s digital economy.