Design Ethos

Never just create a one-off asset when you can construct something reusable

Never just create a reusable single template when you can design something modular

Never just design modular components when you can devise a framework

Never just devise a framework when you can architect a design system

Never just architect a design system when you can define a user experience

Never just define a user experience when you can plan out a user journey

Never just plan out a single user journey when you can improve lifetime value

On Business Leadership

One of the most stressful and painful experiences in my professional career has been to watch up-close the attrition of valuable experience and the dissipation and squandering of considerable, hard-earned intellectual capital, because of passive handwringing and a mystifying unwillingness to lead.

Immense value is lost simply because people in leadership positions simply will not stand up and assert ownership of the disciplines which are under their stewardship, or step up and drive from a position of real and tangible subject matter expertise. Such delicate assets are so very easily lost in the cracks of, or ground to dust by, the wasteful and inconsiderate machinations of corporate politics.

Ultimately, the biggest responsibility of business leaders is to realize, champion and harness the capabilities of the human capital placed under their control.

A failure to own this responsibility is nothing short of a betrayal of the promise that talent brings.

The Interactive Agency – a Creature of the Past?

Twenty years ago, the media landscape was vibrating with the buzz generated by a brand new type of communications service provider: the interactive agency. In the wake of the dotcom crash, however, things quickly changed and it would now seem that the integrated marketing- and IT services once offered by the interactive agency have been assimilated by and split up between the ad agency and the IT-consultancy. So, is the interactive agency thereby out for the count, or is it still a viable business? Is there still a need for it?

1. The Interactive Agency: a Conduit Between Marketing and IT

As a digital creative, I much too often start working with a new client, meeting with either the marketing side or the IT side of a corporation (depending on the nature of the assignment), and eventually inevitably stumble upon the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the board room that no-one wants to talk about. There is a rift that goes straight down the middle of the organization: Marketing and IT just won’t talk to each other! They often see each other as completely unrelated even though they often serve as opposite sides of the same coin. Sometimes they even outright sabotage each other’s work, in what amounts to a petty turf war over budgets, or the ears of the board of directors.

This is in itself not a mystery – IT and marketing people come from completely different worlds and don’t speak the same language. IT people deal in logic and talk about usability, functionality and the distribution of information. Marketing people, on the other hand, are purveyors of emotion and talk about impact, communication and the purpose of persuasion.

I submit that the interactive agency is the cure for this communicative ailment, simply because interactive agencies straddle the divide between IT and marketing.

On one hand, interactive agencies are savvy to how networked computers form the nervous system of a modern corporation. They realize what information technology can bring in terms of opening up communication channels, both within and and outside a company. They understand how procurement-, inventory-, logistics- and sales processes relate to business system platforms. They know how to make data work for you and how to make data in any form a shared and moldable commodity across the organization, ensuring that it can be properly capitalized upon.

On the other hand, interactive agencies also understand user experience and how to make it adhere to strategic brand directives. They can translate core values into interactive principles and help maximize both the impact and retained emotional and intellectual substance of a marketing campaign. They can integrate a multitude of media types and help marketing transcend the limitations of one single channel. They know how to make marketing more precise, talking one-to-one instead of blindly broadcasting to an unknown, unspecified mass audience. And, most importantly, they know how to let interactivity take your marketing from mere communication to actual transaction, involving IT on the commerce end, producing measurable results that go straight into the books.

In fact, one-on-one customer interaction should really be considered critical for all types of businesses, in order to create new opportunities and capitalize on them. Appropriately, where traditional marketing usually takes the form of a monologue, web-based interactivity creates a dialogue between sender and recipient. This closes the gap between communication and actual transaction, creating clear return on marketing investments. Interactivity also paves the way for increased brand awareness and customer loyalty and lays a foundation for strong, sustainable long-term customer relations. This way, interactivity can help marketing achieve concrete sales effects that are clearly visible on the bottom line.

And this is where marketing and IT need some help. On their own, their budgets are often spent one-dimensionally on somewhat lopsided, more or less self-serving efforts, where true ROI is but a distant goal.

Next: Part 2. “Marketing: the Lure of the Pitch”

Working With Creatives

Understanding what matters most to Creatives will make it easier for you to work with them successfully. But what matters most to a Creative is not always what matters most to other professionals, so let me try to explain this from my perspective, as a Creative, but also draw on my experience working with other Creatives.

I have more than 30 years of professional experience as a designer, illustrator, animator, writer and creative entrepreneur. While I enjoy making money just as much as the next guy, and certainly appreciate recognition, I don’t typically focus very much on my paycheck or my title, and I don’t see my career as just a meal ticket. That is not to paint a picture of myself as some sort of altruist hippie, but simply to say that my work gives me enough satisfaction to make that my biggest reward, and I know the same goes for many other Creatives.

What matters most to me and to other Creatives is, hands down, having the luxury of being allowed to care for the quality of our work. Most people interpret this as signs of prima donna behavior, of artistic ego, and that is true to some degree, but on the other hand, if a Creative cares about producing top notch quality for you, how can that be a bad thing? It would be unfair to equate these signs of professional pride with an inflated sense of self-importance.

On the flip side of quality is timeliness and deadlines. While most Creatives take pride in being efficient and fast, they usually resent the notion that their work can be expedited, and cranked out without care. This would be equivalent of asking a trained chef to produce the goods like a hot dog street vendor. A client’s convenience is typically not a particularly rewarding consideration for a Creative, especially if that convenience comes at the cost of compromised quality. You may well perceive quick, expedited results from a Creative as being adequate, but your opinion of what is adequate may not matter much to a Creative, who would know precisely how much better they could have made something, if given more time. So, the best way to get Creatives to accept compromises in this context is to a) acknowledge that they actually could do better if given more time, and b) to occasionally let them do just that.

Consistency and professionalism are tricky subjects with Creatives. Any Creative would want to suggest that they always produce their best possible work, regardless of who the client is. This is unfortunately not quite true – who the client is, what the assignment is about, and what the Creative is being asked to do actually matters for the end result. While a true professional Creative should have a rather high standard, any Creative would confess, if pressed for an answer, that they sometimes elevate their standards further, and go above and beyond. This is because there is an emotional investment required in any creative endeavor, in which inspiration plays a part. There may not always be much you as a client can do about this, aside from encouraging your Creative to find that inspiration, but there is a lot you can avoid doing, so as to not sabotage the results. Being rude and disrespectful will never work in your favor – it is akin to insulting the waiter or the chef at a restaurant when sending your food back. You may not want to know what goes on back in the kitchen after such a display of rudeness.

Furthermore, on that same note, no Creative wants to be treated as a soul-less production machine. It would behoove anyone seeking the help of a Creative to recognize that if they themselves had been able to produce what they’re asking for, they would not need to talk to a Creative in the first place. We do not typically instruct a surgeon on how to perform surgery, and we don’t tell an architect how to plan a building. Similarly, my advice to any client would be to leave room for contribution from your Creative. When it comes to creative work, it s very easy for anyone and everyone to have opinions, but there are likely things that you’re not aware of, things your Creative can help you consider or avoid, which might improve on the desired end result. Micro-managing your Creative is likely not the best course of action, and it may even turn your Creative against you, which obviously doesn’t help.

Reviewing work is a particular point of concern for me and for Creatives in general. That is not always to say that Creatives can’t handle criticism, but it is a sensitive issue, and dismissive or unfair criticism especially so. Most Creatives, myself included, get very involved and put a lot of thought into their work. It may not always be the right thoughts, or the most relevant thoughts, and it’s true that Creatives sometimes believe they have a monopoly on the creative truth. But it is also true that many clients, managers and co-workers are not aware of the thought process and intellectual investment to begin with, and therefore tend to dismiss them too lightly and perhaps unwittingly. Therefore, the best way to work with a Creative is always to start by assuming they do have a purpose behind their work, and ask what that purpose is. You can then proceed to discuss it, and ask if and how the solution can be improved, if inadequate in any way. Asking how something good can be made even better is a challenge most Creatives would embrace quite willingly.

It is important to recognize that creative work – especially in design, where components interact in often complex visual systems – is always intended as a very specific (custom) solution to often very specific (unique) challenges. Therefore, framing those needs and challenges accurately at the outset of a project is of paramount importance. Also, connecting the problem and its original specifications to the solution when reviewing it is equally important. Very often, a reviewer (be it a client, a manager or a co-worker) changes and evolves the definition of a problem as a project progresses, and to me, this means that my solution is based on faulty assumptions, and work therefore has to start over, to ensure that my results are addressing the actual problem. Instead, reviewers often go about reviewing creative as if it is a set of checkboxes that can be unchecked independently of each other. This notion is often insulting to Creatives, who tend to see their solutions as too complex and specific for that – a set of dominoes laid out in a path, rather than a set of freely exchangeable lego pieces. Remove a piece in the laid-out path, and the chain is broken.

A reviewer may feel they are helping mould and sculpt the solution, whereas for a Creative, the solution is being bastardized and Frankensteined into something unrecognizable and less purposeful. The best way to proceed is actually therefore, somewhat counterintuitively, to go back to the beginning and start over. Personally, I always prefer that to being forced to mutilate something I have taken great care crafting.

Finally, it is exceedingly common for clients to think that creative egos require flattery, and to mistake that flattery for an expression of respect. And it is true that any Creative appreciates being recognized for their talent, but flattery really doesn’t work very well and is very often seen as insincere or manipulative, at least it appears that way to me. Creatives tend to only respect the opinions of other Creatives, and flattery – especially if directed at work the Creative is not happy with – will only serve to further undermine the respect felt for others. You don’t need to worry about your Creative feeling unappreciated; that will only happen if you actually tell or show them you don’t care for what they’re doing. If the work is good, a Creative will know it. And if there is a difference in opinion in regards to the quality of the work, you expressing a liking for something will not change a Creative’s mind – even if they may be willing to compromise.

(REPUBLISHED FROM 2015)