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Our Director of Design, Sean, and our Designer, Bianca, share insights into their world as marketing agency designers.
First and foremost, let’s talk about what “marketing design” is, because it’s definitely more complicated than it may seem from the outside. The definition, so to speak, differs depending on the source. So, how does our Director of Design, Sean, define marketing design?
Sean: “For me, Marketing Design is where we apply and sometimes extend a brand’s visual standards to craft materials and experiences that create meaningful and memorable engagements, usually with the goal of promoting brand awareness or adoption.”
And what about our awesome Designer, Bianca?
Bianca: “To me, Marketing Design is one of many avenues within Design so by nature there are a lot of overlapping responsibilities and design-thinking approaches to solving different problems. I always think of anything design-related as the intersection of where science and art meet. It’s very technical and systematic with a lot of rule-based structures. You need to have a good understanding of your audience and user behaviors. It also balances being thoughtful and creative about the actual approach. Marketing Design is vital to successful branding — It wears a lot of hats: Identity Design, Advertising/Campaign Design (a personal favorite of mine), and Experience Design just to name a few that come to mind.
I feel like whenever I get asked this question by family or friends, people get caught up in thinking that design is subjective like how you’d typically look at fine art. This is something I disagree with; although art plays a major role, design is not ‘whatever you make of it’ (as a designer with a fine-art background this is a phrase that has always sort of rubbed me the wrong way, but that’s for a different day!). I like to reference Don Norman’s famous doorway example in The Design of Everyday Things. It’s a great example of form and/vs. function, which is the definition of design at its core in my opinion. Design always has a very specific job to do. There is a problem, and design solves for it. If you aren’t familiar with a Norman door, it’s a doorway that is not user-friendly and causes people to immediately question how the doorway works. Doors are usually second nature for us to use, so when you have to do a double take and look around for queues on how to use a door, the design has failed.”
Why Is Marketing Design Important?
Next up, I asked a fairly obvious question of our designers to get their reasoning on why and how marketing design plays a crucial role in almost all of our marketing efforts. As a copywriter, nearly everything I draft for Fishnet and our clients ends up going to design as soon as proofreading is done. They take my simple words and orchestrate beautiful landing pages, source relevant images for blogs, craft enticing email layouts, and so much more. We work hand-in-hand on a daily basis, so I know how crucial their work really is, but their answers to this question provided intriguing insights for us all to learn from.
Sean: “I think about Marketing Design as a primary way in which Brands communicate with their target audiences. A way to educate, keep them informed, make them aware of products, services or solutions that might help those audiences in some way. It can be a way for brands to tell their story, or demonstrate how they have helped others solve their problems. For a brand, it is an essential practice in keeping a dialog with existing and potential customers alive and active. Letting them know what the brand is up to, what they are working on, and what new innovations might be available.
If a brand doesn’t engage in Marketing, they may be doing a disservice to their clientele and potentially missing out on opportunities to better serve their customers and themselves. I’d liken it to them sitting on their hands, relying on word of mouth and just waiting for opportunities to come to them. If a brand isn’t actively engaging with their audiences it might seem as if they are taking them for granted or, even worse, not actively improving or innovating their own offerings. Creating an impression that they are stagnant, complacent or fading away.”
Bianca: “There are so many reasons why Marketing Design is important. The first thing that comes to mind is this is a tool just like any other tool or asset that businesses invest money and time into to be successful and stay relevant. You can’t very well have a business without the brand/identity. That’s like a human without their heart and soul. This tool is the very thing that connects with your audience. At the end of the day it’s not about how much you post on social media or which website platform you use (although those are great and necessary vehicles for engagement) as those details will not get you far without the proper fingerprint that defines your brand and your brand only.”
Are There Different Types of Marketing Design?
Sean: “Yes. If we think about Marketing Design as the outward communication between a brand and its existing and/or potential customers, then there are many types of assets that are created to do that. Websites, landing pages, advertisements, emails, social media, event design, video, blogs, direct mailing, the list goes on and on.
I think the largest is a brand’s online presence though. These properties can be created to support so many aspects of a brand and, in some cases, are the only experience customers may have to engage with a brand at all. Think eCommerce, forums, online communities, support portals, etc. All these can be part of the overall brand experience and a way to keep and attract customers.”
Bianca: “Yes. I sort of started to touch on this earlier in my first answer. This is something that I see as ever-growing. The avenues of Marketing Design or just Design in general are tenfold compared to where Design stood as a tool decades ago. We’ve come so far! Marketing Design is a multifaceted role that brings together a ton of different yet necessary ingredients for a brand and its marketing strategy. User Experience Design; this knowledge is key when designing a site, performing site maintenance, and integrating and crafting stronger UI libraries. Branding Design, Art Direction, Campaign Design or Advertising are other big ones that come to mind. To me, this knowledge skill set ranges anywhere from running ads on social platforms to crafting conceptual and emotional PR stunts and so much more. I know I’m leaving a ton out, but this is just to name a few. There are a lot of essentials and assets that coincide with each of these avenues, so I am speaking very broadly here.”
What Benefits Does Design Bring to Marketing?
Sean: “The job of a designer isn’t to just make things look pretty. While sometimes that may be a part of it, it is oftentimes not the primary objective. The objective is what drives the design – Is it practical? Is it comfortable? Is it communicating effectively? Is it accurate? Is it efficient? Is it working? Is it usable? Is it driving engagement? Is it aesthetically pleasing? The challenge with design is often understanding what the first priority is so that the design can support the goal appropriately. It can be challenging for a designer to know when to show restraint or when to flex.”
Bianca: “I’ll try not to be too redundant with my answer, because I feel like all of my previous responses sort of touched on this. In short, I would say design brings forth unique creative solutions to problems within marketing and/or business strategies.”
What Is Your Favorite Part and What Is the Most Challenging Part of Marketing Design?
Sean: “Helping people to start a brand is still my favorite thing to do. Starting from scratch or even a rebranding exercise allows me the best opportunity to work with people at every touch point. Seeing things come to life and seeing how happy they are with the results is the most satisfying aspect of what I do.”
Bianca: “My favorite part of Marketing Design is helping facilitate that creative connection between brands and their audiences, AKA creating a brand. Each creation is a unique problem to solve. It’s never a one-size-fits-all approach, which is something I really enjoy about this field. Your skillset is always growing. It’s truly what makes each day completely unique in the office. I think that’s something you hear a lot from designers or agencies/studios in general, that ‘no two days are the same,’ and it’s true — we have the gift of freedom to have our hands in whatever we want to do/use to help solve the problem. As I look back over my 6+ years in the industry, I’ve truly been able to do a lot with design. I’ve been able to be involved in projects that I never thought would have applied to me when I first decided I wanted to pursue Design. It’s a remarkable field.”
Sean: “Kind of the opposite of above, there are times where I am brought into a situation where so much has already been determined that it can be difficult to influence or change the outcome. My hands are tied so to speak. The problem here is that without control there is no way to maximize the chances for success. We always say that a user’s experience with a brand is only as strong as its weakest touch point. If we can’t influence those touch points how can we ensure that the experience will be a positive one?”
Bianca: “Also solving those same problems that I love so much. It’s not easy and it’s something I’ll always continue to learn and sharpen. This space moves so rapidly, you hit a lot of walls. I also think getting clients to initially trust the process can be tricky. For a lot of people, their business is their baby. They have spent countless hours and dollars and poured their hearts into starting their businesses, so it’s not uncommon for people to be skeptical and not want to hand the steering wheel over sometimes — and I get it completely, it’s certainly a valid fear. It’s important to go that extra mile to gain your client’s trust. You want them to know that your expertise in this area is what will help them reach the finish line.”
Is There A Project You’re Particularly Proud Of Working On?
Sean: “There have been so many over the years that it is difficult to pick just one. Of my recent projects, however, I’d have to say that I really enjoy working with Rewild Renewables. This was a “brand refresh” and website project. In the end, I’d say we got a little carried away and it turned into more of a full re-brand. I really like what they stand for as a brand so it was easy for me to get onboard (and go overboard). This isn’t a typical B2B type company, they really care about the environment and the communities they touch. So for me it became somewhat personal and I really wanted to help them succeed. I think the new brand and website really captured their essence in a way that turned some heads, which was the goal. This is not your typical energy company.
I also really enjoy working with Matmarket and their companies. Insite and Trederra are both fun and exciting to work on. The latter has another very compelling sustainability story that’s easy to get behind – taking used tires out of landfills and putting them on our feet. Great stuff!”
Bianca: “I have a lot of fun working with our friends at DirectDefense in particular. I’m proud of how the DirectDefense 2024 Brand refresh package came out!”
How Has Design Changed Since You Entered the Marketing Field?
Sean has been in the industry for over two decades while Bianca is about six years post-graduate. With their combined experience, skills, and education, the two of them make a dynamic team that are able to combine their attributes and produce dynamic, engaging work. But whether it’s been 25 years or half a decade, industry standards change over time, and both Sean and Bianca have experienced many changes since starting their careers.
Sean: “I have been doing this for 25 years. I started out in the early stages of the internet. So for me to sum up ‘what’s changed’…. Very difficult, I could write a book. How about this: When I started, there was no such thing as email marketing. Digital ads were few and far between. Animation and video, rare. The file size restrictions due to the low bandwidths pretty much excluded the use of any video, not that browsers at the time could read videos anyways (you needed to embed them into players). Image sizes needed to be under 10k! Flash animation was all the rage but browser compatibility and download speeds limited those experiences, too. Responsive Design wasn’t even a thought yet as there were no smartphones. It was such a different beast back then. But as much as things have changed, so much of what we do as designers has stayed the same. It’s always been about problem solving. How can I use my skills and the tools available to me to best help our clients achieve their goals?”
Bianca: “As a mid-level designer, I’d say I’m still absorbing all of the changes that this generation of design has to offer. But if I had to highlight one main change in the field since I entered as a college student, I’d say the need to design for digital platforms has exponentially increased — which has never been much of a surprise: the college program I participated in was in the middle of a pivoting point centered around infusing more UX/UI in its curricula. I remember professors stressing for us to branch out independently to learn as much as we can about UX/UI at the time.”
Do You Have Any Advice for Someone In Marketing Design?
Last but not least, I asked the design team to share their advice for current or aspiring designers and their responses did not disappoint.
Sean: “Learn to love coffee. You’ll need it for all those late nights.”
Bianca: “Some of my top tips for someone in Marketing Design or just the Design field in general would be understanding typography rules and the history of type design. Also knowing the history of design and some of the pioneering greats along the way is huge — knowing what has worked over time, what transcends well, and just soaking up what your favorite historical designers have to say about their career or advice to give is always very perspective shifting.”
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