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How Marketers and Designers Can Work Together More Efficiently

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In this article you'll learn...

  • Similarities and differences between marketers and designers.
  • How to minimize conflict and maximize creative output.

Marketing folks and designers have the same goal: well-designed sites and well-executed campaigns that convert viewers into customers. But getting to that goal can be challenging.

To do so, the more analytical, measurement-oriented marketers and the less analytics-oriented designers must navigate the creative process, which can engender fresh, engaging concepts or meander without any regard for time or budget constraints.

Marketers wishing to collaborate more smoothly and effectively with designers and businesses seeking to improve their creative process should start by understanding the ways in which marketers and designers are similar, where their differences lie, and what they can do to minimize conflict and maximize creativity.

Marketers vs. Designers

The truth is marketers and designers have a lot in common. I'd challenge you to find a successful marketer who doesn't use a creative process to develop new and stimulating ideas. Likewise, show me a designer who lacks a deeper understanding of marketing and a drive to attain viewers' eyes, and I'll show you a designer who's soon to be fired.

Their similarities:

  • Shared goals: Marketers and designers both seek a happy client. And what makes clients happy? Well-designed sites and campaigns that convert viewers into customers.
  • Starting with the objective: Both marketers and designers start with the client's objective. They want to know the specific outcome the client seeks as well as the tone of voice desired.
  • Similar questions: The best marketers and designers constantly ask the questions "Why?" and "What if?" They want to know why people fall in love with a brand and what might happen if they tried one strategy, tone, or idea over another.
  • Control of strategy: Not surprisingly, both marketers and designers would prefer to be in charge of a campaign's or project's strategy, creative and otherwise.

Their differences:

  • Measurement: While designers always wants a campaign to be successful, they'll still gain some sense of satisfaction if they know they've put together an aesthetically pleasing, exceptionally creative, boundary-pushing campaign or site, even if it reaches a smaller than desired audience or looks dull on some screens.

    Marketers, on the other hand, tend to be obsessed with measurement, tracking conversions, impressions, rankings—you name it. To increase Google rankings, we want a site to have tight content architecture and superfast load times, even if this means some slight aesthetic sacrifices.
  • Priorities: A marketer's highest priority is getting a message out to the most appropriate and widest audience. We want to know the nitty-gritty details of how every part of a campaign or site performed, and we want results we can put in a report. In contrast, graphic designers tend to immerse themselves in the bigger picture, the concepts that shape a campaign or site.

These differences might seem minimal, but they represent divergent perspectives and passions that can lead to a lot of friction.

How to Work Productively With Designers

Conflict or tension will inevitably arise between marketers and designers, but here are ways you as a marketer can keep the drama to the minimum.

Know when to approach a designer

If the content still has several phases of brainstorming, rewrites, and editing to go through, hold off on reaching out to a designer. Designers understandably hate having to throw out work when a project moves in a different direction, so have the content nailed down before getting the designer involved.

Take the time to learn a little bit about design

It's important for marketers to know basic design concepts. Research principles of white space, composition, typography, and color matching, and use this knowledge to ask intelligent questions that help a graphic designer guide you and understand what you're looking for.

Stop second- and third-guessing

That said, never, never, never (and, might I add, never) act like you know more about design than the designer. You don't. Respect the skills and expertise everyone brings to the table.

Recognize that you're equals

This means seeing that you all share the same goals and talking about what you can agree on as frequently as possible. This also means knowing when to defer.

How to Encourage the Creative Process

Certain elements of the creative process always will be messy. Brainstorming, for instance, is bound to head in all sorts of directions because that's what brainstorming is. But establishing some limits and relying on materials that have already proven effective can make for greater, faster creativity.

Set some limits

First, a multiple-choice question:

    Q. In which situation are you most creative?

    A. When there are no constraints. I can pick my own topic and use whatever tools or strategies I desire.
    B. When there are a few constraints that define the task.
    C. When I'm told exactly what to do, step by step, beginning to end.

If you didn't answer B... well, you should have. Although we might fantasize about complete creative liberty, there's nothing more paralyzing than an overabundance of choice. Too many constraints and we'll feel uninspired.

But some limits actually encourage creativity, as does clarity about every person's and department's role. Make sure that every contributor's responsibilities are clearly defined. Deadlines, obviously, need to be communicated and respected.

Track workflow and productivity with better tools

As the following infographic demonstrates, great tools exist for streamlining your workflow. Use systems like Evernote to brainstorm and narrow down ideas. Rely on Remember the Milk to manage tasks across teams. Find the best guides for effective planning and personal productivity. Speed website production time with apps like Notable that allow you to share results instantly. Even go as far as application development to create tools to improve internal workflow.

Click image to open interactive version (via Simply Business).

Bottom line: spend less time analyzing data and managing task flow management, and more time creating.

Don't fear the template

Encourage your designers to draw from stock footage or stock images to speed production along.

For example, I recently discovered that Shutterstock provides a surprisingly wide range of template infographics. This discovery absolutely blew my mind because it makes infographic production from scratch look downright wasteful. The same goes for any app development.

Use what's already out there as the basic building blocks or inspiration for building something new.

* * *

The presence of some limits encourages the creative process, and clearly defined roles and deliverables will help marketers and designers work together productively and efficiently. The ideal is that all parties communicate, collaborate, and then get out of each other's way.

(Image courtesy of Bigstock: Two girls resolving a conflict)

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Adria Saracino is a marketer and blogger. When not consulting on business strategy, she's writing about style on her fashion blog, The Emerald Closet.

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  • by Scott Pemberton Fri Aug 17, 2012 via web

    Many good points in this piece. Thanks. Depending on the project, I often include designers at the very beginning of a discussion or brainstorming about creating marketing or editorial materials. Two reasons: 1) They offer a valuable perspective and we often come up with better ideas because of it and 2) when the project does go forward they will understand it much better and everything will go faster and smoother. A deeper understanding on the designer's part is especially valuable when changes must be made.

  • by Adria Saracino Mon Aug 20, 2012 via web

    Thanks Scott! I agree that getting your designers in earlier can really benefit the creative process. We often need to tell clients that creativity is often collaborative, so happy that you're putting that to practice, as we've found there is rarely just one creative guru making all the ideas happen (sorry Don Draper fans :).

    Plus I think a big part of why this is important is it improves the relationship and managing expectations. The designer will say right away if your idea isn't executable, and they can also add directly to the conversation a way to visually represent the information you're trying to get a cross. Designers and marketers are natural partners, so we need to just stopping fight it!

  • by Scott Pemberton Mon Aug 20, 2012 via web

    Ad agencies often team up copywriters and art directors on projects because it works so well. They collaborate so the writers offer design ideas; the ADs copy.

    Thanks again!

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