Devs and creatives, it's time to collaborate!

In this new mobile, multi-platform digital age, Ben Winter calls for an end to the old battles between creatives and developers and a return to the credo, ‘form follows function’

Developers develop, creatives create and never the twain should meet? Wrong. This is ‘old school’ mentality yet, astonishingly, it lives on within a lot of modern agencies. It’s frightening how many times I’ve heard creatives bellow, “Our creative can’t be constrained by technology!” and “Just make it work!” without an inkling of what is required. Conversely, developers complain about how the creative “overcomplicates the process”.

This, as with most things, starts at the very top of the food chain. With terms like ‘integration’ and ‘360-degree thinking’ being batted around the advertising community, big traditional agencies are jumping on the bandwagon and gobbling up key players as digital arms to their empires. And so it begins: trying to merge different trains of thought and vision – traditional creative thinking vs development thinking.

Now another aspect has been added to the mix. The big digital player has digital creatives who understand usability, functionality, IA, UX and all the other acronyms that float around in the virtual cloud. The result is another schism between traditional creative thinking vs digital creative thinking – something I’ve experienced first-hand.

It’s reflected through the agencies and filters down into day-to-day relationships as account managers, creatives, developers, planners and clients, all with separate agendas, try to take control. No doubt the following statements are familiar. Ad agency head: “We need more technical expertise, but that’s not our core skill. We usually outsource that kind of thing.” Digital agency head: “The ad agency have asked us to embed an HD video into a 20kb ad. And if we can’t do it, they’ve said they’ll find someone that can.”

Form and function

There needs to be a united front. In this new age of multi-platforms, smart handheld devices and next-gen browsers, the design cliche ‘form follows function’ has never been more relevant. I work in an agency where we take this ethos to heart.

We approach even the humble email as an integral part of a strategic campaign. Every tiny detail is considered. For instance, does the primary message appear in the top 215px preview area? And is it created in editable HTML text so it can be viewed with images disabled? Is there a call to action above the 400px fold, suitably designed so it’s not only a shiny big ‘go on and hit me’ button, but also alternate text when images are disabled?

And that’s just emails. When it comes to on- and offline campaigns, there are even more questions to ask. Is an on-air TV commercial driving the customer to a digital space to consume or buy? Is this space best served via social engagement such as Facebook or client-owned sites? Should print campaign content be connected directly to a digital platform via QR codes to deliver correct, relevant information (and not just used because ‘everybody else is doing it’)?

Have you heard the one about the non-digital account manager, referring to an online banner delivery based on an existing print ad, uttering the words “That’s so easy, it’ll be quick to do, just take the DPS ad and make it move!” Nooo! Online banners have their own rules.

Okay, so dynamic messaging and content in a template format is not a typical creative’s dream. But by working alongside the developers and pushing the boundaries on both sides, we can deliver a product that ticks all the boxes for clients and agency alike.

In the future, the agencies that have survived this on-going battle will be the ones who fought together, side-by-side. So throw down your layout pads and N60 permanent markers, lift your heads up from your monitors, talk to each other and embrace the future. Or be knocked into the advertising wilderness!

This article originally appeared in issue 218 of .net magazine - the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.