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We’re not so different, you and I…

Something big has happened over the last few years. Have you felt it? Quietly, the future of our industry is being built underneath us. You might describe me as someone who’s had one foot in design and one in advertising. But those feet are attached to one creative body, and I can walk without tripping over my shoelaces. I’ve never felt at odds with myself, but it can be difficult to talk about a commercial creative industry without garnering a whole lot of flak from both ‘sides’.

In my experience, barriers create barriers, and the historical differences between ‘design’ and ‘advertising’ have built walls so high that it’s hard to even find a common language, let alone respect. Even university courses actively discourage students from exploring rich territories ‘on the other side’.

Technology has changed not just our landscape, but the expectations and behaviours of our audiences. No agency or studio would disagree – in fact, it’s been the shift we’ve all been wrestling with.

So why is it that design and advertising still act like they’re worlds apart, and that we have no appreciation of the other’s expertise? Ultimately, these worlds are just sides of a coin, and increasingly indistinguishable from each other.

In design, digital products are part of the daily life of any design studio. Kickstarter is changing the model for product design funding and making marketing part of the design process itself. Alibaba and others are putting prototyping within the reach of amateurs. Design that’s aware of social media is everywhere – referenced and created within the new advertising space.

And there’s no more powerful view on how this world of advertising has changed than to compare the Cannes Lion winners from 2004 (less than a year before YouTube was born) and last year. In 2004, it was all about great stories, beautifully crafted, in key media – much the same as it ever was. From the epic Sony PlayStation 2 ‘Mountain’ ad to Doubleyou’s groundbreaking (at the time) and sexy vector Nike digital executions, advertising in 2004 was still very much about pushing a message.

As the decade played out, advertising became more about experiences than messages. Encouraging behaviours and creating a brand purpose became more potent. Behavioural Economics became mainstream, and agencies had to adapt and start to take on digital work – including areas seen as more classically fitting digital design. Advertising was getting bigger, and more difficult to classify.

So to the most recent awards: great stories, crafted so people can live them, across multiple platforms, with no end. The rise of the experience and product over the message is even more evident, and these need real design. Classic advertising agencies are seeing value in the design approach. Look at BBH’s latest partner, Adam Powers, who comes with a great heritage as head of UX&D at the BBC.

Our industry needs both storytellers and cartographers, one-liners and brand statements that traverse years. We need different kinds of creatives and a different kind of creative director to join the dots. There are amazing people living in the intersection, such as Poke and Plumen’s Nik Roope and R/GA London ECD George Prest (who believes that the rise of the designer alongside the traditional advertising creative team is the future). There are some big agencies and studios embracing a one-world view. DigitasLBi has a strong focus on blended skills, and at Dare we have a creative department embracing all aspects of the creative (and technical) process.

This merging of disciplines is finally happening in colleges too. I recently co-authored the Masters in Information Experience Design degree at the Royal College of Art – dean Neville Brody describes it as the ‘glue’ between the other design disciplines. Here you learn everything from cognitive science to experience planning to old-fashioned graphics. But you make yourself equally as valuable on a project whether its for yourself, at an ad agency or a design studio.

As programmes like this become more common, feeding all areas of commercial communication, perhaps we’ll start to see more flexible and respectful attitudes towards each other. Until then, we can all be part of the revolution.

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