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Practice safe design. Always use a strategy.

The 8 questions have to answer on every single project, every single time.

The single largest problem that continues to hinder interactive design from really coming into its own is the fact that designers allow their work to be led more by technology or production techniques and not creative thinking that creates a user experience or concept that will resonate with the consumer.

As a creative director, I have had tons of interactive portfolios come across my screen over the years and I see the same problem over and over again. Designers who think that technology is an idea. Unfortunately, most of this work has been produced in Macromedia Flash and that technology has taken a huge amount of criticism over the years. I believe that pointing to Flash as the reason for ineffective user experiences and online advertising makes about as much sense as blaming the paper for creating junk mail or the telephone for creating the solicitors who call during dinner. The fault should fall to the designers who have not taken the time to use a creative strategy as the basis of their work.

A good on-line creative strategy should define the values and brand attributes that need to be communicated to the consumer in a distinctive and compelling way that takes advantage of the medium.  I use answers to the following list of questions as a starting point when I meet with a new client or start on a new project.

What are we advertising and why?

When you meet with your client about a new project, get a thorough understanding of the focus of the communications efforts such as the brand, a specific product or service, a promotion or new news. Make sure you understand their reasons for wanting to be on-line.  Often the rationale clients provide are expressed as marketing objectives, not as communications objectives. Communications change the way people think and influence their behaviors.  That is the difference between a marketing objective and a communications objective.  What is it they are trying to achieve?  Increase market share? Drive awareness? Increases frequency or penetration?  Increase sales? Focus on uncovering the single most important obstacle the communications must overcome.

What is the brands communication past?

Get a clear understanding of where the brand has come from and where it is now is critical to determining where the brand needs to go. Look at the brands past advertising to gain a solid understanding of the it’s positioning, personality, and focus.  Research if the target of the brand’s activities has shifted and why.  What are the reasons for this change?

What do we need to do?

It is a simple as it sounds.  What are the deliverables that need to be created to fulfill the clients marketing and communications needs?

Who are we talking to? (Demographics)

What are the physical characteristics of your clients market?  Your client should be able to provide you with some statistics that provide a snapshot of the consumer you will target with the creative work.  Common demographics include: age, gender, religion, income level, education, and family composition.

Who are we talking to? (Psychographics)

What are the mental characteristics of your clients market? Your client should again be able to provide you with some information that provides a snapshot of the consumer’s mindset regarding their personal values, their beliefs, their habits and their activities. Psychographics is often more powerful influences upon how a consumer views your client’s category, brand or product as attributes often affect behavior, and attitudes typically cross age groups.  Take time to know your consumer so your creative will be more impactful.

What is the personality and tone?

A brand’s personality should be a reflection it’s behavior, character, and manner. This personality should drive the style and tone of all our communications in writing, photos/illustrations, typography and style.

What is the selling idea?

The selling idea is a way of saying the most persuasive thing you can say to get consumers to alter their behavior towards a client’s category, brand or product. The selling idea should be the starting point for the development any compelling, original, and successful creative ideas. The selling idea can be about: ways of using the product, disadvantages of not using the product, satisfying needs (physical, social, psychological, new ways), product heritage / where or how it was made or generic benefit you want to own.

What do we want the consumer to do?

With any advertising you want to be able to evoke and emotion or action. What is the emotion you want them to have? How should they feel about the brand? What do you want them to do?

This list is just a starting point. To create a great strategy you have to be able to distil and refine the answers to get the insights and core brand attributes. The more accurate and concise you can become the better your ideas will be. I also recommend if possible to share your answers and thinking with a team of your peers or co-workers because the more people thinking about a project, the more new ideas can be generated.

4 Comments

  1. Pingback: Practice safe design. Always use a strategy. | Stephen Gates Blog: Interactive Creative Director - Digital + Online Design, Advertising, Marketing and…

  2. Pingback: Death to the client version | Stephen Gates Blog: Interactive Creative Director - Digital + Online Design, Advertising, Marketing and Branding

  3. marie

    August 18, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    That is very interesting to see all the process explained in a very logical way.

    Still have a problem to make understand to the client their tastes shouldn’t necessarily be part of the branding (eg: expensive, polished bikes and grunge effects – I don’t want to say that contradiction are not interesting but sometimes…).
    Therefor I ended up by having a design so ‘compromised’ that the message/identity is not coming through anymore. Frustrating process and results…

    Do you think the designer / AD should please the client? Is it more about educating the client? Or is about giving the right understanding of the role of the designer / AD? …

  4. Stephen Gates

    August 21, 2010 at 7:05 am

    I think you have to walk the line between creating what the client wants while still adding your expertise to create the best branding possible. I think a lot of problem can be education so you get your client to see the biggest picture and how their personal opinion may not be the best direction for the brand. In the past I have found it effective to try doing informal focus groups and stopping people on the street, get their impression and record it so you can show your client the reality of how people see the work.

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Creative Director, Designer, Brand Builder, Speaker, Podcaster, Crazy One. As a designer, I have 20+ years experience creating the strategy, concepts, and designs for award-winning integrated global advertising campaigns, building multiple global Fortune 500 brands and creating innovative digital experiences. As a leader, I have 15+ years transforming agency and client-side teams using a mix of creativity, business strategy, process and political skill to create innovative, world-class work and cultures that change industries and companies. My clients have included American Airlines, W Hotels, Disney, Citi, ExxonMobil, Acura, Old Navy, Nationwide Insurance, Verizon, Subaru and many others. My work has received over 150 international awards, my app designs have been named as one of the World’s 100 Greatest Apps, Apple has featured my work in 9 keynotes, 4 TV commercials and more.

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