Isn’t it ironic that a discipline whose raison d’être is to assist companies in their branding, positioning, communication (and so much more) can have such a bad rep? How many of us have had to defend our profession socially and deflect all sorts of accusations from capitalist to exploiter of the meek? What other profession did comedian Bill Hicks single out with: “By the way if anyone here is in advertising or marketing … kill yourself”.
It’s one of those weirdly obvious paradoxes like the business school that is so badly run (many are dysfunctional), the chain-smoking doctor and let’s be honest, we’ve all done some form of communication class or project where the moderator/tutor was way more in need of the course content.
Having just finished a degree in design and technology, I’m making my way through a rather splendid reading list on design thinking. After a primary degree business/marketing, a postgrad in entrepreneurship and more than 20 years in marketing and research roles in tech companies, I have to say this design thinking lark is awfully familiar to previous readings in both marketing and general business literature from the likes of Aaker, Drucker, Levitt, Mintzberg, Porter, Trout and many more.
Design Thinking, oh really?
My first job had the rather grandiose title of marketing director but in reality, I was the only non-designer of one of Ireland’s first web design companies. Though we were young, we won lots of business with top brands because of the handful of competitors, few were properly trained graphic designers. One of my tasks was to write the proposals which included a plan for the site: I’d work out the likely audience, group the content and navigation and work out the way visitors might move around the site. I now know that what I was doing was developing personas, the information architecture, and interaction design but I never read any design books at the time. That intuition came from my marketing thinking – the ‘outside-in’ approach from business strategy literature. I’d say to clients you have to stop thinking and presenting what you think are your services based on your organisational structure but by the needs of your customers… sound familiar?
Design Research sounds trendier
So back to the original thesis, there’s nothing illuminating or different about design thinking to strategic business or marketing thinking. We know it doesn’t pay to make rubbish products that nobody needs or wants. We know we have to get out there and conduct research to find those unmet needs. I’ve both taught and done all those research techniques (ethnographic, observations, qualitative….) but the big difference we call it ‘marketing research’ where the sexy term is design research. Sure sales 101 is to listen not to shout out your features and benefits. Yet again, the designers have beaten us in our own game and we marketers have got the marketing so wrong.
It’s not a contest, neither is better or worse
While it might be cooler or trendier to be a designer instead of a marketer, the end game is still the same – we’re commercial creatives to help our clients get more uses, more usage, and more users. Whether that’s through nice typography or tone of voice. I’ve worked with lots of designers over the years and the ones I’ve really respected, I thought they have just great marketing smarts. I know they’ve respected me too, maybe all the time they were thinking I was a natural design thinker when in reality we just all had sound commercial thinking.
Hats off to designers, they package and market themselves better. Maybe it’s time for the marketers to ditch the cheap suits, bad hairdos, and cheesy jargon, put on the flipflops and claim our place at the design table.
PS, I’ve never owned a suit or any formal business wear.
Image from pexels.