Tom Moran is Executive Creative Director of Seattle-based digital shop POP.
If you work at an advertising agency today, you are likely moving at warp speed in several different directions while staying as synchronized as possible. With so many new platforms, new devices and new opportunities available to help clients express their points of view, it’s not a bad time to be a creative.
However, as we all know, innovation requires new skills, and some of the most important skills creatives are learning to adopt are not ones they’ve traditionally associated with design, but that are now equally as important as understanding the value of white space.
Here are five new design skills that I see as essential for success in today’s creative environment.
1. The Creative Has Become the Teacher
Before creatives can sell in their beloved idea or execution, they need to first make sure they’ve fulfilled their new role as teacher and guide to a client bombarded by changes in the industry. While clients may think they know the latest news in the platform wars, or what is possible on Windows 7 vs. Android, the opposite may be the case. Creatives have to hone their ability to explain complicated concepts in a way that connects with their clients.
The stereotypical agency creative has very little interest in designing based on the masses, but these days, the masses determine the success and failure of much of what a creative does. Case in point: the main way someone may search for new apps for an iPhone is by rating; not by CommArts, not by the Cannes Festival judges, but by the people’s preferences. This has huge implications for how and why creatives design, and creative teams have to be in lockstep with the analytics tools available that channel user feedback and take the pulse of user sentiment.
3. Listen Up
Designers often get a bad rap for our inability to simply listen to what their clients or co-workers are telling them. Sometimes, creatives’ wholehearted belief in the strength of their ideas and methodologies can make them unreceptive to alternate points of view. They likely tune out differing opinions because of their deep-rooted attachment to their own passionate viewpoint. Creatives believe that they absolutely know the best approach to take and are afraid to "kill their darlings", as William Faulkner recommended. In today’s environment, where clients have more involvement in the creative process than ever before, a creative director’s ability to listen and understand the clients’ wants and needs without projecting their own agenda is a vital skill. Though it can be difficult to do well, the benefits of sharpening our listening skills are tremendous. The more open designers are to the ideas of others, the more confidence and influence they gain. The more influence they have, the more their ideas will be valued come decision time.
4. Vulnerability – Get Used to It
Things move fast in digital advertising - so fast, in fact, that creatives are often forced to show their work much sooner than they would like. Ad execs are far from the days of traditional advertising when, à la Don Draper of Mad Men, they could bring clients in at the end of the creative process for the big reveal of an already-baked idea. Clients now want to, and expect to be, involved in every step of the process, from the earliest mock-ups and demos. This can feel like the classic nightmare of showing up to class in one’s underwear if the creative is not prepared. Ideas and creative processes are now vulnerable and exposed to criticism. However, creatives would do well to view this newfound vulnerability as an opportunity. This level of client involvement isn't going away, so they need to figure out how to utilize their participation and feedback in the creative processes. If creatives hope to survive with their pride intact, they must learn to identify less with our designs and concepts, and more with the ultimate goal of delighting the consumer - in whatever form that may take.
5. Finding Genius in Teamwork
The stereotypical nightmare creative guy or gal who blows into client meetings, dazzles everyone with his or her creative brilliance, decides all other ideas are garbage and then leaves the room is still, unfortunately, all too real. Creatives need to recognize that genius is a mysterious thing and takes many forms. The New York Jets' locker room features a quote that says, "Teamwork is more powerful than individual genius". There is nothing wrong with having a rock star on the team, but true genius in a creative environment needs to be redefined and seen through the lens of teamwork. The seed for a brilliant idea may come from one person, but is best cultivated into a brilliant concept by utilizing different team members.
Regardless of whether you’re at a traditional or a digital agency, this process is a journey - a journey creatives must be willing to take together (client + project team) knowing there may be some unexpected twists and turns along the way. That said, agencies are the hired experts to solve a business problem through a creative execution. Refining these skills will enable them, as creatives, to make the leap from being a good partner to a great partner and will ultimately enable them to deliver innovative experiences that will bring great value to the day-to-day lives of their clients’ customers.