5 New Rules for Today’s Designers and Creatives

Times Have Changed. So Must You.

New Rules to Follow
New Rules to Follow. Getty Images

There are certain truths that many people in the industry cling to like a child hugging a blanket. These are “rules” that were learned during college and the early days on the job, and have served everyone well. However, the last ten years has seen a major shift in the way advertising, design, PR, and marketing is produced. Digital has taken over, new ideas are leading the charge, the old ways of doing things are being challenged.

With these changing times, it seems prudent to look at some of the many rules or guidelines we have all followed over the years, and see if they need to be updated. Or in some cases, completely rewritten.

Old Rule: Great Work Sells Itself
New Rule: Great Work May Need an Interpreter

Designers and creatives everywhere will be puffing up their chests and ruffling their feathers at the very thought of this one. But, with technology moving so quickly, many of the people responsible for buying creative work are not those who will ever have to respond to it. The average 55-year-old CEO is not going to be using SnapChat with the frequency of a 14-year-old school kid. Great work that resonates with this target audience is going to be foreign to anyone who’s not in that demographic. So, it will need help to be sold in successfully. You may even use the phrase “if you don’t get it, that good. It’s not meant for you!”

Old Rule: Review Work Thoroughly
New Rule: Review Work at a Glance

This does not mean cutting corners, and it certainly doesn’t mean it’s ok to briefly glance at the copy or art direction before publishing the work. BUT, the attention span of a modern consumer is much less that it used to be. When it comes to reviewing work for smart phones, billboards, tablets, leaflets, brochures, or anything else, you have a second or two to grab their attention.

If you’re lucky. Remember, 89 percent of advertising goes unnoticed. So, by showing the work to a group of people, clients, focus groups, or creative staff, in a way that gives minutes, or a whole hour, to provide feedback, you’re missing the point. The first view should be fleeting. It should be just like the consumer sees it. Then ask the people reviewing it what they remember. What stood out? Did they even notice anything? Then, go back in and dissect it.

Old Rule: Data Is for Account Managers
New Rule: Data Is for Everyone

Creative people, on the whole, don’t like drilling down into numbers and statistics. That’s a job for the account teams. Let them rifle through the data, grab the most salient points, and present it with the creative brief. That was ok 30 years ago, but now, data is king. And there is so much of it, in so many different categories, that the time has come for the creative department to use it to its advantage. Don’t wait for the account team to give you small chunks of data that may or may not be useful. If you dig into the details as creatives, you will find new and exciting directions for your ideas. Big data is going to rule the advertising, design, and marketing industries for decades to come.

Learning how to speak this language is essential for the modern creative. Do it well, and your ideas will break through. Ignore it, and your ideas will be ignored.

Old Rule: Strive for Awards
New Rule: Strive for Results

While many creative people try and do both, or even the latter first, there is no denying the hunger that exists for awards. And in particular, the big awards like the D&AD, One Show, and Cannes Lions. But doing work to win awards is not the point of the industry, just as doing work just to win an Oscar is not the point of acting. It’s time to put awards out of your mind. The work should be designed to do one thing well, and that is to get results for the client. Whether that’s more awareness, more sales, or more customers in the brick and mortar stores, the goal is to bring success to the client.

If, after that has been achieved, the work is also considered award-worthy, then that’s a bonus. Awards are important to agencies because they help bring in, and retain, clients. They are needed. They are not the reason to do the work though, and focusing on them means shortchanging the client, and the work.

Old Rule: Live to Work
New Rule: Work to Live

The advertising industry is almost proud of how hard it works its professionals. You are expected to put in 15-hour days, work weekends, and take as few vacation days as possible. It’s seen as a badge of honor to sleep at the agency, or work around the clock on a pitch at the expense of your time with family and friends. This must change. Advertising is not life-saving. It does not cure the world’s ills, and it does not enlighten us. It is there to sell products and services, and make a lot of people wealthy. There is no reason for the incessant grind, and clients must start to appreciate that. Most corporations ask their employees to work reasonable, 8-5 hours, and yet they expect the employees of ad and design agencies to sacrifice their social lives, and their sanity, for a product launch, a pitch, or a new initiative. It literally kills people. And it’s one of the reasons more creative people are going to in-house shops. The new rule should be working to create a good life, not living every day to work yourself into the ground.