The Creative vs. The Marketing Team: Yin And Yang, Oil And Water

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Smashing Editorial: Please notice that the language in some parts of this article may be very informal. If you think you might be offended, please stop reading this article now.

I hate the division represented in this title. It’s the major stumbling block in modern business. Power struggle is never constructive, and it at least doubles workforce effort at a time when streamlined is crucial for a positive ROI. You can spell “team” from the word “marketing,” but I’ve yet to see a sense of it in marketing. What can one spell from “creative”? “Reactive”? I’ve seen plenty of that, and for good reason.

Don’t get me wrong: I love marketing as a practice! Relatively speaking, marketing is a fairly new practice (marketing in the sense of “public”, broad mass marketing, applied to products in the modern age — ed.), and one that has to evolve each day to keep up with consumerism and technology. As a designer, coming up with marketing ideas is orgasmic. Guerilla, sabotage and viral marketing are the work of genius, which is why we don’t see them very often. But you are probably thinking horrid thoughts about marketing practitioners right now, so let’s rethink for a second.

I have known a handful of great marketing people in my career, and they were smart enough to form their own companies. They always managed to do the delicate dance to create something that was effective and not just popular with anyone who might, oddly enough, have an opinion. And then there are the people you see every dreadful day.

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It’s A Diverse Crowd Out There

I have a ton of marketing stories, but my favorite one comes from when I was art directing and designing a major push for a new licensed character across all marketing channels. The staff and I worked like crazy to get the lines done in time for approval. It took months — that’s how many lines there were.

After our submission for approval from the licensor, a member of the marketing staff, lower level, came to me, telling me the changes that were needed. First off, don’t tell someone the changes: write them down so that there’s no misunderstanding. Luckily, I was taking notes. One of the changes called for major surgery on the main character to remove markings on their face. It made no sense to me, and I questioned it, but he stood fast and insisted that that’s what the licensor wanted. I asked to see the email from the licensor.

“No.”

I asked that he email the licensor to ask for clarification.

“No.”

The most infuriating thing was that this over-sized man with a cherubic face, looked like Baby Huey2 from the old Harvey Comics. Sounded a bit like him, too. It was hard to speak with him without laughing. As his new nickname circulated through several departments, a contest started among the staff to try to deal with Baby Huey without laughing.

I knew trouble was brewing, and so, like any smart person who would make file copies or turn off layers, the art staff and I stated cutting the image and placing everything the licensor wanted removed on a hidden layer. We did this to hundreds of pieces. A month later, we submitted the changes, and then (surprise, surprise) the licensor ripped marketing a new one for removing the marking, so essential to the character. An impromptu witch-hunt was held right outside the art department, next to the marketing offices. The president personally led it.

Without wasting any more column space than is needed to state the obvious, Baby Huey was spanked… and I believe the president actually asked him, “What is your major malfunction, Baby Huey!?”

The best part was when I was asked how long it would take to fix it. Explaining to the lay person that I would simply turn on some layers in Photoshop took longer than actually turning them on, but I scored big points with the president, while my “marketing step-brother” was sent to military school.

This doesn’t happen enough. But it does and can happen! At another corporation, marketing was publicly spanked for taking eleven-and-a-half weeks to work on an initiative that had only twelve weeks in total — giving creative, copy and design three or four days to execute lines for hundreds of products. Creative would always get it done, so action to stop it took a while, but the grumbling and angry staff meetings got some relief in the form of at least six weeks.

Are We Or They The Strange Ones?

What do creatives look like to non-creatives? Obviously, everyone thinks they can design an ad or logo in Microsoft Word, so immediately we become snooty, whining snobs. A great marketing person I worked with wrote a recommendation for me and said, “…great designs without a lot of creative baggage!”

“Creative baggage.” What could that mean? For anyone who has wrangled creatives, whether staff or freelance, we can be intolerable freaks. It’s hard to remember the last creative who actually followed my art direction without an argument or apology. We are also weak and lack the social skills to deal with corporate power. We often give up our power in an effort to be seen as “flexible” or “a team player.”

An art director who was firmly a puppet on the hand of the company she worked for gave me this recommendation: “He usually hits strategy, but if some adjustments need to be made, he is very open to suggestion and direction. [Speider] has worked with our team for a long time and understands our process.”

The process was that I went into meeting all smiles, told a few jokes and did exactly what I was told to do. The pay check helped me live with myself.

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In most cases, that means doing what you’re told by anyone bold enough to speak their opinion about the creative process and not be questioned. I have had to pull marketing co-workers aside and remind them that we were both reporting to the same person and that no one ever told me anything about reporting to them. I’m not “being difficult”: I’m taking control of my work for my department so that I don’t have to take the fall for failed initiatives and low sales down the road that result from someone else’s design decisions. I never get angry or aggressive, although people who have worked with me say that my sarcasm could be deadly at times. Baby Huey’s ghost haunts me.

Be Different, But Expect The Same

Just the other day, a client showed me a product catalog that I thought was from 1972. It was their 2010 catalog, and the creative department’s directors asked me to bring one of their paper products into the present (or future) and do “something different.” I love when they say that.

I did some of the finest work of my career… some good work. The creatives were really on board, and revisions were almost non-existent. Imagine basically having free reign to design some fun and impressive paper products and having the full support of your clients? Well, no good effort goes unpunished, and I was informed that the marketing department rejected the work in favor of a catalog that looked like a sequel to the one from 1972.

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What has the fear in business done to our ability to make fast, hard decisions in the marketplace? Safe and take-a-step-back has gotten us into the mess we’re in right now. How do we get out of it? I include this passage from someone who would refer to himself only as a “suit.”

I have to have the confidence that the design solution is meeting the needs of the client and is achieving strategic/tactical goals. Because of that, if there are elements of your design that I’m uncomfortable with, I will call them out and, in some cases, will nix them. Similarly for the client, they have to be comfortable about how their own brand is being presented, how their market will react, even how their own staff will react.

“How their market will react.” That should be the only concern. And how did this “suit” become the tip of the approval funnel? The truth is that people can’t let go without second- and third-guessing what will be successful. It’s not a question of whether, say, a good marketing plan based on researched demographics would improve a creative brief that professional designers and writers could use to create a cohesive package. The reality is more like, “Just design, and I’ll make changes until I see what I like.” That always makes for a great waste of time and resources.

Business is tight for many reasons, but just one wrong move could cost you big time. My question is, if the marketing plan is sound and the sales staff is competent, then why would those simple little changes that are requested to please people truly affect the product?

”You know, Bob, I was about to buy that package of Fluggelbinders that I wanted, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.”

“Too expensive?”

“No. The color of the package turned me off.”

Happens like that every day, doesn’t it?! I used that exchange in a committee meeting in which the background color of an exclusive product was discussed and sampled for a week. The marketing manager turned to me and said that I had negated marketing’s input. I thought marketing’s responsibility was to figure out the target audience, their habits, income and so on and how to best reach them through media and other advertising venues — not how blue or green the product should be? Silly me! Maybe it’s a marketing secret that can’t be shared with creative. They’re spies for… something.

Do You Want To Get Involved In Office Politics?

What can one say when sitting in a committee meeting and subjective suggestions are flying around, usually contradicting each other, and people are echoing previous requests but adding “More red” or “Bigger logo” or “I’ll know when I see it”? I sit and listen, take notes and then turn to my contact (if it’s a freelance job) and ask what he or she would like me to implement. To be sickeningly submissive, I say, “Some great insights here, but some are counter to the creative brief and some other directions suggested here.”

I turn to the art director, boss, marketing person or whoever hired me and ask them to go over what they think will be needed. Usually, they tell me just to follow what I was told in the committee meeting. This is when I’m thankful for hourly rates, because the Frankenstein created by the committee is usually too monstrous to please anyone. It goes around and around as long as more than one person has a final say on the project. Imagine what would happen if too many cooks worked on a dish. The chefs I know are insane and would stab and de-bone each other.

When freelancing, you are removed from the eternal struggle between creative and marketing. You are only a tool used by creative and a bludgeon used by marketing to wield its power over creative. Just ignore it and let the creative department deal with it.

But what happens when you are the art director or designer on staff? If you are, then prepare for office politics. The struggle between creative and marketing has nothing to do with design or marketing: it is the good old human impulse to assert one’s power over others, to be the alpha dog.

Whatever your position or department, everyone in it is jockeying for some measure of power over others, from the frowning minimum-wage guard at the front desk who tells you to sign in (as you’re doing it) to the mail deliverer who won’t give you your mail away from your desk to the co-worker who tries to convince you that part of their job is now your job or that part of your authority is now theirs.

Humans usually spend a lot of effort blending in with the herd and shying away from confrontation. Confrontational people know this and use it. When the person taking your order asks if you want to super-size it, do you say “Sure” or “No”? You say yes because your brain and protective nature tell you to go the easy route and say yes. Less aggravation. Why do good girls like bad boys? Because we… I mean they go against the herd, they break with convention, and they’re confrontational.

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So, it stands to reason, while you’re in the workplace — where you face the pressure of HR rules, progress reports and the ever-present cliques of workers and executives — that you would feel alone and stay away from confrontational co-workers. But you can bet that they will at least size you up from day one, if not start stealing your authority and setting a standard that will follow you throughout your career at that firm.

You must start a new job with basic knowledge of your rights as an employee. Listen, and be bold, compassionate and assured. Show no fear, and show that being flexible is not the same as being a wimp. Any business book will tell you that the weak die. You have to set your own boundaries when starting a job. If you “wait and see,” then standards will be set for you as you adjust to the learning curve. If you relinquish any territory, you will not be able to get it back. You will open yourself to charges like, “That’s the way it’s always been done, and you said nothing last time.”

(By the way, a comeback to that last line is, “It may have been done that way in the past, but part of my job is to streamline the process to get the best results, faster and more efficiently. I’m sure you’ll love what my system will do for the workflow and product.”)

As with any situation, your gut will tell you what’s right and wrong, as will your job description. To whom do you report? To whom do others report? If a marketing person reports to the same person as you or is lower on the corporate ladder, why would you let them dictate anything if you were not told to follow their lead? Sometimes, someone may be assigned to oversee all aspects of a project. In that case, they are the boss, and that’s that… but that role ends when the project ends.

If a colleague of yours on the same rung of the corporate ladder makes a poor suggestion in a committee meeting, it’s best to nod and just not execute it. Either you’ll never hear a word about it or the colleague will approach you about it — in which case you shouldn’t respond that you don’t have to take their suggestion, which could be labeled as “confrontational” (it’s always the people who defend themselves who are “confrontational”), but rather that their idea, after much consideration, was found to have no merit. Simple and easy. It deflates their ego and could lead to sexual performance problems down the line. How can you argue with that?

“I thought my suggestions were good!”

“Sorry, but I didn’t think so, and no one else echoed your concerns.”

(This cuts the person off from others by setting a line that people would rather not cross. You are showing strength as the alpha dog. The pack will fall on your side.)

A more direct and devastating attack would be to ask, “Why do you think I’m incapable of doing my job?” This is a heart-stopper because it cannot be answered. They may argue that you lack team vision or that they’re protecting the client’s interests. Again, ask why they think you haven’t fulfilled the team’s vision, drawn from the creative briefs, and why they see you as acting against the client’s interests.

It’s like a fistfight. It lasts only a few seconds before the herd breaks it up… Yes, this is confrontation. Even confrontational people are taken aback when confronted, unless they are psychotic — in which case, pray that HR rules keep them from turning violent. And if they do become violent, taking a knuckle sandwich from your lunchbox is a small price to pay to see the aggressor fired and spend a night or two in county jail awaiting a bail hearing, opening the way for you for a civil lawsuit. A win-win situation!

On the other hand, you might encounter a “squeaky wheel,” who runs to the boss demanding “respect” and a title over you. Often, in the interest of a quick resolution, the boss lets the squealer have their way. You’re only hope is to calmly state your case, note your accomplishments without the squealer’s input, and add that it’s a business office and not a therapist’s office for people to work out their personal problems by laying them on others. Firm, direct and sound.

If Squeaky gets their way, then you’re doomed. But then, you don’t really want to work in a place like that anyway. If the boss would so easily knock you down the ladder, then you need a new boss. If you get your way, others will fear confronting you. I think coining the name for Baby Huey may have frightened my colleagues into avoiding my displeasure and gaining a nickname of their own.

The Enemy Within?

Once you establish that you are not a push-over, most people will respect your boundaries, and the natural order will be restored… with an occasional bump as a stray member of the herd probes your weak spots. Those weak spots, as some will discover, are your department colleagues: lowly designers and writers who will surely tremor when someone storms into the office and demands the changes that “I called for in the meeting.” Now you, as that lowly worker, have another problem. You have just given up your power to a stranger and put your creative director in a tough spot. Your actions affect how your supervisor controls the department and your job.

The proper thing to do is to tell the intruder that you are just a designer or writer and that they really need to speak to the creative director so that they can assign the proper revisions and work. Then smile and point to the creative director’s office. If your colleagues are on their toes, one of them will summon the creative director to come into the department and protect his or her minions from intruders. I’ve done it a gazillion times.

Summon your righteous indignation, flair your nostrils and imitate the tiger. When the interloper leaves, send an email gently reminding them that they must come to you for any requests, because only you know everyone’s schedule, and all changes must be signed off by you, as department head. Don’t assume that HR will intercede to stop this; they believe that the process should be flexible enough to keep work flowing. And as long as the bloody wound isn’t squirting arterial red like a fountain, HR likes as few problems as possible.

Points to Remember

  1. You were around. In fact, aside from occasional bathroom breaks and meetings, you’re around 12 hours a day on average.
  2. You are responsible for everything that comes out of your department and will be held accountable for it.
  3. People want their way and will try anything to get it.
  4. Don’t allow people under your authority to sabotage your power or security.
  5. Prepare a response to an objection or make a list of responses for when a ridiculous argument is used to attack you.
  6. HR wants the easiest path to peace and calm. Present all squealers as troublemakers and not team players. Use corporate-speak to your advantage.
  7. Sometimes you will lose the battle. Sometimes you will also lose the war. Form as many strong allies in the company as you can. The higher the executive level, the better!
  8. Does someone want to comment on a design in a conference meeting? Make some well-educated comments yourself. Perhaps you see a hole in the marketing plan, or the project doesn’t have enough creative time, or the sales material is a week past deadline. Bring it up gently and kindly. I believe that’s called passive-aggressive. Use it!
  9. Grab power, and don’t wait for it to be offered. Take on an extra project; start an initiative yourself; or earn a few million dollars for the company. They’ll sit up and take notice.

Power grabs are often made by people too incompetent to do their own work, and public displays of “directing” are thought to mask that incompetence. They often are. But handled correctly, they aren’t, because they won’t get the chance.

Every Relationship Has Good And Bad Times

When I worked at one large corporation, I was closing up my office and the art department at 7:00 pm on a Friday night when a young woman from the marketing department caught me in the hallway and asked to step into my now locked office. She immediately went into an act about how “her” project was so important and how I had to do it by Monday and email it to her because she would be away for the weekend.

I looked at her in silence. I asked who she reported to and learned it was one of my subordinates (if you went by the order on the corporate masthead). I told her I would talk to her boss on Monday to find out why she would have the utter nerve to hope that I would be in the office at 7:00 pm on a Friday night and then expect me to work all weekend on something that was not important enough for such a tight deadline. She stormed off.

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I don’t remember why I was late on Monday, but as I walked down the hall, people were shouting for me to check my email. There was an email from the young lady I spoke with on Friday evening. She must have gone back to her office and written a very angry message, courtesy copying the entire corporate division, about how unwilling I was to work on her project, and how she was cancelling it, and how I was costing the company millions of dollars and immortal souls, and hail Satan, hail Satan, and so on.

In walks her boss, one of those fine marketing people who I mentioned do exist. The young lady had the project for three weeks (grabbing it as her first project and naturally wanting to make a big splash), and as I suspected, it wasn’t time sensitive… Mind you, she sat on it for the previous three weeks, and it did have to be at the printer the very next day. Being of sound minds, the head of marketing and I were able to come up with a solution, work hard together and make the deadline. Creative and marketing did it… together, with no arguments or stepping on each other’s toes or egos, and we both shared in the glow of accomplishment. It can happen. Maybe we just need guns to our heads at the time?

(al)

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/stampout.jpg
  2. 2 http://www.classicmedia.tv/harvey/characters/huey.html
  3. 3 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/drinkblood.jpg
  4. 4 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/pi.incharge.jpg
  5. 5 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/pi.cramit.jpg
  6. 6 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/cantfly.jpg

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Speider Schneider is a former member of The Usual Gang of Idiots at MAD Magazine, “among other professional embarrassments and failures.” He currently writes for local newspapers, blogs and other web content and has designed products for Disney/Pixar, Warner Bros., Harley-Davidson, ESPN, Mattel, DC and Marvel Comics, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon among other notable companies. Speider is a former member of the board for the Graphic Artists Guild, co-chair of the GAG Professional Practices Committee and a former board member of the Society of Illustrators. He also continues to speak at art schools across the United States on business and professional practices and telling frightening stories that make students question their career choice (just kidding).

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  1. 1

    Sounds like your company is a free-for-all with no direction from the top. Naturally, my first reaction is to ask the wrongly-requesting party to sit down and discuss their needs and then explain your job function and how it can be solved by creating a team of the right people or just sending him/her to the right person.

    If your design person is an intern, well, what you pay is what you get. With that said, the team you create to make a successful project will depend on the strengths and weaknesses of those involved and how it all comes together. While I would suggest only hiring the strongest candidates and trusting their expertise for all companies, it is sadly not that way anymore. Hiring cheap means there is also an anticipation of less-than-experienced efforts, so others step in to “help.”

    “Professional” means just that. When one member of the team isn’t, then that’s the weak link in the chain. If you don’t know what that does to a project, then it doesn’t really matter and, as with so many businesses, profit goes down until there’s nothing left.

    Hope that helped.

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  2. 102

    I enjoyed this article and think it is definitely relevant to the “relationship” that exists between designers and marketers, or the cleint/boss. Having been on the creative side for 25 years now, I’d like to say I’ve seen it all, but having those years of experience, I know there’s always more to see. One president of a company I worked for once commented on an editorial layout, “I really like it, but don’t you think the whole thing needs kerning?”
    I asked if there was anything specifically that caught his eye (pretending to value their input can go a long way at times), his reponse was “all of it, headline, pictures, everything.”
    Some people hear a term, latch on to it and think they’re “knowledgeable”.
    Good article.

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    • 203

      Ha! Thanks, Colin. Like you, I’ve been in this business a long time and have just seen some incredible things. An “art director” who liked to use the word, “rectilinear” for everything. Guess what her nickname became?

      My all time favorite was a president of a comic book company that wanted a “sophisticated” letterhead. It took 11 tries with her always saying, “no, no, I want sophisticated!”

      I finally asked her to point out something she liked and she shows me a letterhead in which the name was surrounded by cartoon characters. “Oh!” I said. “You wanted whimsical.”

      She didn’t like being corrected.

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      • 304

        >>”I finally asked her to point out something she liked and she shows me a letterhead in which the name was surrounded by cartoon characters. “Oh!” I said. “You wanted whimsical.”

        See, that is , being abusive and patronizing.

        It’s like the kid that came home from school and said to mom,
        “Hey Mom! Do you know the difference between an equilateral triangle and an Isosceles triangle?”

        “Dont be a smartass” go to your room!

        But the kid WAS being a smart ass.

        The appropriate behavior would have been:

        “Hey Mom! – I learned something really cool about triangles today!”

        :) “Tell me all about it dear while I bake some cookies!”
        ~~~

        Lesson(s) learned.
        Dont be a smart ass and flaunt your superiority knowing shit real people care nothing about, like the difference between EMs and Pixels and the context for each.
        The FIRST approach would be to NEVER ASSUME that they know what the f**k they are talking about, even if they use words that seem very standard, like “big” , “up”, “down” or “red” – let alone highly contextual words like “sophisticated”

        I dare say, to many a citizen of Georgia, Paris Hilton with her handbag Chihuahua and expenises* livestyle may seem “sophisticated” but we often know better!
        That is why Police use mug shots and sketch artists!

        Always ask for examples of what they mean, or even better, give them a menu to choose from!
        Asking for an example of “sophisticated” should have been your FIRST STEP, not your LAST, and of course POINTING OUT HER STUPIDITY is a big NO NO

        (wags finger sternly at Spieder)

        *pun intended :)

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        • 405

          This was one of my lessons from my early days, so I suppose had I known she was a lunatic (await my book on my corporate experiences to hear more of this lady), I would have known to pry out more information. “We need a new letterhead and I really want something sophisticated!”

          Certainly sounded simple. A good lesson for any creative — assume your contact is a moron but don’t let on he/she actually is.

          As for pointing out her stupidity, I guess blurting that out was in bad form, but she started using the word whimsical a lot after that. We played with the idea of making up a word to use in a meeting to see if she started using that.

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        • 506

          I disagree with you both. The boss’ request was gibberish in the first place. She needed to describe what she wants, not attempt to be “creative” by throwing “concept-y” words around. But yes, the designer needed to do the same, get actual description and keep the words at the level of description.

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  3. 607

    good one, “oh recta…..”
    or another, “i don’t know exactly what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.”
    zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    0
  4. 1011

    As they only artist in the marketing dept of family owned, but very successful company (just shy of being “household name”) I am:
    • printing this out
    • using the signs to decorate my work area
    • copying and distributing the article to my co-workers as a great passive/aggresive way to say “this is why I am constantly pissed off, but you can help change that”

    LOL

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  5. 1314

    After 26 years in advertising in Asia, I cannot believe that the article describes almost everyday at work in a milder or more severe form. It’s time that anyone and everyone has to understand that a design is based on the ‘Brief’ (what a strange word to describe a document that is suppose to be filled with answers) provided. A creative person is marketing/creative’project management all rolled into one. The suits know this and this knowledge allows them to dispense of any intelligent thoughts or responsibility. Bosses are basically suits and this adds to the disproportionate equation of things. A good design/concept involves what the consumer and not the client wants to see. Clients won’t buy their own damn products would they. Marketing people have perfected the art of saying ‘Yes’ to everything without any thought as it simplifies their jobs. Don’t ask questions as marketing people from the client’s side probably won’t know their products or jobs like them either, so let’s not embarrass them. Let’s make them look smart. I guess creatives just want them to sell their products. That’s when you get instructions like ‘they like a black background but don’t make it so dark’ or worse when they decide they are sudden copymeisters and write headlines that actually describe the image used. They will never understand or see the point a creative tries to make because it’s about the money. Clients sign, pay for it… who cares if it doesn’t make sense. The only balance involved here regard books held by the finance department. If all goes wrong later, it’s the creatives fault for not mentioning it earlier. Of course there won’t be a thread of evidence of what transpired between the AE and the junior designers doing the artwork. That’s the final attack plan. In Asia we have more problems to face up to but that’s another story. There are great suits and I have worked with a few who are not dependent on replicating their favourite powerpoint storyline. An important point to note is that I can count the number of good suits i’ve worked with in one hand but the number of good creative people way too many to even make a list. Good copywriters, illustrators, FA artist… We know what we are and realise it at an early stage. Suits on the other hand tend to think that they know everything. Even the fresh ones. Creation is a calling of sorts and we want to do the best almost religiously. The truth is out there. And only the creative know where to look.

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  6. 1516

    didn’t help bro! Neither did drinks or cigs. You can drown your sorrows easily but fools float.

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  7. 1819

    My comedy Youtube video on “designer vs marketing” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PubSfTxgNxw

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  8. 1920

    My company has the issue of requesting work last-minute – but this kind of style comes from the top (CEO) down. We get awkwardly formed copy that has grammatical errors… and to add insult to injury, it’s also “Just design, and I’ll make changes until I see what I like.” Any advice to creatives who feel like they’re chipping away at daily projects but never able to really step back and improve the big picture?

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    • 2021

      Depends how many layers there are between you and the CEO. I love it when there’s not actually a board of directors or it’s a husband – wife team and one is the CEO and the other is the COO. A better set of initials for what they are is BS!

      So, is it some owner/CEO/President/World of Warcraft “Emperor?” or someone who actually heads up a board?

      Let’s assume it’s the first case. Can anyone talk to him? Does he come into the department to chat? Can he/she be educated as to the time needed and the process or is he/she locked in an ivory tower and feels above the “little people?” If so, time to move on, pk.

      There are places that survive due to the momentum of the workers and, as you said, “chipping away at daily projects but never able to really step back and improve the big picture.” Eventually, the revolving door of employees and continual bad decisions kill the beast. The destructive momentum strangles employee engagement and then the forward motion just stagnates and that is just decay and death. I’ve seen it happen much too often. Fills mainstream media, these days.

      0
    • 2122

      “pk
      July 23rd, 2010 11:11 am

      My company has the issue of requesting work last-minute – but this kind of style comes from the top (CEO) down. We get awkwardly formed copy that has grammatical errors… and to add insult to injury, it’s also “Just design, and I’ll make changes until I see what I like.” Any advice to creatives who feel like they’re chipping away at daily projects but never able to really step back and improve the big picture?”

      ^ Ok, I’ll be blunt.

      Every fking designer likes to feel he is Michelangelo painting the Sistene Chapel.

      News Flash:
      You are a cab driver!

      I get in the cab, YOU start the meter running, and I tell you where to go! I give a destination, or sometimes I say, just head west, if I see something/somewhere I like, I’ll stop. I may even say, make a u-turn, or drive back to this spot again!
      I may end up at this place that looks so nice -lets stop here! I like it the best! (Dont tell me we are back behind the hotel i started from!)

      Now comes the “good Cop” to the above bad cop. :)

      Best advice for the “creative feeling they are chipping away but not affecting the big picture?”
      1) get your fulfillment ELSEWHERE. Get your money from this perineum of a job, and design a mural for a non-profit or a website for “good cause” where you can do something worthy of your skills and deserving of a slot in your portfolio.
      Your Resume is where you WORK/ED… your Portfolio is who you ARE. Dont mix them up.

      2) Second advice: Ask, why does it matter?
      So WHAT if they toss, poorly worded , misspelled copy – are you honestly sugesting that these executives who came up with the general text during a power lunch or some such – should massage and rub their prose until it is worthy for submission to your eyes?

      “Just design, and I’ll make changes until I see what I like”

      And what pray, is wrong with that? or are you also suggesting that they must first iteratively (on their own) formulate the full skeleton then nucleus of the design then hand you a psd with numbers so that all you have to do is color it in?

      Can you not REJOICE but realizing that you now have an ability, no matter how slight, to inject a little bit of YOU into the final product??
      A product mind you, that belongs to THEM, not YOU?

      short version: No matter how much they fuck you (and even if you like it) ITS NOT YOUR “BABY” ! You are the surrogate mom, just be healthy and not smoke or do any more crack, and when people walk by and look up at the ad campaign on the big billboard, just say

      “some of that was once inside of me!”

      -then exit left, to the negative space with a wistful smile.

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      • 2223

        While I don’t always agree with Steve42, I have to say I see his point and have, I can’t believe I’m saying this, looked at it in the same way. If the meter’s running, I’ll be happy to drive the project all over. When it goes into overtime, so does my fee (that always slowed down projects when I brought up overtime). It’s when it is messed around until 24 hours before the deadline and guess what department gets to stay all night to finish it, well, that’s another story.

        A steady paycheck can make up for many bad things. If it isn’t enough to have a good standard of living, then walk away and find another struggle level salaried job. Still, if you are unhappy, look for work elsewhere. It may be the happiest job you have in your career…or even worse.

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      • 2324

        Steve42.

        I’m not implying that I need to quit my job or get another hobby to find fulfillment; I actually really like it. I do expect for the Creative Director to be creative and show some direction – thus, the job title. I also expect for Marketing to have a clear idea of their audience and how to write a catchy phrase for a poster without making glaring spelling or grammatical mistakes.

        This being said, no job is perfect and I’ve been in this industry long enough to realize others’ limitations (as well as my own) — and how to deal with them.

        And I am usually the one in the office saying annoying things like “that’s why they pay us – just get it done.” So I know I’m a corporate slave to some degree and I accept it. I’d just like to avoid apathy as much as possible and was asking advice. But thanks anyways!

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        • 2425

          Don’t take Steve too seriously. He’s being funny…in a freaky stalking way.

          It’s our passion as creatives that makes us love our work and love our creations. Unfortunately, there are those who see creative as a service and therefore it’s while you are paid, you do what I want, over and over again.

          While at one firm, I hired a friend as a temp to help out on a project. He was a freelance illustrator by trade and familiar with Adobe software but when something got changed, he asked what I was going to do. I said it didn’t matter because I was paid no matter how many changes were made. He was astonished as in the illustration field, it’s one rate and as many changes as they demand.

          So, the grass may seem greener elsewhere.

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        • 2526

          “I’m not implying that I need to quit my job or get another hobby to find fulfillment; I actually really like it. I do expect for the Creative Director to be creative and show some direction – thus, the job title.”

          Well, YOU werent implying that…I was! lol..

          seriously, no need to quit, and if you get enough fulfillment from your day job, then why take on a hobby or a side project that has its own annoying commitment issues?
          (church project: “I dont think Jesus actually smiled too much, also – he looks a wee bit to Palestinian, could you just make him (Him) a bit more generic?.. Inartfully worded, but perhaps valid comment?)
          But we dont expect one food to supply all our needs, why do we continue to demand it from our jobs?

          Sometimes we can be a lot happier in many things by MANAGING EXPECTATIONS for ourselves and for our clients and users.

          “Creative Director” does NOT mean, necessarily a creative person who (whom?) is a director, it simply may mean he/she manages creatives! And the key, non-Peter principled skill required is NOT being “creative” but perhaps, being an asshole, a juggler, a con artist and a kiss up/ass kicker split personality guy who can use multiple approaches to get a group of disparate personalities working together creating a product that immediate management approves and yet, after passing that anti-Darwinian filter, still be pleasing to the public/audience/client!

          “I also expect for Marketing to have a clear idea of their audience and how to write a catchy phrase for a poster without making glaring spelling or grammatical mistakes”

          STOP.

          Stop expecting that. Also, stop expecting Sarah Palin to say something intelligent, Obama to grow a pair and actually LEAD the fking country instead of trying to be “not too black to scare off Whitey” (I swear, I think we got more Bush than Bush, even though this one can spell)

          NOBODY spells correctly anymore, as we devolve into some wired and weird textmsgspk/icon hieroglyphic language of the future! Just expect their scribbled, semi-illegible copy does not come with cat droppings and you will be right at least 7 out of 10 times!*

          *Yes, I actually had copy that was contaminated with cat droppings. She had 20 cats, I went to her house to pick up a diskette (you got the date now, I bet) and they were all over the place! I am sure you can see the dirty pun coming with this, so I’ll quit early!

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    • 2728

      @pk & speider: from my posts, i shared some experiences with my current manager. we had a meeting with our AVP regarding her and her management style. what the AVP suggested is tell the manager what she’s doing wrong or how what she does affects the output or the deadlines of projects. maybe we should just tell them, in pk’s case, let it slip or say t directly that though it has worked in the past, work output and time management in the office would be better if not everything is rushed.

      i guess some of the fault lies with us, as “young” designers or designers starting out in a certain comapany, we tend to say yes to rush jibs because the boss says so.. and in turn, since it was done in time, though haphazardly or not as refined, non-creative people that do not know the process or the hard work that goes with coming up with designs tend to think that it could be done because we do not correct them.

      so i guess what i’m saying is that we should speak up. :D

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  9. 2829

    Wow, Speider, you are dead on. And not only that, you nailed it, we ARE the mainstream media (a tv station). Although I don’t necessarily see the the whole company – thousands of employees – going under, it does make the day-to-day very frustrating. And yes, we have an extremely high turnover in our department. The only person who has some contact with the CEO is the Creative Director, and unfortunately yes-men don’t like to rock the boat. However, with the high turnover, comes great room for quick advancement within the company — and maybe even access to that Ivory Tower. In which case, maybe there’s hope for change? Just have to stick it out? Is it worth it? Rhetorical.

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    • 2930

      Maybe it is worth it. You have to ask yourself “how much can I take?” I say stick it out but keep looking for a new situation. It’s easier to find a job while you have one.

      So, what happens if you become the CD? Do you become a yes man? Perhaps that’s all the CEO wants? If the pay is good enough, we all tend to let many things slide.

      Best of luck!

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  10. 3031

    This is a too-long and ranty piece. You should have revised it and shortened it before posting. TL;DR.

    also, good girls like bad guys because their daddy’s left/abused them, not because they actually ‘want’ something different from the norm.

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    • 3132

      I agree it could have been edited for length, and furthermore, used less big words, and placed more emphasis on the number green!

      You know, I like your style Jacob!

      I have a position in marketing that may be right up your alley or at least up something of yours!

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  11. 3435

    Too late for an edit or retraction now. Not that I would. 90% + of these replies are positive.

    As for father’s abusing their daughters, I think it’s too general and misandrist of a statement for my tastes or acceptance.

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  12. 3536

    Honestly one of the best articles ever written on here. Been doing this for nearly 10 years and worked with many companies (contract, freelance and full time) and this article pretty much sums up all of them. Well written! Kudos to you for doing something about it versus being a “victim” of stupidity :)

    Thanks for the article!

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  13. 3637

    i dont understandwhatwe are commenting about hahahaha : )

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    • 3738

      kaila jamiesonJuly 27th, 2010 3:56 pm
      i dont understandwhatwe are commenting about hahahaha : )

      ^ You voted for ….. who now?

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    • 3839

      Kaila, ether stop drinking or start.
      ;)

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  14. 3940

    Awesome article, and timely for me personally. As a freelance web designer, I’ve been thinking about how to impress upon my clients that they hire me as an additional weapon in their marketing arsenal, not to have another set of hands in front of Photoshop. I feel that my responsibility is to combine marketing expertise with UX and graphic communication, not fire up FrontPage on my client’s twelve-year-old nephew’s design because he got grounded. (Wow! That sounded much more bitter than I actually feel about it.)

    I’ve been trying to remove as many references to “web design” as I can in my portfolio copy, and instead focus on marketing strategies and deliverables. I figure if I can get my clients to think of what they want out of a marketing initiative rather than focusing squarely on what they like in a website (lots of web 2.0!) then I’ll get less of those suggestions. Any advice?

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    • 4041

      I always start by asking a client what they want from the project. Then I make suggestions for how to achieve it. At that point they either tell me what THEY think should be done and I take it into consideration and discuss the avenues and where they might lead. If they listen to what I suggest, then we move forward. If they are insistent that what they see is the solution, then I have to consider the financial end. If it’s enough that my bills will be paid for the month, then I’m your creative prostitute. If it’s more trouble than the money is worth, then I politely tell them they would do better with someone else (which leads to them asking for a referral to another designer — which I don’t do because I won’t saddle another designer I know with trouble).

      Oddly enough, when I do creative consulting to a company (advice to update product lines or install systems for brainstorming innovation) they have no problems with the fees and I have never heard any arguments. But walk in as an expert creative to do an actual design project and everyone tells you how to do your work and wants to nickel and dime you to death. I am just as confused as anyone as to why the views of the two services bring such different attitudes.

      Generally, I think people see examples they like and believe it will lend itself to what they want. They have a visual in their head and focus on that. With consulting, they are admitting to not knowing what to do and that is why it runs so smoothly. It’s a strange business, dealing with intellectual properties rather than hard goods, there is too much left to the imagination and people get anxious about what they will see in the end. It’s hard for people to let go and as many people say of the project, the client is spending money they feel they can’t gamble upon, so safe is better. If you haven’t noticed, it’s what Hollyweird and advertising do. If they liked it once, they’ll like it again. Could explain why movies like “The Parent Trap” and “Freaky Friday” have been remade 3 times each.

      When something creative breaks through and is successful, you can bet it will be copied to death.

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  15. 4142

    @Speider: thank you for the article.. very well written and very relatable.

    i’ve had a recent experience with a new manager that relates to the anecdote for the Every Relationship Has Good And Bad Times part of the article. the manager wants to have a newspaper ad published for the sunday edition of a broadsheet paper, she gives me the content (that i assumed was foolproof because it came from a manager, but i guess it wasn’t) on a tuesday. i submitted the layout on wednesday afternoon. then comes an email from the manager on thursday at 8:01, 1 minute after my 8:00 end of shift, and in the email she says she hopes to have the design given to the printers morning of friday I get in at 11am by the way, which she well knows.

    i guess what i want to say in this ranting anecdote is that non-creative people do not understand the extent to which the designing phase go through and how long this designing would take (vv for creatives to non-creatives). this goes to show that no one should assume what and how another’s job/duties go, if you don’t have 1st hand knowledge of it.

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    • 4243

      “…..(that i assumed was foolproof because it came from a manager, but i guess it wasn’t) on a tuesday. i submitted the layout on wednesday afternoon. then comes an email from the manager on thursday at 8:01, 1 minute after my 8:00 end of shift, and in the email she says she hopes to have the design given to the printers morning of friday I get in at 11am by the way, which she well knows.”‘

      You whiny, lazy, soon to be unemployed Ne’er-do-well : You should not even have a Job!

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      • 4344

        Steve is being sarcastic, May. It’s why we love him! Well, love is a strong word. Pity? Avoid? Fear?

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        • 4445

          @speider: steve, pity mostly

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          • 4546

            It would be FEAR if I were ever YOUR employer!

            (Doubtful tho, since I never managed a McDonald’s franchise or a Burger King!)
            “1 minute past the end of my shift”…. WTF!

            Your whiny rant is without merit
            —————————–

            “and in the email she says she hopes to have the design given to the printers morning of friday I get in at 11am by the way”

            If you ever took time to look at a CLOCK (hopefully w/o losing the ‘L’) you would realize that 11am IS STILL “MORNING!” (Of course, you would have to move with some alacrity, skipping your mid-day Danish, coffee, chat, Facebook, IM messages, SmashingMagazine browsing,etc

            In my IT career, I have NEVER punched a time-clock, or thought in terms of a “shift” let alone measuring my time (overtime?) done to the ONE MINUTE RESOLUTION!

            STBUSM*: oooohh sorry! Me cantz help! its 8:00:02 and me shift endz at 8:00:00:00!

            *Soon To Be Unemployed Staff Member

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          • 4647

            Because companies now are so against overtime costs that once your shift ends, you MUST stop work. It’s not like a full time job where the hours are stretched substituted or “suggested” in an unofficial manner.

            As for the rest of it Steve, we’ve had some fun here but learn to dial it back a little with other posters, please.

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      • 4748

        well steve42, you did it again! why do you feel the need to keep on proving that you don’t know what you’re talking about?

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  16. 4849

    to all the comment-ers that are giving negative feedbacks on this article, how can so many people with the same experiences (if you bother to read the comments thread) be all wrong? how can these people (me included) that say “SPOT ON! I experienced the same thing!” be wrong and you (yeah, you know who you are) be right? do we not have the right to feel bad when slighted?

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    • 4950

      Thanks, May! There will always be other opinions. Some are valid and some, well…do you think non-creatives (perhaps marketing or other functions) would agree with this subject? The last thing they want is a “flaky artsy-type” telling THEM what is the right design for THEIR client (I love when they set creatives apart as the “should-just-be-locked-in-the-basement child”).

      Wherever people work together, there will be oddities in interaction. Whenever people read an article, there will be those who disagree. What speaks volumes is how they verbally disagree. Is it calm and rational or does it attack? At the same time, someone may see his/her attack as rational and calm.

      Thanks for the support!

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    • 5051

      how can so many people with the same experiences (if you bother to read the comments thread) be all wrong?

      Famous last word from LEMMINGS?

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  17. 5253

    This article is a classic, I can relate to so much of it from various jobs I have had. In particular a marketing manager who decided on the evening before weeks of work was about to go live that it all had to be completely different. I also recently had to educate someone politely that a designer generally knows more about colour theory than a project manager, I felt bad she’s a really nice person but is new and just stepped a little over the line.

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    • 5354

      And by speaking with her on a professional level, setting YOUR parameters, now she knows not to overstep that boundary. It works most of the time unless the other person is just set on subduing you to a place under them.

      A handy red flag is that the people who are the loudest and most persistent about convincing others to follow them without question are the ones who have no right to do so. You can give in but they will not let up in the future, having gained uncontested power with your approval.

      Congratulations!

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  18. 5455

    ***Next article of mine, up this week I believe, is entitled, “Are We Our Own Worst Enemy?” It explores how we as creatives often feed the very problems we detest in our field.

    Sure to be a fun, informative and enraging read!

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    • 5556

      “***Next article of mine, up this week I believe, is entitled, “Are We Our Own Worst Enemy?”

      ….you need an “Article” to say.. “YES” ? /lol

      ” It explores how we as creatives often feed the very problems we detest in our field.”
      Bringing new meaning to the word “explore”

      “Sure to be a fun, informative and enraging read!” <=== Or at least ONE of the things in this sentence!*

      * My money is on the comma :)

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      • 5657

        My first guess is that Steve is an insecure 300lb. ass and plays WOW in his mom’s basement.

        My second guess is that Steve is an insecure 300lb. bitter old ass that thinks his “stopped clock is right twice a day” observations make him experienced and clever.

        Either way, my money is on the “ass” : )

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      • 5859

        Read first, complain later! ;)

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    • 5960

      Then you’ll really love the part 2 of this article, appearing soon on Smashing Magazine. We asked human resource professionals to comment on this article and the facts and figures are staggering!

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  19. 6061

    Thanks for this article. I finally had time to finished reading it. I find it applies not just to marketing and creatives, especially the power struggle. Gives me a few ideas to use in the future.

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  20. 6162

    As a designer in a corporate environment I found this article to be very interesting although a bit on the glass half empty side of things.

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  21. 6364

    Reading articles like this helps me keep going. I’m not going to lie, I’ve quit quite a few jobs because I couldn’t take the corporate bs and every time I settled into the new gig with super energy and hope, I’ve been beaten back down to just a ‘production’ level lemming. What’s sad is that job descriptions and posts promise things… they say they need someone who’s super creative, who can take on any project and take ownership of it… they say they need an evangelist, blah blah… its just a lure. I am currently at an amazing company… one of the biggest gaming companies (big 3). I have nothing to complain about here and I get paid very well. I work normal hours, and people are great but somehow, I feel very empty. People will come to me and ask, “why do you get upset? Why are you taking it personal? Its just a job.” I’ll admit it… I battle myself and say, “dude, just sit back, relax, do what your told and collect your pay.” It doesn’t help… There is something drastically wrong here and the corporate industry as a whole. I believe that the only way I’ll be satisfied is to go off on my own and open up shop… but if we all do that, corporate will never change and just lure another poor talented designer. We should all go on strike and see if these “marketing people or the likes” can do what they think they can do.

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  22. 6465

    Marketing Ninja Cat

    August 14, 2010 3:46 am

    Never had I seen a designer stand up and say “Based on my professional experience and *input some research data, survey or Big Name* the direction/change/feature you are suggesting will not get you closer to the business goals”. As your articles suggest, this is mostly a problem of ego and power struggle – unfortunately, it’s equally present on the designers side, as they deny to familiarize themselves with brand guidelines and business goals, and put up the whole “whiny little tormented designer” act, whenever their design turns out absolutely irrelevant to the brand, product or campaign.

    I always tell my designers, the creative part is their job, and me dictating them what do do, would equal a patient going to the doctor and telling him what surgical procedure to do, and how to do it. So I guessed that’s what they want and need to come up with great designs. Quite the contrary – because that would mean having to take ownership and responsibility for their work, which makes playing the blame game really hard in the end. And that’s what designers are REALLY good at – pointing fingers and blaming the whole world for not letting them make awesome designs.

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    • 6566

      Having wrangled plenty of creatives, I hear you! Too many service providers and staff people don’t listen. On the other hand, if you are too efficient, people despise and fear you.

      Are brand guidelines always clearly communicated to designers? Often it has no more communication than, “it’s a new laxative…design the package!” After it’s designed, that’s when the committee designing starts based on demographics that were never supplied. If they are and grandma is getting distressed type and 6 pt swash type instructions, then fire that designer and find a great one that might cost a bit more…GASP!…money. You get what you pay for!

      1
  23. 6667

    While reading this article and after pondering the implications it was increasingly clear to me that the author must have several cameras planted all throughout the company that I work for now and several that I have worked for in the past (I have worked for one of the biggest marketing companies in the world – it was my first introduction to marketing office politics and I’ll never forget it). Based on the comments listed obviously there are quite a few people who still harbor ill feelings toward each other (whether creative or marketeer they be). Which means they probably just didn’t read the article enough times to get the point.

    I appreciate the straightforwardness and honestly of the article and I wish that it was a bible or handbook that could be given as a handout in both Marketing and Creative degree programs or at Marketing agencies – lord knows we all need it.

    I would just like to say thank you for writing this and please keep it coming!

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  24. 6869

    Great read. Sent it to a few buddies of mine.

    This covers one of the issues of which lead me to leave my previous job. But unfortunately, my current issue isn’t necessarily with the Marketing guy/s. It’s the actual owner of the company. I was hired on as a UI Designer…or Front-End Developer? Not sure, but I know they want a Creative Director, or someone in charge to run the creative department. Someone to be in charge of site styles, ensure code is valid and QA it, and redesign the site…bunch of other tasks.

    Biggest problem I’m running into, is the owner telling me my designs are so “1990” and that I like too much stuff. (I think he meant the text I included on the mockups.)

    I’ve worked with large corporations that pull in over 1Million viewers a day for over 5 years, and I’ve come to a small business that’s growing figuring I’d have a great break at being a director, but it seems the owner still wants to be in charge of how the designs look, yet he’s complaining about finding a Creative Director or putting someone in charge of creating amazing designs.

    Him and I had a discussion, I mentioned to him my experience and where I get my inspiration from. He told me he’s been working over 10 years in the business and knows his clients and what they want. Good grief! What to do…what to do…

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    • 6970

      I cannot tell you how many times I hear the exact same story. You are not alone. It’s almost an odd operating method so many follow, I have to wonder if there’s a guidebook for this kind of behavior.

      If you have the pay, then expect to play. The boss makes the decisions. But don’t worry…when they go wrong it’ll be YOUR idea. ;)

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      • 7071

        “He told me he’s been working over 10 years in the business and knows his clients and what they want”

        This is ALWAYS the fallback i hear (well, that and “you need to listen to the business”)when a non-creative wants to control the creative direction. Though there is a difference between someone actually knowing and thinking they know.

        I beleive that some degree of market research is required for any creative professional who wants to survive the corporate world. Hard facts can be the arrow to your bow or a spare quiver in reserve when moments like this arise. You may say that continuously being armed for a fight is unhealthy, but facts are also tools and will help you grow as a creative.

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  25. 7172

    It is not easy to redesign a better website. For our company, every department joined in the new version design and gave a lot of constructive ideas. Though the new one improves much, it needs time to find out problems and then optimize.

    Website management is a matter of carefulness and persistence. Wish our site a better future, more visitors and traffic.

    This post is really awesome! I will insist on learning from smashingmagazine.

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  26. 7273

    SUPER helpful! I’m super new to being an art director ( if you can really call it that ) and was about to do lose my mind when Google led me to this snazzy little piece. I’m a part of a small magazine (and by small I mean it’s just me on the creative board) and I’ve been struggling and frustrated with just what to do with the input and disagreements. This really helps!

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