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

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.


It’s A Diverse Crowd Out There Link

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.


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


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? Link

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.


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 Link

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.


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? Link

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.


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? Link

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 Link

  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 Link

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.


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?


Footnotes Link

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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).

  1. 1

    Laneth Sffarlenn

    July 20, 2010 3:08 am

    Wow! I am going to need to re-boil my kettle for this one… I’ll be back :P

  2. 5

    The issues I’ve had are based around me being a weird hybrid – doing HTML, web design, web copywriting, social media stuff and SEO, rather than just one thing. Unfortunately I’ve worked in marketing departments where the people who made the decisions were either completely clueless about the internet (and not willing to listen) or thought they knew everything. Either way, some terrible decisions were made (delete a Google Adwords account with 8 yrs of good history? remove the search engine from the ecommerce website? sure, let’s do it! etc etc) which I had no control/influence over. These people are usually great in other areas, but unwilling to listen or accept any advice, or explain any reasoning they have (because there isn’t any), or just saying flat out ‘No’ for no reason, just like in your example above. Mostly I’ve found that these people are out solely for their own gain/convenience rather than thinking about the company.

    It’s incredibly frustrating, because these companies always have separate teams with no one person looking at it from all angles, and no one ever looks at the bigger picture until the project is finished, decisions have been made, etc.

    Thankfully I now have a job where there’s a small team making intelligent decisions and it’s really easy for me to put my ideas across and learn new things, rather than spending my time having to think about how to put my views across politely or wasting time with pointless/damaging activities.

  3. 6

    Great article, could have been written from my own experiences.

    As designers, what we do looks easy from the outside; so, everyone thinks they can do it (I’ve stood next to one of our marketing department as she explained to the client that our work looked so good because of the computers we use — nothing to do with years of training and a good eye!)

    Often marketeers – particularly juniors/admin types – stumble into the industry, while designers have spent years studying, paying their dues and yearning to be in that role. Is it any wonder designers explode when told how to do their job by someone who was a waiter three months prior?

    • 7


      July 20, 2010 6:29 pm

      Hey, that’s not fair. Marketing takes study too. (I have the student loans to prove it.) It’s an us vs. them attitude that puts people on the defensive from the get-go. Let’s put our dukes down and try to work together. I’ve worked with great designers who give me options, who ask penetrating questions that go beyond the brief. And I’ve worked with thoughtless designers who do only what is in the brief and nothing more and can’t take any feedback without crying (literally). But I try not to let that color my interactions with every new designer or team I work with. Hopefully we all want the same thing, success.

      • 8

        Good for you! The less ego involved the better for the team. And yes, there are creatives who are trying on one’s nerves. I’ve had to fire many of them.

    • 9

      @Gary Aston: that’s one of the things that facilitates a “GRRRR!!!” moment for me, when non-creative people take charge and give/force their insights/ideas on things they have no knowledge of, which in the end belittles the creatives’ skills, talents and experiences.

      @summerbl4ck: no offense meant. i guess gary, myself and many other creative folks are speaking from experience. my thanks to you for being understanding and i guess a good marketing folk to work with. :)

  4. 10

    Amen. But be wary, this kind of behavior does not come exclusively from marketing, and does not target creatives alone.

  5. 12

    Katrina Miller Fallick

    July 20, 2010 5:49 am

    I’ve worked in design, AND marketing for about 13 years and I find this to be…off. Yes when I was fresh out of school I had some of the difficulties described, but I’ve come to see working well with others, both marketing, the client, as the mark of a true professional.

    Sometimes your “brilliant fresh creative” IS off brand. Sometimes (always) what the client wants IS the right thing. True, they may no know how to ask for it, or what it’s called, but it’s our job to explain that making something bold doesn’t equal making it stand out, etc.

    I’m way more frustrated at all the “clever” creative that is off brand, and off target, that I see being pushed onto clients by “designers” who think WAY to highly of them selves.

    That, and the attitudes represented in this piece seem to be much more closer to those of my interns, than of the creative directors I’ve worked with.

    • 13

      Just as well you see ‘working well with others’ as the ‘mark of a true professional,’ because your writing is dreadful. Tsk. Experienced, mature clients buy good creative because they need to be guided. Not because what they want is always right. Surely. Otherwise they’d be creatives.

      Excuse the rant, but it takes one ex-marketer to stand up to another. You won’t get this from a creative. They’re too nice.

      All the best.

      • 14

        The client is right because they are paying for it–not because they are “right” in the absolute sense of the word. And that’s a pretty arrogant statement that people come to a designer to be guided. Your client is not a sheep. if you can’t convince them that your clever design is worth trying, then it’s not worth it. Clients often have good financial reasons to be risk-averse. It’s not their job to be your guinea pig for creative experiments.

        • 15

          It’s a bit too far to say, “creative experiments.” Let me put it this way, do people tell plumbers how to run pipes? They trust that the plumber knows his/her job and will do it right for maximum water flow and/or flushing.

          Do I try to show the client the best solution? Of course! That’s my job. If they want the wrong direction, I will advise them so. If that’s what they want, that’s what they get and I walk away knowing that when it doesn’t perform as well as it could, the client/company will lay the blame at my feet. It’s one thing for a freelance client, knowing they won’t be a repeat client but it’s another thing when you are relegated to the role of “village idiot” by your coworkers.

          • 16

            By creative experiments I mean, the creative teams I’ve worked with who delivered products without logos and then tried to argue that the negative space looked better or who designed a catalog for our middle-aged+ audience with thumbnails so small that my 20 yo eyes could hardly see them. And then when I push back, I get “if you haven’t tried it, how do you know it won’t work?” I’m all for testing but let’s be reasonable. “Trust” that as a marketer I do know something, or that your radical design just isn’t a creative direction I’m willing to go in–or spend my (these days) minuscule budget on.

          • 17

            Then clearly you hired a bad plumber, Snowball. That would explain the very poor graphic design choices they made. It may have something to do with the ‘minuscule budget’ aspect. Most graphic designers I know that are worth their salt charge the going rate or more.

            So yes, get someone who knows their stuff in the industry and you SHOULD trust them. Hire amateurs and you get poorly laid pipes!

          • 18

            Couldn’t have said it any better than Meg did. Now that you have finally identified yourself as a “marketer” and made some telling statements, aside from coming on much too strong in your responses, it sounds as if you would not agree with any of my articles that outline bad clients, broken contracts, low budget and fighting to get paid.

            This article doesn’t really address creative and marketing as opposing magnetic forces; it is meant to show the most common form of office politics and how creatives, usually the target for low person on the totem pole, can protect themselves as employees and not abuse objects.

            Can creatives and marketing work together to create greatness? Of course! It was the last paragraph of the article. I can’t blame you if you didn’t make it that far in a 3,700 word article, but at what point did you stop reading and make this comment? So many people saw the same problem and told anecdotes of their own experiences, SB2 and still you feel an anger and resentment towards creatives.

            As this is an international site and many people are using English as a second language to reply (and you have my heartfelt kudos for writing English better than I), I won’t assume you are American and that the words you have used here are how you communicate a creative brief to your “bad” designers. BUT if you are and that is your level of communication, then you need to work on that communication. Perhaps the designers aren’t getting enough information from you to meet your mind’s expectations? Are they getting the demographic information?

            Just yesterday I had to pry demographic information out of a new client. When I started naming marketing avenues with the same demographics, he had no idea these avenues had the same demographic. See what good communication can bring to the table?

            As I tell creatives, SB2, try listening and try discussing and work as a team and not as the wall protecting vital secret information or the funnel of taste.

    • 19

      I am a creative and I will stand up to you.

      And I fully agree with Kate:
      “Experienced, mature clients buy good creative because they need to be guided. Not because what they want is always right. Surely. Otherwise they’d be creatives.”

      That is the SOLE reason we (creatives) have 4 YEAR degrees. Otherwise, anyone with Youtube or subscriptions can learn how to use the programs, and then they just become a tool, a pixel pusher.

      Also, I would like to point out that this part of your comment: “‘designers’ who think WAY to highly of them selves.” – speaks VOLUMES about what you really think of creatives, and what is hidden behind your oh-so-nice comment.

      However, I would like to end this reply by saying I am appreciative and happy you work well with fellow creatives in your workplace. At least that is a comfort.

    • 20

      ‘Experienced, mature clients buy good creative because they need to be guided. Not because what they want is always right. Surely. Otherwise they’d be creatives.’

      Not necessarily, many clients hire the ‘good creative’ because they say they don’t have the time to do it themselves. These are often the people that think simply owning a copy of Photoshop Elements means they can create the digital equivalent of the Mona Lisa without effort – they simply ‘haven’t had the time’ to try out the program which is why they haven’t done it.

      It’s rarely the designer who gets the last say. Even when something is literally impossible, the client gets angry and immediately says that they will go to someone else.

      More often than not, the client who has been immersed in the brand/brands, customers, sales etc will know what works and what attracts their particular clientele better than a designer, particularly a freelancer.

      Have you ever seen ?

      • 21

        The clients you’re speaking of Jenni aren’t the same clients Kate was speaking of. Kate was talking about ‘Experienced, mature clients’ and you were talking about ‘clients from hell’ ;)

        So I believe her original point still stands because sadly not every client is ‘Experienced and mature’

  6. 22

    You do realize that this was published 4 days ago on the author’s blog with a couple of words changed?

  7. 26

    The Tall Designer

    July 20, 2010 3:24 am


    “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.”

    Is absolutely key – it happens time and time again in every office I work in ( front end freelance contractor, 11 years in the trade

    People will continue to do it until they stop *being* human so I’m not sure I can offer any solutions to deal with it other than honesty – if an idea is stupid, say so, politely, expressively and with justifications, but you can still say it’s stupid.

    If that fails – threaten to do some actual user testing to decide which is best ;)

  8. 27

    Jeroen Marechal

    July 20, 2010 3:24 am

    Wow, seems a like a great article. Did just only read a few parts, will be reading the rest later tonight.

  9. 28

    Kris Handley

    July 20, 2010 3:29 am

    Tweet from Smashing Magazine – “Oh-oh: we are going to publish quite an article in a couple of mins. This could be the loudest article we’ve ever published.”

    Probably the most boring article I’ve read on here.

    • 29

      You must be in marketing.

      • 30

        Hey now.. I’m in marketing and I thought it was very interesting… Well. I guess I am from a design background so now I can see both sides. :)

        • 31

          No harm meant Allie, just a little joking :)
          I’m a creative that works in a marketing department.

      • 32

        Haha! Good one!

      • 33

        haha, well said!

        • 34

          I know many creatives that work as “marketing” people, too. Better when creative and marketing are the same person…so an account manager can then step in with their wonderful ideas.

          • 35

            ARGHHHHHHH ive had that happen to me once, i had the whole thing ui, colors, everything, in comes the account manager and the clients “designer” friend. Well, my design came out the other way looking like a unicorn puked a rainbow on top of it. Worst thing about it is they loved it and i got a raise.

          • 36

            Money helps. Dorothy Parker said something about money not buying health or happiness but it did buy a diamond studded wheelchair.

    • 37

      Wow I disagree. Been in the business now for 10 years and this article still hits the nail on the head as far as what people need to remember. Some of these suggestions might not be the best as far as “making friends” goes… but in theory, you’re not at a job to make friends, you’re at a job to do the job.

      • 38

        Thanks for getting it (as did many others, but there will always be other opinions). Yes, there are those who want to be “friends” and seen as “cooperative” and “nice.” Those are the people who go home at night and fight anxiety because they are pushed around all day.

        There are people who are very happy just doing what they are told. If that makes for a better workplace and it rolls off your back, then I say enjoy!

    • 39

      The majority disagrees, but I always welcome opposing opinions. I just have to weigh the validity when they are in the small minority or it would be design-by-committee trying to please everyone. Perhaps the next article will be to your liking.

      You get major points for just reading the whole thing!

  10. 40

    Fantastic post, every time you give up a piece of ground on a project it’s so much harder to get it back the next time.

    I recently redesigned a corporate newsletter and was met with “lets not re-invent the wheel”, “this has worked in the past” and “there’s not enough time to do a plan” right from the start. Suffice to say the end result was a mishmash, jumble of half-baked thoughts and ideas… won’t be including that one in the portfolio!

    • 41

      That can be the most frustrating thing, churning out work that you just aren’t proud of. But hey, meeting brand standards!

      • 42

        olakunle Olayinka

        July 20, 2010 11:37 am

        Hey Dan, i do agree very frustrating indeed but most times after spending long hours on the project, i just frown and give what the marketing guys want while smiling at my paycheck.

        • 43

          And that’s sometimes what you have to do; smile and cash the paycheck. I, as with most creatives, have many pieces of bad design directions crammed into the back of my closet. One commenter on another article wrote that a “great designer can make a great design with the challenges set out by controlling clients.”

          Well, not when they direct every small thing. Take the money and run…and hope they don’t show it around town (although they will leave your name out). I had a client who, after micromanaging the design, wanted me to affirm what a great design it turned into. He asked when it would be on my web site so he could show people before it was produced. I told him it wouldn’t go on my site and he was crushed…and only paid a third of his bill. I considered putting it on my site with copy claiming it was the worst design in the history of the universe.

        • 44

          Are you serious? “won’t be including that in the portfolio” or “work that you’re not proud of”? Apparently you are under the impression that you are an “artist” and are creating your personal portfolio on company time instead of being PAID to do a JOB. Stop investing your self-esteem in a newsletter and deliver creative that actually accomplishes its goals, doesn’t just look pretty.

          • 45

            Firstly…I love your screen name. So, in which marketing department do you work?

            Some people can just present a resumé when searching for a new job but creatives need to show what they have created. It’s visual job. Show a creative director bad design solutions, then have the version you did before the “helpful ideas.” A creative appreciates the original thought and understands the final design-by-committee. Show the work without that starting point and you won’t be hired because it is assumed you were responsible for the design. Show the work to a non-creative and their first thought may be that you play it safe. They won’t hire a safe designer…you just get beaten down into that later after you start the job.

            A good creative sees the message and designs the different elements to sell that message. A hack makes things that are pretty but don’t fulfill the purpose. I am a designer and a professional. Sometimes I am an employee with certain rights to, as HR always repeats from harassment training, “a safe and comfortable workplace.”

            “Stop investing your self-esteem in a newsletter and deliver creative that actually accomplishes its goals, doesn’t just look pretty.” Are you referring to my writing for Smashing?

            Are you suggesting my work does not accomplish its goals? You wouldn’t be that bold to assume you know me that well, so I assume it’s a general slap to creatives.

          • 46

            I agree with Snowball2!

            -and no, I am not in “Marketing”

          • 47

            @snowball2 During my time as a designer I have found that sometimes what a client considers to be in their best interests often isn’t.

            Being PAID to do a JOB is one thing, but if a job is worth doing it is worth doing well.

            If someone hired you build a house but then took away the blue prints and said make it out of polystyrene i’m sure you wouldn’t showcase it to future developers!

            Sometimes you have to grit your teeth and go against your principles to design something that you know is terrible but a good designer will also act as an advisor and give the client the benefit of their experience. At the end of the day if the client chooses to pursue a bad idea / design the designer has the right to choose whether or not to let it stain their reputation.

          • 48

            Oh, Steve, my honorable foil…

            You don’t like my articles but you keep reading them. Could this be love?

          • 49

            Part of what makes a good designer is the drive to improve and come up with the best visual solution for the problem at hand. This means taking things personally sometimes. I know your casual feedback isn’t actually a referendum on my worth as a human being, but it’s important to invest some of my self-esteem in whatever crappy piece of marketing collateral you want me to put out. If I don’t care whether I make good work or not, I’m not going to make good work.

            I’m the sole in-house creative reporting to a much larger marketing team, and I’ve noticed that my coworkers and I have much different ways of measuring success and my worth to the company. Not to be a delicate flower here, but people are harder on creatives. I’ve never heard anyone say “This marketing initiative was terrible and I hate it” (not “this marketing initiative needed stronger messaging and more time to refine it”- I mean direct, unconstructive criticism), but people have no qualms about saying “I hate the colors.” (and again, not “the colors make this hard to read” or anything that would be useful)

            When whatever creative and marketing make together fails and we all get fired, you’re not going to put that failed marketing initiative on your resume, and I’m not going to put the shitty newsletter I made for it in my portfolio. See? We’re not so different after all.

          • 50

            @Snowball2: guess you’re a marketing person or just read the article with early onset prejudice then decided to leave a comment . if you’ve experienced the life of a creative, you wouldn’t be so harsh and condescending when you posted your comment.

            i have been in the creative world for only 3 years and have to admit that i am rather young in the game. though young, i have encountered a lot of “know-it-alls-without-actually-knowing-what-they’re-talking-about people” in the industry, at every turn. there are those that actually stay with you and comment on every line, color, shape of a design and they don’t even have background in designing or don’t even know how to work a computer. to them i say: “i am in this job/position because i know what i am doing. and the people that hired me saw that i can and will fulfill every design JOB that they throw at me.”

            it’s comforting to know/read that a lot of creatives feel the same as i do or have the same experiences that i had. this makes the color of the cloud above my head a little brighter..

            at the end of the day, if you’re a designer/artist/creative, it’s not just about the paycheck (though a fat one wouldn’t go unappreciated), it’s about being proud of what you’ve done and having something to show for what youo’ve been slaving over.

          • 51

            @steve: i guess you’re not a creative as well, and haven’t experienced a day in the world of creatives… because if you are, you’d see that there is truth in the article

  11. 52

    Amen to the section on recording, somehow, (even if its on a napkin, back of greasy pizza box, or the intern’s arm) of changes that you aren’t sure of from someone who isn’t directly in charge of any project.

    S S, great article and very spiffy.

    • 53

      Thank you, Veneratio! Oh, the stories of the different people who try to get involved. It is, of course, the point of the article about not being nasty or mean, but to assert your rights as an employee, hired to do a certain job. Why take direction or make changes because someone tells you to do it? In the end, at year-end review time, the creative has to answer why something didn’t work. Saying you did as you were told doesn’t cut it (catch-22).

  12. 54

    Nice one :)

  13. 55


  14. 56

    Rochelle Dancel

    July 20, 2010 3:50 am

    I’ve never worked in a place where Creative and Marketing have been that exclusive from one another (but maybe that’s just something that happens in uber big companies…?). I work in a Marketing team, and I am the Creative – I either design stuff myself or I commission creative. Despite the fact that we also have a Technical team, Marketing has its own developer that sits within the Marketing team to expedite design and development processes across channels. There’s no way we’d be able to do our jobs if all three functions didn’t sit together as we’d effectively be designing, developing and marketing out of context and then praying that all the dots joined up afterwards. That said, we don’t do things by committee either – we’re well aware that there’s a reason that we don’t all do the same job.

    • 57

      What you described, about hoping the dots join up afterward, is how every large company I’ve worked at has done things. It’s insane.

    • 58

      I’m sending you my resumé! ;)

      If it was all a horror show, we would not continue doing what we love. As Crys point out, it is rampant, mostly in larger firms and mega-corporations…but sometimes that also provides a bigger cushion. At Warner Bros., we went into the conference room, every department gave their report, we all did our things and went back at the end of the week. If you were behind, every department head was there to hear it. There was no design-by-committee because everyone would be open to it with their own reports.

      Sure, people would filter into the art room later to air their change ideas, but those where easy to wave off as, and it’s a big point in this article, why make changes if someone is lower on the corporate ladder and they are not valid points (always listen first and then judge and execute)? To be “nice?”

      Every firm has it’s own dynamics depending on the people above and below you.

  15. 59

    I could’ve sure used these pointers about…erm..3 years ago :) Very well written article, Speider, and painfully true. The corporate world is definitely a fickle little bitc…..

    • 60

      Thanks, Radu! If you noticed how long this article is, you’ll know it took three years to write.

  16. 61

    Big post. Advance apologies for big reply. Frustratingly expected you to scream: “Marketers are arseholes!!” at any moment. But you didn’t. Um, well done for that.

    I’m not entirely sure whether you were addressing the marketing / creative relationship / conflict or just conflict in the workplace generally. Or, you wanted to address the marketing / creative conflict, but were worried about the possible reaction from marketing types and decided to make it a more generic post towards the end. The irony. Either way, having spent 15 years as a ‘Marketing Professional,’ I can only agree with you and sigh meaningfully at some of your stories of poor behaviour. My own experience of the typical marketer who wants you to make changes – unreasonably – beyond the original brief and is rude to boot, is a complete lack of conviction in their own confidence. A good marketer can sell the first creative treatment to clients, easily. They just need to have confidence in their own ability and in their relationship with the Creative in charge of the treatment.

    Respect is an issue. Marketers (glorified sales people, devil’s little helpers – take your pick) do suffer from the eternal egotistic top-of-the-tree problem. They feel they own the client because they have the relationship with them. This therefore, gives them carte blanche to steam-roller any other business process, creative or otherwise. They suffer from hideous ambition and brashness which nearly always hides deep-seated insecurities of not ‘making it.’ Creatives on the other hand, want to achieve through the process of producing wonderful art and tend not to get the latent marketing ambition. Ironically though, to achieve commercial success, creatives need to understand the market and target audience – at times – better than the marketing dept and this knowledge is frequently abused by marketing.

    I’m happy to say that I’m one of the smart ones who formed my own company, full time copywriting. I couldn’t stand the marketing environment for its rush to get a result at the expense of yep, I’ll say it – humanity. I now work with designers and creative agencies. It’s bliss.

    • 62

      Yes, there are good and bad — marketing and creative people. It’s not that I shied away from bashing marketing or such, and for a long article, could you imagine the book I could write on the entire dynamics?

      Office politics are a nightmare. In a small firm, everyone knows everything about you. In a big corporation, the rumors and innuendo travel quickly as well. People are people.

      I was hoping to educate people to the fact that as creatives, we are not just the “pretty picture makers” who work for love and not money. I wanted to open eyes to the fact that creatives also have rights and should not help place themselves at the bottom. There are so many trying to do that on a daily basis, why help them by pulling the trigger of the gun they’ve forced to your head?

      Oddly enough, when lines are drawn between humans, as with animals marking their territory, it usually settles into compliance. I like using the wolf/dog pack analogy because it is so close to how humans function (according to sociologists and dog lovers).

      With strong fences, so to speak, we work better as neighbors. A team, rather than individuals out for themselves and spending too much time on office politics and not the office products.

      Thanks for responding. I really enjoy other opinions and insights, as do the readers.

      • 63

        After spending the majority of my day reading a lot of your posts (“Designers, “Hacks” and Professionalism: Are We Our Own Worst Enemy?” being the first of yours I’ve read) – if you wrote a book, I would buy it without a second’s hesitation.

        I love your writing style, and you always have something great to say and fun to read.

  17. 64

    Absolutely fantastic article.

  18. 65

    This is what I & I’m now sure many others encounter all the time. I hate they way we are seen as just people who make pretty pictures & thus only need to do as we are told & do it in 5% of the total project time.

    I also hate the way we are told that the Client/Customer(s) wont like it, based on nothing other than a thought in that person’s head of “I know exactly what others are thing all the time. Therefore I know they wont do/read/like/buy this”.


    Great article.

    • 66

      Thank you! Unfortunately, if you are a subordinate to the person making the bad decisions, you must do what they want and hope the paycheck is worth the therapy you need down the road. If they make the wrong calls, they will either get the Baby Huey treatment from their boss or the creative department will be held responsible.

      There’s another article in there, about the blame game, I suppose.

    • 67

      Very Corrrect!! I honestly agree with Ash!!

      There are some guys who think they are the best at it & know everything!! But the problem is they can’t do it themselves but feel great amending your designs, destroying the beauty of your work all in the name of the client ( this isn’t professional, this is too heavy, the font is so small, very complicated blah.. blah…)

      My works also suffered a lot due to the marketing guys! But as I was a beginner, I thought they were really doing the right thing & then as time passed by, I soon realized that some of them tell me to “remove/change this or that, the client wants it” without having a talk with the client. They experiment their own fantasies & ideas with my design!!
      I don’t mean I’m perfect but I’m a professional!!
      I do work to earn my bread but when I’m into it, I’m into it ! I love creating things!!

      An eye-opening article for me indeed!!

  19. 68

    Jamie Stanton

    July 20, 2010 4:06 am

    Good to see an article on the realities of Office / Work Politics. You’re right in saying that a lot of these confrontations are down to territorialism and alpha-male showdowns, and not necessarily the design / wireframe / strategy itself.

    Learning how to deal with these situations professionally and competently while standing your ground and getting positive results and happy clients – is what separates the men from the boys.

    • 69

      Let’s not be sexist! ;) Women from the girls, too (that didn’t sound right).

      Either learn to deal with it or be a victim of it. Office politics are almost everywhere. If it’s not at your workplace, stay forever!

  20. 70

    As expected a “smashing” post.
    Wish all would read this to get an idea of what they think about creative.

    ” Drink the blood of the creative and you will be able to create bigger logos ”
    I like it ;)


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