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No creator is an island

The Frameworks

Most brands accept that creativity is a positive thing when it comes to promoting their business. But, too often, they focus only on visual design when developing their creative assets – and tend to view it as just pretty pictures. That narrow mindset – and low expectation of what creative innovation delivers – leads to one thing: a missed opportunity.

We know from experience that the creative idea – and its execution – gives brands a competitive edge. And it’s about so much more than pretty pictures. Visual design must be supported by a strong strategy, the right language and a seamless user experience. But how does that play out successfully? 

Lead Developer Sergio Agosti, Creative Director and Head of Studio David Alexander, Creative Strategist Sophie Meadows and Content Director Louise Sheeran talk about the importance of working together across teams to identify and execute the best ideas.

The spring in your (creative) step
Creative without strategy is a waste of time

Sophie Meadows: Strategy is how we bridge the gap between the business problem and the creative solution. Without strategy – the research, insights and decision to solve a problem in a way that’s distinctive, motivating and true – creative isn’t accountable to anything.

David Alexander: For me, design without strategy is just form over function. My role as a designer is all about problem solving. And it’s almost impossible to solve clients’ problems using design without having the foundational research, insights and conclusions that strategy gives us.

Louise Sheeran: That applies to copy, too. In fact, all aspects of creative risk falling flat if you don’t have a strong strategy. In my experience, if you don’t have a mature strategy element built into every project, the resulting creative work is simply not as strong. 

SM: I think that’s partly because the strategy and the creative brief that comes out of it aren’t just there to provide direction, they are supposed to be springy. You can look at an insight and generate different ideas from it, so – to your point David – you are able to consider the problem you’re trying to solve in different ways. 

LS: “Springy” is a nice word to use. You don’t create a strategy and walk away. It’s always evolving and you constantly provide strategic thinking throughout the creative process. 

SM: The Client Services team becomes even more integral to the process as the strategy evolves. A message is only as strong as its ability to be received. The account managers who deal with clients day-to-day are integral to keeping stakeholders on board, otherwise your strategy will fail before it even reaches the creative stage. 

The creative balancing act
Visual and verbal identity go hand in hand

LS: When we think about the way we evolve a project from the strategy to the creative phase, sometimes words provide the spark of inspiration. It could be something that came up in stakeholder interviews, for example. But just as often, design provides the starting point for the verbal identity. 

DA: That’s why it’s so important that designers and writers form a solid partnership from the get-go.

LS: Visual and verbal identity have to go hand in hand. There’s no point creating a cool, understated design aesthetic if you’re just going to fill it with lots of flowery, busy language. Sometimes one element has to step back to let the other side breathe. But often, the two walk a fine balance, complementing each other. And that doesn’t just happen by magic.

SM: That’s a good point. As is the case with strategy, creativity is an evolving process. It doesn’t just happen. The spark of an idea has to be worked out and crafted across teams.

LS: And there’s no set formula to how we collaborate. In the workshopping phase, there’s a constant back and forth between designers and writers until we strike gold.

DA: And when writers and designers work in harmony, great ideas are usually more plentiful. It shouldn’t be the default that copywriters are just writing to the space available or designers are responding visually to an already-written message. There’s an element of that, but it should be fluid.

LS: One example of us working together is our recent work for Tata Technologies. From the strategy phase, we knew that we wanted to humanise the way people experienced the brand and elevate engineering as a concept. Copy and design both played an important role in that. 

DA: We paired striking graphic patterns, vibrant colour and human-led photography with a verbal identity that challenged perceptions of engineering by showcasing tangible, real-life impacts. That balanced, complementary approach created the overarching brand identity.

Developers are designers, too
We’re all problem solvers really

Sergio Agosti: David describes himself as a problem solver and that’s what I do too. Developers are designers, we design our code. And, crucially, we bring greater analytical thinking to the design process. 

That’s why it’s so important that we are in the room from the start. That way, we can solve technical design requirements as soon as possible and, crucially, alert designers to any roadblocks before anything is signed off by the client.

DA: Designers and developers are definitely at their strongest when they work together, as with designers and writers. That’s the only way we can deliver a user experience that is beautiful, accessible and, increasingly, more sustainable too. 

SA: Developers don’t just say “no” to every big idea. We reveal what’s possible. We are at the coalface of the web, which is constantly evolving, so we can suggest new, more ambitious solutions that a designer may have thought impossible.

DA: The relationship only works when designers and developers push each other’s skill sets. If everyone is part of the conversation from the beginning, limitations don’t become conflict, but something to overcome together.

SA: That’s when we deliver the best work. A good example is the configurator landing page we created for intelligent automation provider, Dematic. We needed to come up with a solution that could be engaging in a highly competitive market place, so we got on a call and found the answer through collaboration.

DA: What’s interesting about our work for Dematic is that we couldn't have delivered the solution if we hadn’t done the strategy work first. The research revealed that we needed an interactive tool or questionnaire to solve the client’s challenge, and from there we worked out how to bring it to life together. Without that strong strategic foundation – and the inter-team collaboration – we would have been plucking an idea out of the air, with the risk of it not working. 

A version of this article previously appeared on Creativepool in January 2023.