The Dysfunctional Design Process

Bridging the Gap Between Marketing & Design Teams

Outline of chapters

Intro

A Tale of Two Sides


We created this guide to help marketers and designers work better together.

This is not some fluffy ebook with basics like ‘give design a seat at the table’ or ‘write a great design brief’. Those are table stakes—this guide assumes you’ve got the basics down.

Instead, we chose to focus on recurring problems between design and marketing teams, and learned a ton about:

  • How these teams work together in their organizations
  • The processes and tools they use
  • The everyday struggles and issues they face
  • Their tips for bridging the gap

Over countless Zoom meetings, phone calls, and through an audience-specific survey, we set out to understand where the disconnects are happening and why.

One of the first responses we received to our survey illustrated one issue right away–maybe marketers and designers aren’t so different after all, it’s all in the lens through which we view them.

“You assume that marketers aren't designers. They often are, but they use different tools. Try building out a data-driven, multi-journey, multi-channel, multi-touch campaign without using design principles and see what happens. A shared language and mutual respect goes a long way.”

Designers and marketers share similar DNA—and while we appreciate the sentiment, these two personas need to think and feel differently to do their jobs well. However, aligning their goals, objectives, and visions is critical to delivering industry shaking and lead-generating campaigns.

The funny thing is, both designers and marketers share very similar pain points—they just experience these struggles in different ways.

Over the next four chapters, we’re going to uncover these core dysfunctions between marketing and design teams. We’re also diving into how these two teams of creative, hardworking, and passionate people at some of the world’s greatest companies are working better together. From Intercom to Meltwater, our experts dished the goods.

Don’t expect every issue to resonate perfectly with you—from our learnings, each organization is unique, and thus their pain points and challenges are also varied. That’s why we’ve outlined solutions to each particular problem so that you can choose your own adventure and customize the advice. Ready? 👇👇👇

Issue #1

Design and Creative Teams are Treated Like a Drive-Thru


It’s not that designers want to hand in work late or off-brief, but often the team structure leads to “service-based design” whose only function is to pump out creative assets.

How a design team functions and its role within an organization can lead to:

  • Delays and missed deadlines
  • Misalignment of priorities
  • Wasted time creating the wrong work

It was one of the most often cited and significant issues in our study. So, we’ll propose a few solutions to help you organize your team for success (professionally and mentally).

First, let’s dig a bit deeper into design team structures and their impact on this larger issue.

The role of design team structures

Successful brands put design at the center of everything they do.

Think of Apple, BMW, and Lululemon. Great design runs through the core of everything from their products to their retail stores to their advertising. Nicely designed, user-friendly emails? Check. Beautiful ads in magazines? Check.

There’s a reason people reuse those Lululemon bags—they’re designed well and reflect the brand’s values, which reflect the user’s values.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that these design centric companies put the creative team in the center of their business structure, though.

A design team’s structure within their organization directly affects the entire creative process. Unfortunately, it’s why many designers often struggle to find their place, and can also be the cause of many communication issues. When this happens, it turns a strategic role into a task taker or a doer. There’s no shared vision.

We asked our survey respondents how design/creative is organized in their company. The multi-select options were:

  • Embedded - There are designers on various teams reporting to those departments (e.g. marketing designers, product designers, etc.)
  • Centralized - Design is its own department.
  • External - An external source completes your designs (e.g. Superside, agencies, freelancers, etc.)

Almost every design and marketing leader acknowledged how their creative teams operate within their organization was often part of the problem. Admitting there’s a problem is the first step to fixing it. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much consensus on how.

Jason Henrickson, Creative Operations Manager at Cloudflare, has worked in design structures both embedded into a marketing team and as a centralized department.

At Cloudflare the design team is embedded into the marketing team. Just like marketing, the design team also reports directly to the CMO, making his team feel like a part of the vision. Missing compassionate communication is a breeding ground for contentious debates and rounds of “he said, she said.”

Don’t treat your design and creative team like a drive-thru window

Being on a design or creative team can often feel like you're working the window of a fast-food drive-thru. Briefs come in. Assets go out. Repeat. One graphic designer we spoke with said they often felt like asking, "would you like fries with that banner ad?"

Unfortunately, asking for fries is what can happen with a team that produces tangible assets. Other groups start to see the designers as a service to tap into instead of partners and teammates.

"Often, no matter how much you educate a marketing team and work with them and train them to understand that designers need time to work tasks into their queue, they still feel like design has unlimited capacity. They just keep sending work, and often creatives stretch themselves thin just trying to find a way to get it done. They don't understand that design teams can't just absorb more work. That's part of the big issue."

Jason Henrickson, Creative Operations ManagerCloudflare

Luckily for Henrickson, his team at Cloudflare has the support they need from their CMO to work through tasks and deprioritize things when necessary. But not every team is as lucky.

Nathan Sharp, the Principal Visual Designer at Twilio, said this drive-thru phenomenon is part of being a team regarded as a service, not an integrated solution.

We don't talk about ourselves that way. We don't position ourselves that way. So when it starts to feel like that's happening, that we're just servicing someone else's priority, that we don't know if it's important or not, it takes away from the opportunity to own a creative idea and try to bring that forward.

Nathan Sharp, Principal Visual DesignerTwilio

Sometimes it’s hard to bring designers and marketers together, but you may find yourself and your design teams in turmoil without cohesion. Here are five of the most common failures when you view design teams as only a service.

01. No sense of ownership

Everyone works better when they have a level of ownership of the success of a project or product. Ownership also equals accountability when something doesn't work—whether that's a digital campaign, a product launch, or the processes you use to manage your team.

But when you don’t treat designers like creative partners, they lose any sense of ownership. Without their input, successful or not, no one knows what could have been.

“Bring them into the fold as much as possible. Make results and outcomes shared. Base performance on the same measures of success as the marketing team.”

Lindsay Sylvester, Director of Marketing OperationsAmii
02. Lack of clear priorities

It can be hard for right-brain designers to use left-brain logic to prioritize work and balance projects, particularly when creative requests are being thrown at them left and right. So, when there are many teams, each with their priorities, asking a singular design team to “prioritize,” it can lead to a grander organizational dysfunction.

Being stretched in various directions is particularly true regarding centralized design teams.

"We have to service the needs of all these teams, not just in marketing, but culture and workspace and others. We have our priorities, but when they get deprioritized for other teams, it leads to frustration internally," Sharp said of his own design team structure.

03. No processes to help teams to deliver

Sending design requests over Slack DMs, lost Google sheets templates, or email? You’re not the only one. Without a set process for things like design intake, feedback, and briefs, things can quickly get chaotic.

One anonymous survey respondent said, “Don't hesitate to educate marketers about what you do! Some may be new to the role, and they need to be trained in the process. Do it constructively, too.”

Tools like self-service portals can help streamline common design requests, but they're only as good as the process that manages them.

But, processes for process sake don't fix problems, either.

"A request came through for what we thought was an eBook. But, it turned out that was not what they wanted. They wanted a one-pager. They spent money on a design that didn't match what they wanted, and worse the project is now delayed. All of this churn was the result of an initial miss, being mis-scoped on both sides,” Sharp said.

A good design process goes as far as identifying who is a stakeholder in the project, and creating clear rules around who gives feedback and when.

Christine E., Director of Performance Marketing at Alation talked to us about idea overload. When it comes to design, everyone has an opinion, and often that means there are way too many cooks in the kitchen. So, how do you combat this ever common point of friction?

“You need to have better framing of the problem, and then trust the subject matter experts to solve issues.”

Christine E., Director of Performance MarketingAlation
04. Missing context or references

It’s critical to set clear expectations with departments and teams who work closely with design. Too often, marketers leave out essential context and references—two requirements for a design team to execute to the best of their abilities. Without the framing context, you’re setting up the design team for failure.

“Marketers will sometimes ramble out design instructions in a few paragraphs and expect to get back what they asked for. The issue is, designers aren’t mind readers."

Jason Henrickson, Creative Operations ManagerCloudflare
05. Burnout

Burnout was already a massive problem for workers in every field before the pandemic. Now, it’s worse. In her latest book, leadership coach and burnout expert Jennifer Moss pointed out a study showing 62% of respondents had experienced burnout in the last year. In an Eagle Hill Consulting survey, 36% of employees said their organization isn't doing anything to help employee burnout.

In our survey, 73.9% of designers said capacity issues are driving burnout—there’s too much to do and not enough hands to do it. There’s always a pile of creative work to get through and a bigger pile of people waiting. Your designers want to create fantastic work, but burning them out while they’re designing doesn’t help anyone.

Story

How Twilio’s marketing and design team partnered for success

The real magic is when creative and design teams form partnerships with marketing departments.

We asked Nathan Sharp to share a story of one small project creating a lasting impact on how teams can work together for success.

The Challenge

Twilio launched its first Internet of Things (IoT) product in 2018. It was a SIM card for developers to experiment on any IoT project they could imagine. The internet of things is essentially physical objects with sensors (time, motion, etc.) that are connected to the internet, so you know how many steps you’ve taken and how much water you drank.

The product marketing manager for the IoT product asked Sharp and his team to create an envelope to send out the SIM cards to their developer community. It was the first time Twilio had launched a physical product, but the brief simply requested an envelope with a logo on it. The lack of detail in the brief made Sharp push back.

For Sharp, the big question that wasn't being asked was, "What are we really trying to achieve here?" While software developers were intimately familiar with Twilio (over 9 million and counting), this tinkerer market was net new for Twilio.

It was vital to introduce this new IoT market properly to the Twilio Brand and do so at a deep emotional level where they can truly connect.

The Solution

Sharp, the strong creative leader that he is, pitched his idea. Instead of an envelope with a logo on it, Sharp pitched the idea of a small book with photographs of hundreds of different objects poetically juxtaposed. His idea was to inspire IoT developers and hackers to see the possibilities of the Twilio SIM card.

Pitching something different than the brief can always be nerve racking—but for Sharp, the idea piqued the attention of the product marketing manager and success was inevitable.

"That kind of partnership: being able to meet the objective, push each other a little bit, and find out where the real boundaries are to what we're trying to achieve, that's what works," Sharp said.

So, how can you replicate that success in your organization? Here’s how to put design at the center, not an afterthought of a great idea.

Tip 1: Become partners of success

Bring design and creative teams into projects, especially strategic ones, at the right time.

So, how can teams decide when is the right time to involve designers in a given project or campaign? Understanding the goals of a project is something that Henrickson said is crucial to being able to deliver to their stakeholders.

“A lot of challenges come when marketing has very vague goals that don't have any clear design dependencies. You may want to drive $3 million in sales this quarter, but how are we going to get there? Then design requests come later than needed and everyone scrambles,” Henrickson said.

Treating your creative and design teams as partners for success instead of a service department gives them the time to create assets that deliver on your goals.

At Shopify, Growth Workshop Lead, Amir Jaffari, and his team work on producing ad designs at scale. It all comes down to the processes, streamlining work, and many iterations. Here’s his framework:

And to get this done, he also has an extensive toolkit, consisting of a wide range of products and solutions that keep the creative pipeline running smoothly.

You can watch Jaffari’s session from our recent online event which was all about scaling design. He unveils all of his secrets for how design gets done on the Creative Workshop team at Shopify, and how he gets marketing and design to work better together.

Tip 2: Failing to plan is planning to fail, stop it

Your design team is not a magical black box that dispenses banner ads on command. Understanding the multiple priorities of your team is one step, but you need to have a culture that accepts some priorities being shifted to ultimately speed up the design process.

Some quick tips?

  • Collaborate with your design team to understand their processes so that it works across departments with clear expectations
  • Become better at assigning designs, understanding timelines, and prioritizing
  • Provide actionable feedback and instruction where everyone wins.

“Instead of saying, ‘I need the LinkedIn ads’ say, ‘I need three LinkedIn ads, these are the dimensions, this is the date they launch, this is the tagline, this is the subject matter, I'd love this image or this image if you have it available or these ideas.’" - Jason Henrickson, Cloudflare

Simply put, Henrickson says that if the marketing team is aiming for speed and velocity of creativity, processes and actionable feedback are vital. According to Henrickson, “If you want to iterate on something with us for months, sure we'll do that. But if you need it fast, give us as much information as you can about what you're looking for.”

Without a prioritized list of clear and actionable plans, you’ll end up with a team of exhausted designers who don’t know what to work on.

Tip 3: Hire a DesignOps professional

Speed, quality, affordable – pick two.

It’s an old Venn diagram joke that reminds us that speed, budget and creativity are forces that clash. Yet, there is a way to make them work together.

What’s the secret sauce to managing the overlap of these circles? We say it’s DesignOps. Jason Henrickson agreed—with a critical addition.

“It’s important to not only have someone who plays the role of DesignOps, but to also have support from C-Suite to help set priorities. If I’m like ‘we need to do this fast’ and our Creative Director is like, ‘We need to do it right’, we go to our CEO and ask which is more important. And he’ll tell us. Then—no hard feelings there, we just kind of move on from that point,” Henrickson said.

DesignOps works to create a design language and process that brings consistency to everything your company does.

For data-driven squads who like to test and iterate fast, like performance marketing, a separate team or a specialized agency might make more sense. Keeping those projects separate can free up your design and marketing team to work on more nuanced, and often strategic, creative work.

Cloudflare’s marketing team averages around 120 design requests each month. It’s Henrickson’s job to do the intake work, evaluate what can get done, look at timelines, set priorities—and sometimes be the bearer of bad news that those on budget, on time, done right circles don’t line up. Managing this means leveraging Superside to give his small (but nimble) design team the extra time they need to handle design work at scale.

Tip 4: Trust the process

To solve the problem of improper briefs and miscommunication that stem from this service based approach, Sharp said Twilio uses a team of producers to lessen scope disparities and get stakeholders in line with their process before it gets to the creative team.

“One of the things that we've done to mitigate this build-up is a self-service model for assets that we know are ongoing. With our templates and styles, we can step out and it becomes a production task. You're not inventing stuff from scratch each time,” Sharp said.

Behind every missed deadline or incorrectly scoped project, you’ll find a broken process. From how intake happens to review and delivery, proper processes can help prevent problems before they happen — and create stronger trust between teams.

Recognizing you have a problem is the first step. From there, the work is about creating good systems, strong guidelines, and providing consistent feedback. Essentially you’re able to operationalize much of the work, according to Sharp.

Operationalize Design With Superside
Operationalize Design With Superside

Operationalize Design With Superside

When you choose Superside as a creative partner, DesignOps is part of the package. Between collaborative tech and a dedicated team, you can get the design you need, at breakneck speeds.

Issue #2

Looking at the Same Design File Doesn’t Mean You’re Aligned


How you structure and fundamentally think about your design team is one issue, but getting design and marketing on the same page is another matter.

This pain point came up in almost every conversation. The problems range from (but are not limited to):

  • What metrics do we use to judge success?
  • How do we manage projects and priorities?
  • What tools and processes do we need?

The further these two teams branch off from the root, the harder it becomes to support both, like a tree where only one side gets any sunshine and water, there’s an imbalance.

In our survey, we asked marketers to rate their satisfaction when it came to working with design. Over 45% said their process needed improvement, and only 17.6% said they were very satisfied.

We also asked designers to name one thing they wished marketers would understand better about working with creatives. The responses shine a light on some of the critical problems we heard in our interviews.

We found some great insights internally too. Superside Director of Design, Juan Felipe Morales, said that limitations are always essential to keep in mind when talking with your design team. These limitations can include skill sets, existing priorities, or general capacity.

“These limitations help to determine the scope, align expectations, and create clarity so the team can focus their efforts,” Morales said.

The 3 main causes of misalignment

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a 10-person shop or a 75,000 person enterprise, when misalignment happens across an organization, teams, each with their own agendas, are bound to take wildly different paths. Even if it feels like they’re running against the rest of the business and its goals.

But where do these misperceptions start (and where does the actual misalignment begin)?

01. Everything is important until it’s not

Priorities change, in life and in business. The problem is when there is no explanation or communication. If your design and creative team are set up as a service, it can further worsen the problem as information becomes siloed within departments.

The worst culprit? Leaders who mean well but don’t respect how priorities are set in their organizations. And sometimes, it isn’t even their fault. They often don’t know what the best practices are for a set team or project, or just have something really important that needs to get done, like yesterday.

Meltwater Art Director, Nick Acosta provided an example, “‘The CEO is going to have a high level meeting where literally all the execs’ eyes are on him and we need this in a couple days.’ You have your focus, but this request floats to the top of highest priority. You have to plan ahead, you have to plan for the unknown.”

02. Designers don’t know what success looks like

Working as a designer can feel like you’re inside a black box with no view into the inner workings of the business.

  1. Briefs come in.
  2. Assets go out.
  3. Feedback comes in.
  4. Updated assets go out.
  5. Repeat step 1.

Maybe the designer is lucky, and they see their work online, tv, or in print — but do they know if it’s working? All to often, marketers don’t share performance information with their designers.

Looking back at our survey, only 40% of marketers said they share metrics with designers. This data isn’t only about the success of a campaign — great data shapes creativity, helping designers create assets that meet the business’s or campaign's goals.

"When marketers bring their data to the table, designers are better empowered to do work that will deliver."

Shanee Ben-Zur, CMOCrunchbase

We asked Shanee Ben-Zur, Chief Marketing & Growth Officer at Crunchbase, whether marketers or designers are better suited to make decisions on channels or assets for a campaign. She said that while marketers have the data to drive decisions on what channels to use, it’s designers who need the data combined with the brief to deliver.

“Strategic decisions about which channel an asset should be on should be on the person who owns the KPI. But what they don’t necessarily know is how to create the asset. This is where designers shine. They can take the channel owner's inputs and apply their own skills to create something that meets the needs of the channel. If you’re not the expert in design, defer to the person who is,” Ben-Zur said.

03. Designers don’t know the audience

We repeatedly heard from marketers that the best design for the audience is not what designers would consider the “best design.”

While sleek and modern might work great for Apple customers, if your audience is less design-savvy, they may ignore it.

So, is it the designers fault for not fully understanding the different personas—something that most marketers obsess over? Yes, kind of. There needs to be accountability there.

Designers don’t need to know everything about marketing and the intricacies of their campaigns, but they do need to have a really solid understanding of who they’re designing for, and why. Part of this is solved in a good brief, but the other part needs to be entrenched into the culture.

Marketers: you’re not off the hook here, either. It’s also on you to supply this information and really nail it home.

Added new personas? Great, set up a meeting with the design team to run through them. Main KPIs outlined for the next quarter? Perfect, outline these goals for the designers (and make sure to add context).

STORY

No brief, no work

Whether it’s having closely related goals, or sharing performance results on a campaign, it’s critical to get both the marketing and design functions aligned and communicating.

Building partnerships off of mutual respect

Woods strives to produce great work that meets the objectives of marketers. The internationally recognized design firm has clients including Red Bull, Google, and Volkswagen to name a few. Woods said the common thread of all their clients is the recognition and appreciation of great design.

“Our clients understand the value of design. We don't ever have to convince them that something is going to shift the needle because they intrinsically know that. They're educated enough about why design is important,” Woods said.

Aligning marketing and design is about creating a partnership based on mutual respect and a shared understanding of goals. Woods said that the creation of that partnership starts with the brief. No matter how small the task is, there needs to be a clearly written brief that describes what the goals or objectives of the piece are. A poor brief can be the start of a bad relationship.

Sometimes less isn’t more

Woods worked for a creative director whose mantra was ‘No Brief, No Work”. He said he was always amazed when people would ignore that and just ask for a quick banner ad or to fix up a design.

When it comes to working with designers, the more detail, the better.

“There is no quick something or another. If you want this to be more than just pixel pushing, if you want to get the best out of the design, they need to understand what the real ask is here because as a client or marketer, your expertise is not design—that’s why you've hired a designer,” Woods said.

As a marketer, your job is to explain the business challenge. Woods said you need to write it down, give it to the designer, do a briefing call where you walk through the brief, and answer questions. This is particularly important for bigger design tasks that haven’t been done by the creative team before.

According to Woods, “In my experience, 95% of issues or misalignment between marketers and designers can be solved by having a great written brief that everyone actually understands. You also have to give feedback to the designers that’s actionable with examples and context. With these two tenants—great briefings and great feedback, those lost in translation errors are immediately solved,”

Superside’s tips for aligning design and marketing

Tip 1: Get your KPIs and OKRs aligned

“I think one way to bridge the gap is to bring the creatives as close as possible to the marketing metrics to show that the decisions they make in the design can actually make a difference in the outcome.“ - Amir Jaffari, Growth Workshop Lead at Shopify

Goal setting frameworks like objectives and key results (OKRs) do more than align individuals and teams to corporate objectives—they help bring teams together. We believe, (as do many of our interviewees), that design and creative goals should be aligned with the teams they serve, such as product or marketing or brand and comms.

“OKRs are super helpful because if we know what the three things that marketing is focusing on for the quarter, or the year, we can make sure that whatever we’re working on and pitching up always ladders up to those OKRs,”

Melinda CollinsCreative Producer at IRL

While aligning goals is important, James Robinson, Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer at Insurate, said it’s also crucial to make those goals work for your teams. Don’t let those goals become earned credit for the wrong people.

“It’s politics in a lot of ways in companies. You’ve got all these OKRs and everybody’s trying to take credit, trying to attribute to whatever they’re doing. Everyone’s just trying to justify their existence,” Robinson said.

So, in some instances that means the designer is sharing the exact same metric as the marketer who is managing the campaign, from ideation to final deliverable. Together, you might also share related metrics that ladder up to the overall marketing team goals.

Daniel Ackermann, Director of Demand Generation at Entelo, agrees that shared responsibilities and goals are an important aspect of creating better marketing and design cohesion. Cascading goals are his preference, so that everyone is clearly aligned and can contribute to the greater mission. Ackermann says that this type of goal structure, “moves people away from just checking the box to actually having ownership.”

In our survey, we asked designers what metrics they currently share with marketing, or want to be shared:

  • Engagement-related metrics on web and social
  • SQLs and MQLs
  • Unique video views and total time watched
  • Signups and registrations
  • ...and of course, conversions

This makes sense. A lot of projects designers work on are directly related to these metrics. Without their creative support, many of these projects would fall flat.

Tip 2: Include designers earlier in the process

Deciding when to bring in your design and creative team is critical to help align your goals with their output. The good news from our survey is that many marketers agree.

When planning various marketing/product activities, whether a large campaign or a smaller program, at what point do you normally involve the design team?

  • Ideation stage - in the problem solving/planning process to gather their ideas - 35.3%
  • Goal setting stage - before you even brainstorm and no goals have even been set yet - 29.4%
  • Execution and testing stage - Once we have things planned out and then need creative support, including creative testing - 17.6%

Going back to our point about not speaking the same language, Ólöf Kristjánsdóttir, Director of Marketing at Tempo, believes it’s important to ask questions to make sure everyone understands a campaign’s goals — both design and business.

“Be sure designers are mindful of the business goals as well. Bring them into all your brainstorming meetings, and include them as part of your planning. A creative team can bring invaluable ideas to the board for campaigns, especially if you help them understand the short and long term goal for the team and organization, how they can support, and then being mindful when you translate that into design speak,” Ólöf said.

Tip 3: Leave room for the unknown

Meltwater Art Director, Nick Acosta, budgets 30% of his team’s day for ‘the unknown’ – something we consistently surfaced in our interviews.

Marketers need to move fast. They test, iterate, and double down on what works. Sometimes things come up that are opportunistic, and other times it’s just forgetfulness – they failed to inform the designers.

Whatever the reason is for a tight, last minute deadline, it’s important to set time aside in every design team’s day for ‘the unknown.’ Not every designer on the team needs to have a malleable schedule, but there should be some flexibility there to support the marketer (or wider organization).

No one can control what happens to them, they can only control how they respond. So, if you’re a designer, instead of begrudgingly accepting, push back on timelines if necessary. But prepare for it, because quick turnarounds are part of the gig.

Quick Turnarounds is Superside's Speciality
Quick Turnarounds is Superside's Speciality

Quick Turnarounds is Superside's Speciality

When it can't wait, just Superside it. With creative talent from around the world, we can get started on your design project in under 30 minutes, at any time. Even 3 AM.

Issue #3

Does Anyone Here Know How to Use After Effects?


Paul Woods hit on something when he said you hire designers to design. Your organization has invested in a design and creative team to deliver for your marketing projects, but as we all know, design tools and technologies change as much as trends in the market. So, what happens when the skill sets on your design and creative teams don’t match up with a new trend a marketer wants to explore?

Not having designers and creatives with the exact skills your organization needs is common, and rightly so. You wouldn’t hire a motion graphic designer if you don’t run motion graphics campaigns. Some jobs, or tasks, don’t justify a full-time position. Or simply, hiring budgets don’t allow for it.

But then you have a campaign idea where motion graphics are essential. Or maybe the campaign is inspired by beautiful hand-drawn lettering—whatever the need is, not having that skill set on your team can be a significant point of friction.

The proof is in the pudding

Going back to our survey, we asked marketers and designers what their biggest challenges were.

26.5% of marketers and 30.4% of designers said that they don’t have all of the skill sets and design specialties on their teams to produce the work requested.

3 things that happen when team skill sets fall short

01. Projects get delayed

Delays are always bad, even more so when they’re not due to a lack of resources but instead not having the right skill sets. Your team may decide to take time to learn a new tool or process, but that means the project:

  • Moves slower while the team is upskilled to support the request
  • Will require multiple iterations in the feedback loop to get it right
  • Other projects in the pipeline will get put off, creating bigger backlogs and bottlenecks

Outsourcing can be an option (we’re big fans of outsourcing), but it isn’t necessarily an immediate solution. If your project requires a new skill set, your design and creative team will have to find providers, vet them, get contracts signed (hello NDAs), until finally getting to work. All of this adds up to delays for the project, the team, and your business.

Christine E. says that “collaboration needs to be a lot more on demand and in real time.” This can really help to get things moving along. Not every design project needs an official meeting or carefully planned session to hash things out—working asynchronously can do wonders for keeping projects on track.

02. Team morale drops

The blinking cursor. A blank Illustrator canvas. A new Figma project. Creatives look at these as challenges the same way sculptors look at a block of marble. Getting started can be the most challenging part — but it’s almost impossible to get started when you’re confronted with having to learn a new tool or design for a new medium or channel.

When your team doesn’t have the skills to meet the marketing team’s needs, their morale can drop. Not being able to deliver is not being able to do their job.

Work keeps piling up, stress is mounting, and everyone is stuck in a vicious cycle.

03. Designers leave for “better” opportunities

Even just one project where your design team can’t deliver because of a skill gap can do damage. As more skill gaps are identified, not having the right training or upskilling opportunities can be a sign to your designers that it’s time to find a new job.

You don’t intend for this to happen, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It’s death by a thousand cuts. When designers and creatives are constantly seeing missed chances to develop their skills and portfolio, or are frustrated with their work, they’re going to find a place where they’ll be able to learn and grow.

STORY

Working with marketing to identify skills (and gaps)

You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to identify skill gaps in your design and creative team. The secret is elementary. Bring in your design team earlier in projects so they can understand what assets might need to be created. And, if there’s a new skill set needed to bring it to life, give them time and space to get certified (or find the right outsourced design solution).

The Challenge

Oliver Hoeg-Jensen, Design Lead at Podimo, said prioritizing what his team does can be challenging for one department, let alone one person. Opinions run rampant resulting in ill-guided advice. As an example, his performance marketing team suggests more variations on assets so they can spend time to figure out what performs well. But, according to Hoeg-Jensen, the creative team may know the right approach from the outset.

To help make sure the right assets, technologies, and channels are being used, Hoeg-Jensen had to come up with a better process. As reference, below is a simplified version of the marketers and creatives in the Podimo global and local company:

The Solution

Go right to the requester to find out what they want to achieve rather than what they want to do.

“They might say, we’ll create a video ad that has this great offer in there and let’s sell it to people. But if I ask them what they want to achieve, they might say, we want a thousand customers by the end of the month. Well, to them I say there are better ways to achieve that. It’s my job to know those ways, rather than being told what to do,” Hoeg-Jensen said.

Another challenge for Hoeg-Jensen is that Podimo produces marketing assets for new podcasts every month. Thankfully, Podimo’s marketing team is both open to sharing data from their analytics and they’re receptive to ideas from the design team.

“The growth team has opinions and wants, but in the end they’re also very receptive and open to other ideas. They just need stuff to happen,” Hoeg-Jensen said.

How they scaled design at Podimo

With the scope and velocity of work needed at Podimo, finding a trusted design partner has been critical to their success.

“Our leadership wanted to do a lot more experimenting. For that, we need the muscle to produce whatever is thought of in an instant. We don’t need bottlenecks of having to think everything through every time,” Hoeg-Jensen said.

Deciding between hiring in-house for those skill sets and finding outside help came down to where Podimo earns most of their revenue. The majority of their budget goes towards actually producing the podcast content – recording, editing, etc. For Podimo, each new podcast episode needs a new set of creative assets (featured image in different sizes, audiograms or videos on different social channels for promotion, etc.) Either way, depending on the client, those creative asset requests come flying in fast requiring many different skill sets as their priorities change.

“Do we need people to produce video work or do we need graphic designers? Do we need copywriters or photographers? What type of creatives are we most in need of right now? I think that’s where a company like Superside is able to help in that you already have those people and you can activate them when needed.”

Oliver Hoeg-JensenCreative Director at Podimo

Superside’s tips for fixing your skill set problems

Tip 1: Identify the gaps before they become problems

If we learned anything from those 1980s G.I. Joe cartoons, it was that knowing is half the battle. Knowing your design and creative team’s skill sets can help you identify gaps before they become problems.

That’s why we recommend planning out your creative needs well in advance. Know you want to get a new eBook out in Q1 that requires illustrations, animations, and UX support? Plan ahead.

What point do marketers normally involve the design team?

  • Ideation stage - in the problem solving/planning process to gather their ideas - 35.3%
  • Goal setting stage - before you even brainstorm and no goals have even been set yet - 29.4%
  • Execution and testing stage - Once we have things planned out and then need creative support, including creative testing - 17.6%
  • Research and analysis - when goals have been outlined and it's time to review data/examples - 17.6%

What point do designers say they prefer to be involved on a project?

  • Ideation stage - in the problem solving/planning process to gather their ideas - 39.1%
  • Goal setting stage - before you even brainstorm and no goals have even been set yet - 47.8%
  • Execution and testing stage - Once we have things planned out and then need creative support, including creative testing - 0%
  • Research and analysis - when goals have been outlined and it's time to review data/examples - 13%

It’s essential to bring in your creative team earlier to help you better understand if they have the skills and time required to properly execute on the projects in the pipeline or not.

Understanding what skills you need down the line gives you the time to find help, be it specific skills or even a full-stack shop, to augment your in-house team’s skills.

Shachar Aylon, ECD, Brand & Creative at Picsart, said he spends time at the beginning of a project to see who is the right fit, not only in terms of skill sets, but their impact versus the effort they’ll need to put into the project.

“We’ve all seen those projects where it's like a little dinky banner or something and you're spinning wheels for three weeks on it. That's low impact, high effort. But sometimes these magic opportunities happen where it's a low impact project that we can afford spending a lot of effort with someone a bit more junior who needs that experience. Maybe it's someone who just never touched motion graphics before and wants to kind of get their hands dirty with that,” Aylon said.

It’s all about finding those magic projects. They help to build a better relationship, as it shows you’ve put trust in their abilities to learn and execute.

Tip 2: Hire people with multiple skill sets

Easier said than done, we know.

There is of course value in hiring design experts with particular skill sets, but hiring a few design polymaths on your creative team is a definite must, said Benja Juster, Senior Creative Director at IRL.

What do these muti-disciplanary designers look like? "These can be people who are really strictly experiential designers. I think that group should be used as a resource across all departments. I feel like they're there to conquer those really deep creative thought exercises and I can tap them for that," Juster said.

Tip 3: Try a squad approach

Skills aside, not all designers are built the same. Some can churn out quick projects on the fly, while others shine with strategic creative problem solving.

Henrickson understands this, and has built his team around their strengths. For example there’s a strike squad made of designers who can tackle things fast, and a strategic squad who works on complex design problems. By building his team this way, he’s able to look at his master chessboard, and move pieces (aka design briefs) around based on the available options and strengths.

As the smart leader that he is, Henrickson also understands that most designers would rather watch paint dry than work on the exact same projects over and over again. So, he moves people around periodically so that they get to experience working in the various squads. This allows his team to build up a more robust skillset and portfolio, while still being able to best service his marketing team.

Tip 4: Use external design support

When business growth starts to rise on that hockey stick curve, marketing teams go into overdrive. This exponential growth means more briefs with advanced requirements that may make you realize your creative and design team doesn't have all the skill sets necessary.

When your in-house team doesn't have the right skill sets for a project, you can go outside to a freelancer, but there are drawbacks. Depending on their workload, you might find that the specific skill you need requires booking months in advance — especially with experiential designers. Or it simply becomes too much to manage!

Onboarding additional designers is an option, but that takes time and effort to find the right person in an already highly competitive job market.

Managing multiple projects and deliverables requires a full-stack team, including DesignOps, to seamlessly support the creative and design team. Melanie Brook, Brand Producer at Intercom, said that DesignOps is the secret sauce to running a smooth operation.

"That's part of the reason why we hired Superside. We have a lot of instances where we need ads. Most of the stuff our marketers are doing includes at least some ads with their campaign and we know that that's something Superside can crank out. We do all the concepting and the copywriting and then we send it to you guys to crank out the rest of them," Brook said.

Crank Out Quality Campaigns With Superside
Crank Out Quality Campaigns With Superside

Crank Out Quality Campaigns With Superside

Whether you're struggling with capacity or skill gaps, Superside can help. Our modular creative teams plug right into your internal organization to relieve pressure and drive performance.

Issue #4

Marketers are From Mars. Designers are From Venus.


We’ve talked about your team’s structure and skill sets, but even with those issues addressed, there’s still one that marketers tell us is a critical problem holding back their campaigns — it’s that designers and creatives aren’t willing to take risks, and refuse to get on the same page.

It almost sounds counter-intuitive. Today’s designers are known for pushing the boundaries of mediums, channels, and technology to connect their brands with audiences.

If this is true, why would marketers say the opposite?

And quite frankly, marketers and designers are from two different planets. Designer Paul Woods said that marketers might assume it’s this way due to perceived creative attitude, but he quickly pointed out that it’s not ego.

“Ego is the wrong word. But designers sometimes think they know better than marketers. They believe that they’re making something meaningful. They often look at marketing as the ones that are just selling. Designers are usually introverted. They really want to put their headphones on and get down and do great work. Craft is a big part of everything that drives designers. That’s sometimes at odds with a marketing team who has very specific KPIs or goals,” Woods said.

So what are the real issues behind why marketers think designers don’t take risks — and what can you do to help drive great design that delivers on your objectives?

3 points of friction between marketers and designers

01. Brand guides are a locked box

Can you really call yourself a marketer if you haven’t been told that an idea isn’t on brand at least one point in your career? Brand guidelines are the blessing and the curse of every organization.

Having a conversation about pushing the brand style or guides is something that Ben-Zur said can be more difficult than process issues.

“When we're truly not on the same page about what our brand guidelines are, or what our brand ethos is, that's a lot more difficult. Those are the kind of questions that need to be solved at the leadership level.”

Shanee Ben-ZurCMO at Crunchbase

Consistency is key when we’re talking about a brand. Yet, pushing the envelope of what’s possible can also lead to game-changing (and award winning) work. The line that marketers and designers have to respect is making sure the audience knows who’s pushing that envelope.

02. Marketers need good content fast, not great content late

We asked marketers their most significant design challenges, and 55.6% responded that it was turnaround time. Getting work done on time is more than just crucial to campaign success.

The more delays occur, the more the backlog grows. When design is the center of your business, a massive project backlog can slow your growth, something no one in your organization wants to see.

Amir Jaffari, Growth Workshop Lead at Shopify, knows this issue all too well. His creative team intertwines very closely with marketing to produce performing visuals for paid advertising campaigns. One thing he’s noticed over time is that marketers and designers can have contrasting different definitions of quality.

“A marketer is like, ‘If I just type text on a white background and it beats your amazing video that you've traveled around eight countries to make, I'll use that text on a background. I don't care how much production value this has.’ And I don't think a lot of people appreciate how serious that is. How, depending on the situation, marketers will spend zero dollars on this thing that you made, because it just doesn't perform. There's no correlation with how much work you do and how much care they give.”

And in the marketer’s defence, their job and their KPIs are focused on things like driving MQLs and registrations—as much as they appreciate the work designers do, at the end of the day they will always optimize for their KPIs.

This is why Juster says that “the best way for designers to defend their thesis is to move so fast that no-one can derail it." This is the refreshing thought we need, because most creatives are buried in thought and focused on exploration rather than execution.

03. They’re not speaking the same language

One thing we’ve heard loud and clear from designers is that a brief should be the start of a conversation, not an edict chiseled into a Google Doc and shared from the mountain top.

Katherine Wong Too Yen, Director of Marketing at Perch, said that poorly constructed briefs without the correct information are destined for failure.

“From the marketing side, if we’re asking designers to produce something for us, it’s on us to make sure that they have enough context about the audience, and what channel the design is going to be seen on. If I’m not communicating that, as the marketer that’s on me—when design gives me something that doesn’t actually work it’s my fault, not theirs,” Wong Too Yen said.

Or, as one person in our survey so elegantly put it, “Have honest discussions about WTF is going on.”

Story

Intercom

We love to think about a brand as a positive constraint that helps creatives do their best work. We’re not the only ones either. Messaging platform Intercom has created the position of Brand Producer to help marketing teams communicate what problem they’re trying to solve and figure out what asset is going to deliver for that problem.

Stop asking to make things “pop”

Brooke said that many organizations don't understand the complexity of keeping projects organized so designers can have a good work experience.

“Designers are often asked to make ‘something pretty’. That's not their job. You need to come to them with a really organized brief. You need to really understand what you're asking for,” Brook said.

As Brand Producer, Brook works to ensure the marketing team provides briefs with the required information to create assets for a campaign. Brook credited Intercom with investing in their marketing team and people.

“We have four brand producers. That's part of the reason I took this job. As I was interviewing, I said ‘you guys are actually taking this role seriously and you're investing in it like you should. I really want to work with you,” Brook said.

Even with the right systems, tools, processes, and people, it can still be a challenge to get great work out of a design team — especially if the volume and velocity of projects isn’t managed right.

“It’s a marketing team’s job to crank out as many campaigns as they can to cut through the crazy amount of noise that we have online. That's a really hard job. But being on the team where we actually have to create all the assets that they want to post for each campaign, that’s also a hard job. I think it's really important for companies to invest in my type of position because producers can bridge the gap between the two teams. I can help the marketers understand exactly what they need to give us for both teams to succeed,” Brook said.

Brook said she sees the Brand Producer role as being a defender of their designers

“Non-designers notoriously make unrealistic requests of designers because they don’t understand what goes into the design process. I want to help protect a designer’s workload. I want to be the gatekeeper for creative requests so I can ask follow up questions and make sure briefs include the right information to set designers (and ultimately the project owner) up for success,” Brook said.

Managing all the requests — and keeping everyone happy — means asking for help sometimes. That’s one of the reasons why Intercom uses Superside.

The Brand Producer role is critical for any design team, whether they’re working with marketing or not. At Intercom, their brand team is 14 strong (plus the help of Superside), and four of those people hold a DesignOps style position. Brook said DesignOps is the key to a smooth operation and effective collaboration between marketing and design.

Superside’s tips for working better with designers and creatives

Like every team in your company, having the right people on your team comes down to one thing — how you hire. If you want a team that’s curious, inquisitive, and open to change then you need to hire designers and creatives with those qualities.

Tip 1: Respect the expertise of your designers

Shanee Ben-Zur added that respecting the talents of your creative and design teams can help reduce disagreements during the design process.

“It's stressful, because you're an expert in design, and these people who aren’t expert designers, are telling you how to live your life. If there isn't mutual respect, if neither party acknowledges expertise in the others’ domain, it's ripe for conflict. When both sides are coming from a good place and if we just set our expectations really clear upfront, there is less conflict,” Ben-Zur said.

One of our survey respondents even recommends having a DesignOps person on the marketing team, which is something we haven’t heard of before. MarketingOps and even ContentOps, yes, but never DesignOps—but in many ways for design reliant teams, it makes a lot of sense!

“I believe that there should be a Design Ops person not just on the Design side, but also on the marketing side. To help understand processes, workflows and capabilities, to create a better understanding of what goes into design, and to advocate for timing needs and a mutual respect.”

Winifred ParnesDesign Ops Manager, Interactive Design at HBO
Tip 2: Let designers solve more problems

Getting these curious creatives into the door is one thing, keeping them on your team is another.

Tabatha Laverty, Director of Marketing and Communications at the Accelerator Centre said many people don't necessarily bring the same level of respect to designers that they do to other professions in the marketing space. They often aren’t seen as a money driving role, yet design is incorporated into nearly even marketing activity.

“When you're working with designers, remember that they're problem solvers. They want to take the problem that you're having and create a solution for it. So bring your design team the problem and not just your solution,” Laverty said.

Christine Switzer, Marketing and Communications at Ridgeline, talked about how creative chemistry cannot be manufactured. Either teams have it, or they don’t. In order to get to a state where designers and marketers are riding the same wave, marketers need to challenge their creative counterparts to become problem solvers. It’s a delicate balance of give and take.

Switzer’s advice to creatives? “Be very curious, ask a lot of questions, and possess a deep knowledge of both your product and target audience.”

Tip 3: Give them a box to think outside of

Think outside the box. We’ve all heard it a million times — and you’ve probably written it in a Slack message once or twice yourself. When you dig into the cliche though, the one thing we don’t talk about enough is the box.

What is the box? It’s the combination of brand guides, voice guides, style guides, and every other brand-related constraint your company uses to guide design. They’re constraints on what designers can do — but we believe constraints breed creativity.

Jeff Gadway, Chief Strategy Officer at Galvanize Worldwide said that constraints can inspire your design and creative teams.

According to Gadway, “A lot of times we think if we put constraints on their work, it will stifle the creative process. But I found that the opposite is actually true. If you can provide them the box or the lane within which to be creative, it helps to get them doing their best work and be more aligned with what your ultimate goals and objectives are,”

Tip 4: Make space for exploration

Yes, we know we just said that having a box that creates constraints is a must have for designers — but now we’re going to talk about giving them the space they need to explore new ways of creating designs to deliver for your projects. Having space to explore means giving your design and creative teams freedom to ask questions and investigate new tools, processes, or channels.

Shachar Aylon said for his team, the best way to make room to explore is to get them working on a project as soon as possible. While it’s critical to share information and goals with designers, Aylon said that they don’t need to be in every meeting. There is such a thing as information overload.

“For most creative people, their job begins when the meeting ends. My intention is to reduce the amount of meetings for designers. If they're inundated with meetings, if they're bombarded with irrelevant information, then we’re just keeping them away from what they do best - design and creative thinking,” Aylon said.

Having an environment where designers can explore new avenues can pay off beyond the actual design. In our survey, one designer shared how they were able to suggest a new channel to their marketing team.

“As the designer, I flagged an article I read about the value of newsletter advertising. The marketing team then worked to connect with the right partner to create a sponsored email ad. The resulting leads were incredible! We saw a huge lift in MQLs over the course of just one day.”—anonymous survey respondent

And we can’t end this tip without mentioning the benefits of lunchroom chatter. Taking things “offline” and having these conversations with peers and colleagues in a casual setting can lead to amazing ideas. Melinda Collins, Creative Producer at IRL, says that “Marketers and designers need to have open conversations. Some of the best ideas come from the lunchroom."

Give Your Design Team the Gift of Capacity
Give Your Design Team the Gift of Capacity

Give Your Design Team the Gift of Capacity

Strapped for resources? Always over capacity? With Superside as a creative partner, you can unburden your design team and give them the time and space to explore.

Conclusion

Bridging the Gap Between Marketing and Design


How do we create function from dysfunction? Let’s stop the “make it pops” and other useless idioms like, “just let your creative juices flow” or “take it to the next level.” We’re not asking marketers to learn the tools or tricks of the trade, but to communicate in a language that makes design actionable. Where all parties win.

It starts with writing better briefs: provide context, cover the scope, define the audience, set specific goals and schedules, share references and copy, and provide budgets to better understand its value.

Almost everyone we spoke to had a story or anecdote about design briefs. The key thing is that every time someone said “design brief,” they were talking about it as a start to how marketers and designers communicate.

Design briefs aren’t inanimate assets that you share on Slack — they are living, breathing guides to help marketers and designers understand each other. That understanding leads to better assets, reduced backlog, and happier marketers and designers. They’re not the end-all-be-all solution, but if done properly, they help a lot with aligning these two functions.

Another tip: create an inclusive environment where even the most introverted designers feel comfortable speaking up and helping to define the design. Bringing designers into marketing meetings allows them to use their language, too, which makes learning experiential. Designers don’t know all the marketing acronyms, but they can learn and so can marketers.

And hey, designers - it’s on you to integrate yourself into the marketing ecosystem. Start by having some shared goals, maybe even develop marketing metrics to track your design progress and its impact on the business (the marketers can build you dashboards for this).

Mutual respect for each other’s professions, ideas, and methods will go a long way to understanding and working better together. When that lightbulb goes off, when you can see the a-ha moment, and hear the “Oh, I get it now!” you can combine your powers into superpowers. Form like Voltron, or Megazord, ya know – with our powers combined you too can become superhuman (or Captain Planet).

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