Few aspects of marketing escape the increasing velocity of business, and design is no exception. Marketing teams recognize that the shelf life of graphic innovation can be short.
I recently asked Andy Zimmerman, president of frog, a design and innovation firm, to share his insights on where marketing design is heading.
Paul Talbot: When you reflect on the design landscape of 2019, what’s the most significant thing you see?
Andy Zimmerman: We see a maturing of design in many companies, large and small.
One example of this is the emergence of “designOps” as a way to manage the design process within organizations. It is the next step in design becoming a business process within companies so that other functions can work with designers more effectively.
It’s also an acknowledgment of the fact that the types of challenges being taken on by designers are larger scale than something a single person can manage.
Talbot: We live in an age where business prizes speed. How does this impact the way consumers engage with design? As consumers, are we less patient in terms of absorbing the messages of design?
Zimmerman: In designing new products and services, we are asked to minimize the classic design research. Aggressive startups sometimes even even have the distinction between prototyping, getting customer feedback and iterating on the design, versus simply putting prototypes into the hands of real customers and markets, and refining the design on the fly.
Talbot: As we spend more time on screens and less time with paper, what has the impact been on design?
Zimmerman: The impact is twofold, especially for designers.
While digital screens are amazing and make our lives much easier, they also diminish from our tactile sensitivities, weaken our ability to focus and (ironically) limit our minds to greater possibilities.
When designing on the computer, a designer must follow a specific sequence of actions to get a desired result as allowed within parameters of the software. This doesn’t allow for spontaneous exploration or the “happy accidents.”
Talbot: For thousands of years, the process of selling has been a blend of the factual and the emotional. In recent years, has our use of technology tilted the scales to make us less emotional, or are the ingredients of human nature when it comes to buying and selling much the same as always?
Zimmerman: People are emotional creatures. Not only do we sense this from our own experience, but research shows that we often justify our emotional decisions with a factual, rational explanation.
Technology has increased the information available to us to make purchase decisions. However, the way we evaluate that information and experience the purchase journey are, if anything, more emotionally driven than before. We have worked extensively in retail experience design, where marketing communications are being replaced by experience design, moving the purchase decision from something you read and see toward something you feel.
Talbot: Has technology “dumbed down” design through the proliferation of symbols and icons, or does this open new creative doors?
Zimmerman: There are tremendous creative opportunities available to designers today that didn’t exist a generation ago. Design has shifted from solving creating aesthetic value to a broader problem solving.
Icons and symbols are a visual language that have become a very effective form of shorthand and standardization.
For instance, the standardized aesthetics of software design—delighting a consumer’s eye through visual differentiation—is less valuable than consumers understanding how to engage with brands through digital.
Imagine a Black Friday where every retailer had radically different e-commerce shopping cart experiences and consumers were required to learn how to use each of them.
Talbot: Any other observations you would care to share on the state of design?
Zimmerman: Design is experiencing huge growth and evolution fueled by the needs of organizations, enterprises and governments to engage with their constituencies digitally.
The field would need to expand by around 20 times to meet the demand today. Designers’ creativity is a critical ingredient in the creation of these digital experiences, which requires high levels of collaboration between designers and other disciplines, such as software engineers.
Because of this, we will likely see less lone-wolf superstar designers and the rise of winning teams that can effectively scale designers’ creativity and impact in this new context.