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Redesigning the Designer’s Role

Redesigning the Designer’s Role

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed a shift in how businesses are viewing the value of design thinking. We are moving from internal service providers to true business strategists. This change in mindset is essentially redesigning the designer’s role. Lately, job postings list design thinking and creativity as one of the top skills companies are seeking in employees. Skill sets that are inherently creative are being realized as an asset more than ever before. Investing in creative people and utilizing design thinking is mission-critical to success in today’s competitive marketplace. However, giving designers a voice in the business plan is not without its complications.


Barriers to Overcome

As companies shift their business model and seat designers “at the table” earlier in their planning process, there will inevitably be challenges to overcome.  First, workstyles are vastly different between the two groups. Business planning usually has imposed constraints and involves following certain processes, while the creative process is more freeform in nature (think formal business presentation versus a more relaxed creative brainstorming session). Second, business and creative professionals speak a different language. In my design education, “business speak” was not part of the curriculum and the design language is foreign to most business types. Lastly, successful projects are measured differently between the two groups. Success from a business perspective will have relevant Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and a high Return on Investments or (ROIs). Creative success is measured by a visual balance of color harmonies, white space and typestyles.

A successful blend of these two worlds requires a shift in thinking by both groups. Designers being relatively new to the business world need to take the reins of change. Breaking down the design elements in your project and explaining their worth as a selling motivator will show your fellow business professionals that design thinking is a valuable part of business strategy. Investing in thoughtful design is sure to generate a high return.


Language Barrier

If you’re a designer with any time under your belt you have experienced this scenario. You work on a project that you are passionate about for weeks or months, only to have it killed in its final stages. You may wonder, if you were at those critical meetings, could you have sold your idea? Would have been able to speak to why your idea would generate better sales, gain new customers or increase your click rate? Getting a handle on the language barrier could be the first step in closing the gap. Do some research or seek out a mentor in your office that is willing to give you a crash course in business terminology and mindset. On the flip side, take the initiative to share a slideshow explaining some creative terminology showing your desire to work together effectively.

 “Business and design are separate planets, and this needs to change. We have a translation problem.” – Erika Hall

Knowing the language to move your stakeholders will get their attention and make them more likely to hear your ideas essentially earning you a spot “at the table.” At your next presentation, using your newfound business acumen, consider the design choices you made and make a business case for why each choice will resonate with your customer and move them to buy. When possible, for less creative audiences, utilize statistical data to back up your case.

Let’s say you chose images of smiling faces, explain how humanizing your product or marketing piece is an effective buying motivator allowing the consumer to relate with the feeling presented. Font style is another tool. Selecting a bold font style adds a sense of strength and urgency, while the use of delicate script styles may be more appealing to a female consumer. Science has proven that colors can generate powerful emotional responses. Explain why your color scheme will attract a consumer’s attention and how it makes them feel about your product or service.

When paper is your product, the importance of color is two-fold. You are in fact selling your product on your product. Color is used to attract the buyer as well as show how the paper performs. Warm colors evoke energy and passion, while cool colors can feel calming and peaceful. I recently worked on the redesign of our EarthChoice brand. Check out our recycled papers line, you’ll notice we used greens which are associated with nature, growth and renewal.

When everyone at the table has broken the language barrier there will be a better understanding when ideas are shared.


Workstyle Barrier

Over my years as an in-house designer, I have often heard judgmental, even jealous remarks from employees outside the creative team. What drives a design team to be creative can oftentimes appear like goofing off to others who just don’t understand the workstyle required to think creatively.

“The innate ability of designers to be creative needs to be accessed in order to envision possibilities that traditional business stakeholders can’t think off.” – Anoop Anand.

Again, education may be the key to dispelling the idea that designers are not really working and just playing silly games. Invite some key business stakeholders to join in during a creative process. Seeing and even participating in the productive nature of the design workstyle could generate design thinking exercises across other groups.

Conversely, education in working styles needs to go both ways. Designers should make an effort to understand the sales data and concerns of their market. As opportunities arise, sit in on some business meetings not as just a wallflower but as a participant sharing your thoughts. This will go a long way to show an understanding of the business professional’s objectives.


Business vs. Creative Success

The world of business has experienced major changes in the last few years, but the last 10 months has had an impact that no one expected. Everyone has been affected personally and professionally in some way by the pandemic. It would be short-sighted for designers like myself to ignore the changes and not adapt. We must redesign our designer role. Gone are the days where we could just focus on visual qualities like colors, layout and which font works best. We must think beyond and understand our overall business in order to earn the respect we’ve always wanted. If our designs are to see the light of day, we must understand the end game. Realizing the true goal at hand (meeting the customer need and stakeholders’ goals) may direct your design choices and enable you to speak about why you made certain design decisions.

Because of these challenging times, many businesses are having to reinvent themselves. The paper business is no different. Changes in the paper market and our customer needs has required my creative team to find new marketing strategies to attract our customer and better meet their needs. As designers, we may need to remind our stakeholders of some truths in marketing to consumers.

“Design is the first thing the consumer sees when looking at your brand…it communicates your brand’s personality, values and overall identity to the audience. Design is invaluable for all your marketing assets; when done efficiently, it sets you leagues apart from competitors.” – 99designs

“Statistics have found that design elements like color and graphics tend to allow a person to remember information for a longer period of time.” – 99designs

Companies that are thriving have been able to blend design thinking into their business strategies. Apple is a good example of how success in business and success in design can come together. Apple realized early on that their customers are highly motivated by ease of use and design aesthetics. In the end, knowing who your customer is and what they want will drive both business and design to play on the same team.


A Designers’ Value

So, you’ve done the work…identified and removed the barriers to working successfully in your business environment. Now own it! If you’re anything like me, you’ve felt that your opinion doesn’t really move the needle or hasn’t been heard. Be confident in your voice and the value you as a professional designer offer. Design is proven to add value to products and services. In competitive markets, a well-designed brand or marketing campaign will beat out the competition all things considered equal. Now that you’re invited, change the dynamics in those strategy meetings. Utilize the talents that you have to see differently, offer up your “out of the box” ideas and sell them using your newly acquired business skills to build your case. Take this opportunity to redesign your design role.

For more like this, check out our other blogs at for more design, print and paper industry content. And, for some design inspiration, peruse our gallery of smart designs all printed on Domtar Paper

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