How an appreciation of design thinking can transform a creative team

How an appreciation of design thinking can transform a creative team

Design was once an overlooked and underappreciated pillar in adland, like some nerdy second cousin, often side-lined, whilst creative, strategy and production dazzled front and centre of agency life.

It was 2008 before Cannes introduced the ‘Design Lions’. But fast-forward 10-plus years and things are (slowly) changing. 

Design is now an established practice, integral to any thriving agency and the work they create, with a whopping 985 Cannes Lions Design entries in 2023 reflecting this shift. Agencies and brands are now starting to recognise the role design can play in the marketing world (hurrah)—from shaping brand identities to bringing brand communications and values to life.

Job done? Not quite. 

There’s still one fundamental aspect that’s continually left out of the conversation. All the thinking. You know, (well maybe you don’t), the theory, methodologies, approaches, and practices that actually create all those nice shiny things.

For those of you in the industry who aren’t designers, I know it might not always be clear just how much thinking and methodology goes into the design (and that is part of the problem). 

Trust me, every designer has a clear method to their madness. 

Designers are trained to interpret briefs and think both strategically and creatively – combining technical skill, creativity, and functional thinking into their work. Continually stretching and translating concepts, whilst keeping one eye on the ever-growing list of channels where design needs to live. A product of years of practice and honing our craft. With all that on offer, we should be beating away the briefs, right? Well, not quite. 

As the theoretical side has been overlooked for so long, designers are currently still seen as people who are ‘doers ’– individuals who execute a single prescriptive output (and in some scandalous circles, Mac Monkeys!), instead of highly multifaceted professionals who dynamically approach design as a systemic challenge. This has led to designers still not having the right platform within agencies and with clients to showcase their theoretical skills or the thinking behind their work.

Ironically, it’s detrimental to those same brands and agencies, as there is immense tangible value in design thinking. 

It’s the key to translating the big sexy creative ideas, into stories that connect with people. Design not only understands and supports the creative idea, but also the channels it needs to live in. Creating smart systems that allow brand consistency, but also expressive freedom.

So, to flip the script and champion design thinking in the industry, we need to carve out the space for designers where they can contribute their thoughts, methodology and frankly expertise to the wider agency teams and clients. To make a start on achieving this, agencies and leaders just need to bring designers and design teams into the creative process with the client from the very beginning, helping to positively influence brands and agencies in the execution of their work.

Right now, that is not happening. 

In 2022, Design Week reported that only 9% of clients believe that design studios influence their companies at the very highest level. A damaging stat which doesn’t have to be the case moving forward.

At Havas London, we are taking action to further embrace design thinking and elevate it within the agency. We recently launched our new design discipline, BrandEx Design. Whilst I loathe to create more design buzzword words, definitions are powerful. The discipline, which is focused on delivering through-the-line Brand Expressions), is driven by three principles - function, concept and craft. These ensure our role in creating work is clear and valued. It includes a four-step methodology which allows us to seamlessly input design into existing timelines and create holistic, end-to-end designs.

BrandEx and Design thinking in general have a lot to offer brands and agencies, but it needs to be supported and appreciated in return, and so do designers, who deserve to be seen as highly skilled individuals. Embracing design thinking is key to adland finally unlocking the full potential of design in advertising and marketing – and there’s no better time to start than now.

Credit: iStock/shironosov

If you enjoyed this article, you can subscribe for free to our weekly email alert and receive a regular curation of the best creative campaigns by creatives themselves.

Published on: