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Strategic thinking

Strategy vs Creativity. We explore the value of strategic design.

By 03/09/2015January 11th, 2023No Comments

“We don’t just make pretty pictures” …it’s a phrase that you hear a lot at Brandwave HQ, but what does it really mean? Truly strategic design is always at the heart of any successful campaign. In this blog, our Creative Director, Sam Freeman voices his views on where strategy and design crossover and how this effects our day to day design work.

“Don’t ask a designer how to build bridge, ask them how to cross the river” – Victor Papanek

There isn’t a textbook answer to this. Design isn’t a linear process whereby we start with an idea or problem, follow a simple step of rules / process and hey presto, a successful finished product. On a daily basis designers are presented with a mass of information to provide a creative solution to a problem. In short, we go round and round in circles processing as much information as possible, involving many iterations and multiple inputs of feedback (people standing over your shoulder telling you if they like it or not) and we hope that what we end up with something that hits the brief.

“Design problems are sometimes misleadingly expressed as a solution” – Bernstein 1988

Strategic design is design with meaning. Being able to thoroughly communicate the thought process that has gone into the design is extremely important, it means the brief has been read and understood and that this information has been transferred into the creative itself, it also helps to communicate the design to the rest of the team which is invaluable when explaining the design. Art doesn’t always need to have meaning and it doesn’t always need to have an explanation behind it, it just needs to evoke a reaction. It can be art for art’s sake. Working in a commercial agency environment is very different, this can be difficult at times, however, when working with global clients on highly strategic global campaigns, it’s imperative that the whole campaign links together seamlessly and becomes a strategic piece of creative work that hits the brief perfectly.

A great example of this is our recent global creative campaign for Shimano, which you can see here

Shimano required a European-wide marketing campaign to creatively communicate their Custom-Fit technology across their new SPD range. The creative had to be adaptable across road and mountain bike, as well as the entire soft and hard goods range from backpacks to eyewear. The creative template for the campaign was strategically designed to use the equity of Shimano hard goods to sell the soft goods, combine this with tailored body copy to different target markets, clear calls to actions and engaging imagery and we end up with a highly strategic creative campaign that looks great and hits the brief. It worked so well that Shimano now use the ‘made for each other’ campaign out across their entire range of cycling apparel and hardware.

The Shimano campaign not only required multiple designers, but input from account managers and the operations team. This meant that straplines, body copy and overall campaign messaging was processed multiple times and improved in an iterative process throughout the project.

We are designers / account managers / team members but most importantly, we have to be problem solvers. Its always process of trial and error, and at the end of the day, strategic design makes for better design on both a B2C and B2B level.

Upon reflection, too much emphasis on strategy does not hinder the creative output, it only strengthens it. It does increase lead-times to allow for more extensive reviewing processes as this works its way through all department scrutinising the campaign, but the value of ensuring strategy is at the forefront of every campaign, and making sure strategy is in every stage of the development, in the long run, is essentially, invaluable.