“If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.” – Barack Obama said that. Encouraging words, aren’t they? Encouraging, but not at all accurate when it comes to the work of marketing managers. Thanks anyway, Mr President.

You see, the quote doesn’t take into consideration the impact of collaboration. As a marketing manager who works alongside IT experts, writers and, most importantly in this case, designers, you have to be prepared to let other people have an input into the work (or the ‘right path’) that you need to produce (or ‘keep walking’ down). Your will alone might not be enough to get you where you want to go, especially if the people you need to work with are heading in another direction.

You’ve hired your design team, either in-house or at an agency, because of their expertise, the quality of the work they’ve produced, and the results they’ve achieved in the past. But then comes the time when you explain to them your ideas, and what they come back with is not exactly what you had in mind; sometimes it couldn’t be further from it.

How can you, as a marketer, get more from your relationship with your designer? And how does a designer take a client brief, incorporate their professional expertise and creativity, and turn it into something that will get results? I went to the experts to find out.

Marketing managers and designers need to stay connected.

Marketing managers and designers need to stay connected.

Round one: The perpetual squabbles of personal preference

Opinions are like websites; every marketer and designer has one but, for the most part, they think each other’s stink.

It’s for this reason you should spend a sufficient amount of time finding the right design team for you – in terms of your personality, your ideas, and your business. Everyone has their own opinion, especially when it comes to the way things look, and rarely do they match-up perfectly with someone else’s. The idea, then, is to find a designer that you get on with and respect. That way, even if you disagree at first, the potential for you both to figure it out is there.

“Personal preference plays such a big role in marketing and design – it’s one of the biggest challenges,” says Vertical Leap marketing manager Michelle Hill. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that one person is right and the other wrong; it’s just that we like different things.

“The problem is that, because the designer is the professional and technically knows what works and what doesn’t, you often feel that you should go with their suggestion, even if you don’t particularly like it,” she adds. “Then you end up with stuff that you’re not passionate about.”

There’s nothing worse for a marketer than the project you’ve worked so hard on not being as good as you know it could be. One way around this predicament is to have clear and consistent communication with your designer from the off; lay all of your cards on the table right at the beginning of the design project and you’ll often find things work out much better, as our head of design Wez Maynard explains.

Hang up your gloves in favour of communication and collaboration.

Hang up your gloves in favour of communication and collaboration.

“Collaboration with a marketing team is essential, from the ideation kick-off right through to shipping over the final product. We do our best to work in this way, and usually there isn’t really any squabbling.”

Naturally, though, neither party should stay quiet if they have an issue, as this could lead to underperforming work and even resentment.

“If there’s something I feel strongly about, it would be irresponsible of me to not raise any concerns,” Wez says. “Disagreements in execution don’t tend to concern me too much and are a natural part of any digital delivery job.

“But at the end of the day, if the work is ultimately for use by a marketing team, they are the client and have final sign off. It might not always be the way I would have done it if I was producing work for myself, but I respect their opinion.”

Round two: Useless feedback and the realms of possibility

Another common bickerment between a marketer and designer is caused by something you can’t explain – quite literally. You’ve received the design from your designer, it seems to match all your requirements, and yet…it’s just not doing it for you. How can you feedback on a piece of work when, technically, there’s nothing wrong with it?

“Sometimes when a designer hands a piece of work to me and I can’t place what it is about it that I don’t like, all I can come up with is something like ‘it just doesn’t pop!’” Michelle says. “That must be hard for designers as it’s pretty useless feedback! Sometimes it’s just really difficult to explain why something doesn’t feel right or grab you.”

And what do designers think of vague feedback? I asked Jon Line, a designer here at Vertical Leap.

“Better communication is key. A design is never going to look like someone wants it to if their only feedback is ‘Make it POP!’” Jon replies, sticking a proverbial tongue out in defence of all designers. “If the client isn’t satisfied but they can’t explain why, we’ll try our best to get to the root of the issue and produce an alternative that hopefully hits the nail on the head.”

Then there are the times when, as a marketer, you’ve come up with an idea but you haven’t checked whether it’s realistically possible. After all, when Da Vinci scribbled his drawing of a helicopter, he didn’t have to worry about how he was going to go about building a prototype.

Da Vinci's helicopter.

Da Vinci’s helicopter.

“Us marketers see things on other peoples’ websites and say ‘Why can’t I have it like that? They have managed it so why can’t we?’” Michelle explains. “But that’s not necessarily fair on the designer. It’s all dependent on time and budget – the thing you’ve seen elsewhere might have taken a year to develop.

“I think most marketers are guilty of this, so perhaps we need a better understanding of how long things take. For example, we might ask for something to be changed on a homepage (which is in hardcode) but don’t always appreciate the work that might have to go into it, or the knock-on effects of making that change.”

While occasionally frustrating, you shouldn’t let that stop you from bringing new ideas and improvements to your designer; just be aware that it could sometimes be tricky.

“If a marketing department needs to act quickly, or if they’ve forgotten to action something, they may push the design team for a faster turnaround. In my position, managing a workload sometimes months in advance, this can be a delicate process,” Wez notes.

“I insist on having everything documented in a project management system, which allows both me and my clients to keep an eye on everything and make sure we schedule everything to be delivered in good time.”

Round three: Negotiation, compromise, and the good, the bad and the ugly

"You see, in this world there's two kinds of people, my friend: Those with design skills, and those who don't. You don't."

“You see, in this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend: Those who do marketing, and those who design. You do marketing.”

Some people relish confrontation, while others shy from it. However, a strange thing happens when marketers and designers go to battle – even the shiest turn into Braveheart. While opinions over what’s good, bad and ugly in a piece of work can get a little heated at times, sharing them is absolutely the right thing to do.

“When clients come to me with amends, I try my best to explain why I’ve done something a certain way,” says Ryan Jones, another of our designers. “I’ll stick to my guns if it’s for the good of the work I’m producing. But if the points raised are valid, designers should never throw their toys out of the pram – you should see what you can do to compromise.”

The important thing for both parties to remember is that this is a working relationship; as marketers you know what you want, but as professional designers, they know how to achieve it.

“Design, like most other industries, has a set of rules that govern it,” Jon explains. “So being able to explain the reasoning behind a design decision, that has a solid rule behind it, is invaluable in the negotiating process.

“That being said, even if the work has the potential to surpass expectations, if a marketer is not passionate about what you hand over, it’s hard to get those results.”

Indeed, marketers too should be willing to go to battle to get something they’re passionate about. As Michelle outlines, knowing when to do this might be the key to a fruitful marketer-designer relationship.

“I’ve learned over the years to pick my battles with designers,” she says. “If it’s something that I absolutely think is going to make a difference to my campaign, then I’ll pursue it staunchly.

“But if I ask myself ‘Is this a deal breaker?’ and the answer is no, then I’ll let it go. The designer can win that round – I’ll save my energy for another time when the answer to the deal breaker question is yes.”

What’s the most important lesson here?

So, after three rounds of barbaric and bruising marketing/design nitpicking, what should both take away from this article? What’s the key to a healthy working relationship in which both marketers and designers can go to battle but live in harmony?

“In my opinion, it’s to try and see things from the other person’s point of view,” Michelle says. “Just because a piece of design doesn’t instantly grab you or you’re not 100 per cent passionate about it, it doesn’t mean that it won’t work. The real question is: have you hired the right design team for you? Because if you have, often these issues will never arise.”

And for designers? We’ll leave the last word to Wez.

“All great designers know that they have a job to do – the more passionate a client is about their business, the more excitement we can bring to a project. But the most important thing for us is to find the balance between taking the bull by the horns and overstepping the mark. Ultimately, it’s the client who has final sign off – designers must respect that.”

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