A good designer will lead you to the prize

The relationship between marketers and designers is not always a natural fit, but, if nurtured, can bring creative and commercial greatness, writes Mhairi McEwan.

A good designer will lead you to the prize

As marketers, we usually have a clear vision of how best to position our brand, proposition or service. Yet the way in which our vision comes to life depends in no small part on the relationship we have with our agencies and, in particular, our ability to inspire our design partners.

Marketers and designers don’t always find it easy to communicate their needs and ideas to each other. They might not even share the same mind-set, or, in global teams, the same language or culture, thereby risking miscommunication.

However, getting under the skin of people and understanding what motivates them is an essential skill for marketers. So, by making real effort to get into the head of designers and working out how best to engage, ­inspire and collaborate with them, great things can happen.

Here are three practical tips for making the most of the ­marketer/designer partnership.

Create a connection

Be overt about wanting to invest in your relationship, and show you respect and understand the value the designer brings from their different perspectives and capabilities. Enjoy and learn from the natural optimism and enthusiasm that almost every designer ­possesses. A marketer might worry that a problem is insurmountable, whereas a designer will rarely see it as such. They notice things that other people don’t, which could lead to something as ­inspired as the Nike Air Max packaging, where the standard shoebox was replaced by a clear plastic bubble.

Watch your language

The clarity of your briefing is fundamental – more words never make for a better brief. A marketer might think that they are being clear when using words such as "contemporary" or "cool", but these are always open to interpretation. Remember that designers might view the world in terms of gradient, texture and emotional resonance, and see value in a perfectly bevelled corner.

Find common ground, such as an evocative 3D board where the aim should be inspiration, focus and a springboard, not a straitjacket. Marketing insight and design genius came together beautifully for the Baileys bottle redesign this year. It looked ­superb and was informed by the insight that women prefer to drink Baileys chilled – the new slimmed-down bottle fits neatly in the fridge door.

Be open

Designers are naturally keen to push boundaries. They want to go to places marketers might find uncomfortable, but it’s important to share the journey. They can break taboos of which marketers might not be aware – such as the advice to remove all visible branding, which is what Levi’s and Marmite,  among others, did as part of Selfridges’ "No Noise" campaign.

A great designer will ask questions marketers wouldn’t even have thought to ask. Be open to experimentation and trust the designer to guide you. Innovation doesn’t come from incremental tweaks, so be prepared to leap into the unknown.

A creative solution that brings a marketer’s vision to life in tangible form, with all the richness and texture that designers can offer, is an inspirational and rewarding experience – and can be a commercially successful enterprise.