Design Best Practices

Crossing the Web Design – Content Creation Divide

By Ashley Taylor Anderson August 18, 2015

Let’s be real for a minute. If you’re a web designer, you’ve probably thought something like this before.

“I spent a whole week on this design, but the stupid copy that marketing provided is making it look like crap. Why can’t they just change the content to work with my creative vision?”

Before you get all smug, marketers, you’re not off the hook. I’m pretty sure you’ve grumbled something like this to yourself at some point:

“This design totally isn’t working with my content, and now I have to change my messaging and approach to fit this stupid layout. Why can’t they just redo their creative to work with my copy?”

I’ve seen this type of thinking happen way too often. Marketing and Design start out as besties, but before long, they end up on opposite sides of a gaping chasm that seems impossible to cross.

Why does this happen? And how can we stop these kinds of arguments from derailing our content creation process? I’ll tackle the answer to both questions in this article.

What Creates Rifts Between Marketing and Design?

Rifts between marketers and designers

Marketers care about what’s being communicated to clients and prospects. Designers care about making that content look great and easy to navigate. Both groups of people care deeply about the end user experience. So why do big scary chasms form between us when we’re trying to achieve the same goals?

There are probably a hundred different reasons, depending on the company you work for, the types of content you produce, and the individual members who make up your teams. Here are 4 of the common reasons I’ve encountered firsthand:

1. Working in Silos

I’ve found that for the best results, design and authoring should happen in tandem. But all too often, design works on wireframes and comps in isolation, with no clear idea what the content will be. Meanwhile, marketing is off writing content that in no way reflects any of the ideas that design is implementing. Both teams feel as though they’re working at cross purposes, and this causes a rift over time.

An alternative, equally dysfunctional workflow starts with marketing writing a bunch of content and then throwing it over the fence to their design team. A good designer can take this content and make it presentable. A great designer will find this process to be completely uninspiring. After all, they’re not really involved in the initial creative process—they’re just handed a finished product and asked to ”make it pretty.” This is why marketing designers tend to burn out quickly and jump from job to job looking for greener pastures.

2. Changing Scope or Vision

I’ve seen this issue open rifts between design and marketing teams more than a few times. Here’s how it usually happens:

  • Marketing and design sit down and have a meeting to discuss a project.
  • They agree upon creative and functional requirements.
  • Design goes away and completes a wireframe.
  • Design and marketing agree on a wireframe with some modifications.
  • Design presents comps to marketing.
  • Marketing comes back and completely changes the scope and vision of the project.
  • Designers be like:Seriously meme

 

No one likes to see their work scrapped, but it’s even worse if you’ve done work that meets all the requirements you initially agreed upon—only to have the requirements change completely. Sometimes, these last-minute changes are unavoidable due to a company pivot or larger strategy change. More often, these shifts happen because of a totally avoidable change in an individual team member’s personal preference.

3. Communicating Ineffectively

Both marketers and designers struggle to “speak each other’s language,” to use a trite metaphor. I’ve watched a number of marketers shoot down designs without being able to clearly articulate what about the design they don’t like. (Protip: Just saying “I don’t like it” is not going to win you any points with your creative team.)

Likewise, I’ve seen designers completely ignore content during their design process without being able to explain their challenges. (Protip: Saying “I couldn’t find a way to illustrate your concept, so I decided to go in a different direction” is not going to win you any points with your writers.)

We never struggle with saying we don’t like something. We’re just not very good at saying why we don’t like something and what the alternative might be.

4. Disregarding Vocational Expertise

After the point I just made, you’d think that marketers and designers would admit that they’re not experts in each other’s fields and defer to one another’s opinions when it comes to creative matters. However, that tends to be the exception rather than the rule. Even as marketers and designers struggle to articulate their concerns to each other, they often act as though they know just as much about the other’s area of expertise.

For example, I’ve sat in meetings where the head of marketing, who had never taken a design or UX class in his life, completely reamed the skills of one of our UX designers. Likewise, I’ve been in meetings where designers who haven’t taken an English class since high school mocked the writing skills of their content providers.

This kind of criticism is totally counterproductive, not to mention demeaning. With this kind of “I know as much as you do” mentality, we completely discount the formal training, aptitude, and experience that our peers bring to the table in their respective roles.

How Do We Get Marketers and Designers Back on the Same Side?

Reparation

Now you may be feeling somewhat discouraged (or, if you’ve experienced any of the issues above, kinda pissed off). But there is hope, my friends. We can cross the divide between marketing and design and ensure that we work together better in the future. Here are 3 ways to repair the rift between our teams.

1. Work Together Iteratively

This strategy requires that both teams adjust their workflows to allow for collaboration at every step of the way. This collaboration is non-negotiable if you want to keep a good working relationship between teams—and produce better content while you’re at it.

The process we use here at Ceros goes something like this:

  • We complete a creative brief together, discussing the objectives, success metrics, and theme for the project.
  • Marketing creates a rough outline of what the narrative framework will be.
  • Design explores some visual ideas and puts together a basic wireframe.
  • Marketing and design iterate on the visual theme and format while discussing supporting graphics and media.
  • Marketing finalizes the copy with design input.
  • Design sources images, videos, audio, and other media with marketing input.
  • Design builds the final piece and marketing reviews.

For those of you with an agency background, this may seem familiar. For those of you who come from other industries, this may sound super complicated and time consuming. It’s not! Trust me: This kind of back-and-forth dialog makes the process go much more smoothly and quickly for everyone involved.

2. Focus on Your Shared Goals

Rather than trying to focus on who’s “right” or whose opinion matters most, marketers and designers should rally around shared goals such as telling more compelling stories, educating your audience, and creating a more consistent brand experience. Keeping these goals in mind at all times will help you frame your conversations in more productive ways and keep sight of the things that really matter.

Okay, so maybe your VP of marketing hates the color purple. Do your clients? If not, then make like Elsa and let it go. And sure, maybe your art director has a special place in hell for people who use the word “synergy,” but if your clients use corporate speak, roll with it. Your content is speaking to them, not to your internal team.

3. Be Respectful

Making good content is hard, even when your teams work well together. Being snarky to each other when opinions differ is only going to make the process harder. Naturally, people aren’t going to agree on a creative concept or execution 100% of the time. But we don’t have to be jerks when expressing objections to our colleagues. Good teamwork is all about R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

The Bottom Line

It’s important to remember that marketers and designers are on the same side. We bring different skills to the table and have our own areas of expertise. Together, we can create truly amazing content and have fun while doing it. Divided, we create mediocre content and have a miserable time. Let’s agree to bridge the divide and start working together collaboratively and considerately.

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