Digital Creative - are we still thinking in print?

Related Articles


Is your site’s microcopy causing you to lose revenue?


How does your website prevent and recover from errors?


Digital Creative - are we still thinking in print?

My name is Ian Flynn, I’m the head of Creative Solutions. Today, I’m going to talk to you about digital creative.

What is digital creative?

So, what do I mean by digital creative? So, I’ll tell you what I mean. I mean graphic design. Well, visual design; some people call it visual design. Web design, could be classed as web design, but then there’s coding involved, so it’s web development. That’s what I mean.

But, actually, it’s not just web, it’s app isn’t it? So, it’s app design. Which involves interaction, so actually interaction design is what I mean. But apps are actually products, so maybe it’s a product design that we’re talking about?

Actually scrap design. It’s about optimising; it’s about conversion rate optimisation, it’s understanding how people come through it, which involves user experience. So maybe user experience actually is creative. We is sometimes called customer experience, by the way, which is related to branding. It’s a big thing. Well, actually creative is advertising as well.

Okay, so basically it’s all of those things, which makes my job role a ‘visual, graphic, web, brand, interaction, product, advertising, app conversion, user and customer experience, designer/developer/optimiser. Doesn’t really roll of the tongue very well. So, for now, I’m going to call it digital creative, which is all those things smashed into one thing.

And I think it is a trend nowadays. Lots of terminologies that are coming around. Things like UX, things like conversion optimisation, which obviously have different disciplines. But ultimately, we’re trying to achieve the same thing. And in the context of this presentation, digital creative basically means the end point. It means where your customer interacts with your brand. So that could be through a phone. It could be through a watch. It could be on email. It’s that end point that we’re talking about.

We still think in print

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…creative resided on these bad boys. But not just magazines, obviously lots of different types of print. I, for one, owned one of these [Pantone Colour Book]. One of those [cutting mat]. Loads of that [spray mount]. And I think the digital pinnacle was that [Macromedia Flash Professional]. Just seeing people shiver a little bit when they see that!

I admit, it was probably about 10 years ago when I had owned all those things and used them religiously. And I used to love the kind of allure of things going to press. I liked the printers and smelling the print. All that kind of stuff. But I think it’s undeniable now that life is very different. And the things that we are designing for are very different, as you can see here.

And one thing that I’ve learned when working with companies in an agency is this methodology, and this way of working, with creative and general, is still a little dated in some aspects. And people still think in a print mentality. And I’m going to explore a few of these to kind of try to explain my point.

1. The brochure website

Firstly, the brochure website. It’s in the name really, isn’t it? Brochure.

If people don’t know what a brochure website is; a website that has pages – which is obviously another print terminology – which will have things like your services, an about us page, and a contact page, which will have a contact form. And it pretty much sums up the majority of websites around that you tend to see.

All well and good; they serve a certain purpose. And apart from having some mediocre content and the ability to contact if you want to, with contact forms that often don’t work, you think what does the website actually do? What is its purpose? I think that’s the question that we need to start asking ourselves.

So, what do I mean by things that actually do. This is an example that we’ve done for Tchibo, where it’s predominantly a content piece where we want to try and help people understand what coffee picker is right for them. So, they can choose how many people they want to cater for, what milk they want, and Tchibo will say: “Well you want this one. This is more suitable to your needs.”

It could’ve been really easy for us to put that into pages and just to put reams and reams of text and a person has to try to decipher what they want and then go to a contact form,  and say: “I want this.” But what we’re trying to do is make it very easy for them and actually get them to do something, which I think is something that a lot of people tend to miss.

And it’s going back to my previous point about apps and products. Websites and apps, they’re all becoming one thing and it’s ultimately a product. You should be designing your experience as something that you do as opposed to how something looks.

This applies to advertising as well. So, you can see billboards still exist and they’ll exist for a while yet, but why be constrained to one frame which has a photo and one headline where you can, within display and rich media, you can actually do stuff with it. And you can actually play around with it. See the content. See which one suitable for you. Obviously, this combined with programmatic, which is more tailored to your needs, means it’s very powerful because you actually gone out of your standard browsing experience, found something that’s of interest to you and you start interacting with it. And I think that’s far more powerful than just seeing a static ad which you’re likely to miss on a street corner, or whatever.

And it’s such a thing, that a lot of business models are actually basing themselves on the digital spectrum. So, Monzo’s a perfect example. It’s a bank that is built for your smart phone. So, you can go in and do everything you need to do very instantly on your smart phone. Don’t really need to talk to anyone, it’s all there for you in one click.

And I know a lot of businesses are a long way off getting to this point. I think, eventually, we all need to think that this is the end goal, because ultimately users want something quickly and instantly. And at the moment, it’s apps and phones and they need it to be able to do that instantly.

So us, as creatives, we need to stop thinking of ourselves as people putting a veneer on the front or actually thinking about us in regards to building the product. So, in the analogy of a car, we’re not just doing the paint work, we’re actually thinking about how the car works and the engine, and all that kind of stuff. So that’s one.

2. Branding guidelines

Branding guidelines is another one, which is something I’d like to delve into. Most of the branding guidelines I come across – and this one we’ve done about five or six years ago – always get sent to me in a PDF document. And they talk about logo treatments, like so; they should tell you the print colours, the MYK that you need to do and put that as priority. A lot of the examples that you see are posters and billboards, and so forth, which is fine and they need their place and they need to be shown. But a lot of brand presence nowadays is online. That’s where people see your brand. So, I argue that branding guidelines should have a priority in a digital format.

So, this is MailChimp’s UX style guide. It shows you things like typography; it shows you different buttons, and it also shows you how this relates to a CSS/HTML format. So, there’s actually much more about the digital and how it all ties in together.

Another example is Google’s material design, which is actually more of a language than anything. They’ve gone a step further, but they deal with things like colour in the aspect of digital, and interestingly motion, which shows you how they perceive their brand in regards to motion. So, how certain things animate; how when something’s clicked, how it comes up and so forth. That can’t be done with a PDF. It has to be done through something like this.

3. The sign off process

Favourite of mine, the sign off process. This is something we constantly have battle with on a day-to-day basis. How many people, or how many companies, do you think have ump-teen stake holders involved in the sign off process for something, like a page, or something like an advert? Something that you would think could get signed off within hours, takes sometimes weeks. And you have to go through a certain process, everyone has a certain opinion on things, and by the time you’ve got it to a point of sign off, the relevancy might have gone, and you might just feel a bit bored with it, and the moments passed.

So, something we really endorse within RocketMill is we need to learn to fail fast. It’s not the end of the world if you put something live and it doesn’t work in digital, because you can change it quickly. You can learn from it iteratively and you can make changes. With print, if you got it wrong, you got it wrong, went to press, there’s an error, that’s it – your head’s about to roll. With digital, you’ve got things like Hotjar; you’ve got Split testing; you’ve got all these different ways, user recordings, to understand how a user sees your creative. So, you’re not blind anymore. You’re not just going on opinion, you’re going on data. And this is a fact with onsite and also with advertising as well.

So, Bannersnack is a perfect example of a resource where you can see how things attract and you can actually get heat mapping for your ads as well, to see how people are interacting with it if they are at all. So, hopefully that should stop you from being afraid to sign off the process. I just really wanted to get that photo in cause it’s hilarious.

4. Distribution

Lastly, distribution. So, we have all been used to, within the kind of print industry, that what we tend to do is get lots of different magazines, that appeal to lots of different people, that have lots of advertising involved, which have lots of products in, and the kind of root to you getting a conversion to your advert is that you would have to hope that someone would buy your magazine, see your advert, and then go do the right thing and actually buy it. And you wouldn’t actually necessarily know that, that advert has had the attribution of you purchasing the product. So, there’s a lot of investment there and there’s a lot of risk that it won’t work.

Nowadays it’s almost gone back the other way. So, you’re focusing on people so, programmatic searches for people that are likely to like the product that you want. It’s reversing things. But we still like to think, from a creative perspective, in a blanket approach. And this is not just happening for programmatic and adverts, it’s happening onsite as well.

So, there’s lots of different tools, like Optimizely X, where what happens is they look at your location, for example, if you’re in Canada they’ll maybe put the banner as a coat. Or if you’re a certain demographic, or even the behaviour of how you’re going onsite. So, if you click on a scarf, you like the look of it, go back to the home, the whole site has changed to be suitable to scarfs. I know it’s quite crude, because it seems a bit weird having a scarf as a homepage, but I think it’s a good example of how your website learns about the behaviour that you do.

And I can see this going a step further, so the way programmatic works and you can start to see cookies, and have a lot of understanding of who you are before you even get onto websites that might know about you already. So, they can start to tailor the design and the content to you before you’ve even landed. Which poses an interesting question for creative: is static single creative, that we’ve been used to so long, and a page that looks lovely might be a thing of the past. And actually, every time someone lands on this site, it’s going to be personalised to them, so you might not ever get one creative for all people. It changes per person, which I think is a fascinating way of thinking.

How can we stop thinking in print?

So a bit of a recap. I think if you’re a company, you need to ask yourself:

    • What does your website do?
    • You need to ask yourself, is your brand digitally sound?
    • Do you do a test and learn approach, or are you taking ages to sign things off and essentially costing you guys money?
    • Is your creative personalised? So, are you doing it too broad or are you trying to get to the right people at the right places?

And if you’re working with a creative agency, or you are a creative agency, I think you need to start asking yourselves those questions. And if you’re equipped to do that from a process prospective.

If you’re a budding digital designer you need understand if you’ve got the right skill sets to do all these things. So, are you thinking about your design as product, or are you thinking about it as just a veneer? Do you have coding ability? Do you understand how things work? Because I think nowadays it’s becoming a prerequisite.

And just to finish. I’m going give you a little bit of context of how far we’ve come. In 10 years, since the days of print, like I showed you earlier:

    • iPhone 1 was launched
    • Windows Vista was launched
    • The browser of choice was Internet Explorer 7
    • Just to show you how creative has involved. Facebook looked like that!

So, if you think in 10 years that we’ve come if that’s where we are now, how far can we go in the next 10 years? That’s it.