Trends and Insight in association withSynapse Virtual Production

Command, Shift, Design - Resetting Our Relationship with Design in Advertising

Advertising Agency
London, UK
RAPP's Hiten Bhatt on a new programme aiming to disrupt our understanding of strategic design thinking

‘Up a bit, down a bit, left a bit, right a bit’. If you’re a designer in the advertising industry you’ve probably experienced comments like this. Annoying, right? 

There isn’t a ‘design button’ which can create design on demand and despite most creative teams and studios using Macs and similar software, design is not their core talent or indeed role.

To create the best work, design needs to be at the core of the brief and solution. Good design is good problem solving, and you can only do that if you’re involved from the outset.

When I first discovered graphic design, I was inspired by Josef Müller-Brockmann, Massimo Vignelli and Ian Anderson from The Designers Republic. Their aesthetic was bold, symbolic and beautiful - but it was their scientific approach to visual communication that excited me most. It was strategic, multi-layered and communicated powerful ideas without explanation.

However, early on into my agency career I felt a disconnect between what inspired me and what was happening at the coal face. Designers were part of production and not given the opportunity to think conceptually and solve problems.

As the Internet exploded in the first few years of my career, Apple products in particular brought about a design renaissance to the masses. We were all exposed to good design every day – it became intuitive. Design within integrated agencies began to evolve, it offered breadth and depth with multiple specialisms. The graphic design and typography that's so familiar was now being joined by interface design, experiential design, data visualisation, 3D, motion graphics and product design.

For me, product design shone the brightest light on how design is instrumental to the solution. The Nike+ Run Club app is a brilliant example of agencies using design to create ownable products for their clients. The goal was to create a tool that gets you running by putting the individual runners’ health in focus. They not only created a community of motivated runners but also significantly increased Nike sales.

Furthermore, a recent McKinsey study which looked at ‘The business value of design’ over a five-year period found that organisations that put design at their centre are more profitable. 

At RAPP our coders, copywriters and strategists collaborate with designers to create toolkits of pre-built content modules. As a result, we can create hyper-targeted CRM campaigns at speed while maintaining a premium level of design. And as we add AI into this equation, we’ll be able to create even more relevant and compelling marketing.

And I’m pleased to say it’s not only us. High-end design representation within creative departments and the board room is on the rise. Both McKinsey and IBM have recently made senior-level design appointments, ad agencies are buying out design consultancies (AKQA bought Universal Design Studio and Map Project Office) and higher education is being reformed too with design firmly in the curriculum.

Whilst the industry is making great progress there is still so much more to do. In response, I’ve created a design initiative with The DMA Campaign for Great British Creativity called ‘Command Shift Design’. Inspired by the naive attitudes to design where designers use a series of keyboard shortcuts to create design on demand, the workshops spin this idea into something more positive - by creating shortcuts to understanding why design must become part of the solution from the very beginning. 

‘Command Shift Design’ aims to disrupt our understanding of strategic design thinking. I’d like each designer who attends to feel like they’re making a positive contribution to our industry and inspire them to always chase the best work. The design process is fundamental to the client solution and through better collaboration across the agency, design is starting to have its rightful place at the top table.

Hiten Bhatt is creative director of design at RAPP

To book your free ticket for Command Shift Design, click here

Work from RAPP
Long Story
The Life Saving One
Ann Summers