Creativity + Strategy = Success at RGD’s DesignThinkers

November 7, 2017


RGD DesignThinkers identity by Rethink


There’s no question that good design is great for business. But is good design really good enough?


Not according to Douglas Davis, founder of Brooklyn creative studio The Davis Group. He led a strategy session earlier today at RGD’s 18th annual DesignThinkers conference at the Sony Centre for Performing Arts in Toronto.


Design that affects change for clients must be rooted in strategy, says Davis. But the strategic process is useless without clear communication and mutual understanding from the get-go. “It can be difficult to deliver, especially if you misunderstand why you're in the room,” he says. “When clients ask for design but need strategy, designers don’t know strategy because they were’t taught business, and the in-house MBAs on our team weren’t taught how to inspire designers."


In his presentation, Davis covered some of the main points of his book, Creative Strategy and the Business of Design ($28, HOW Books).


Douglas Davis at DesignThinkers 


In the absence of a proper creative brief, Davis advises starting with a meeting to get all the information you can from your client. Afterward, write everything down and send it back to ensure you didn’t miss anything. Then you’ll have something to work from as you formulate the brief. Davis offers tips on creating a successful brief that will resonate with clients and the creative team alike.



Define your targets using demographics, use facts to determine the scope of the project, identify the features and benefits for the consumer, and determine the objective—what should your audience learn? As you evaluate all of your collected information, you’re likely to find common themes across the research that you can turn into your main brand takeaways. Stick to one or two key messages and pull keywords that you can use as differentiation points. “You’ll notice the benefits of weaving the business and marketing considerations into the creative process when you notice that you’re defending the work without being defensive,” notes Davis. And find the intel. “Go beyond the website,” he says. For publicly traded companies, that might mean checking out their Annual Information Forms (equivalent to a 10-K Form in the United States) where they publish relevant company info—including what they consider their risks/threats. Or use Mintel if your studio has the resources.



“A brief is meant to be a thought starter—a string of words that unlock the potential of a thousand images,” says Davis. "Question the answers you get from the start of the process." Approach all of the information you've organized by asking how each piece will benefit your ultimate task. "Your brief should be charged with emotion."



Once you get client approval, it’s time to turn your brief into work—work that's now backed by a sound strategy. “You can’t afford to stay in business unless you sell your business—that is, your process,” Davis says. “Clients will pay you for that analysis and research.”


And that process is what will separate you from other, cheaper vendors. “Let's retrain the way we listen as designers by learning the language spoken on the other side of the brain,” Davis says. “Sometimes, to have a sane process, or sound strategy...designers, you have to write or manage it yourself.”


“Let’s work with our clients and our internal teams. Think how they think, to do what we do.”


RGD DesignThinkers runs November 7 and 8 in Toronto. Rethink created the "Perspectives" identity for the Toronto conference and the Vancouver conference earlier this year. Read more about it here.


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