DIGITAL DESIGN GOES AGILE
By Diane Domeyer
From staffing to strategy, a new survey highlights the challenges creatives face as they trailblaze in digital. And a few creative leaders tell us how they’re innovating despite the roadblocks.
Today, it seems like every company wants to be more like a startup. Fast. Smart. Tech-savvy. Innovative. This mentality puts a lot of pressure on creative teams.
Designers now work on digital initiatives ranging from websites and online ad campaigns to promotional emails and mobile apps. These projects require new and ever-changing hard skills and the ability to collaborate with a host of players — from developers and quality assurance testers to marketing professionals. Delivering on digital can be an especially tall order when you don’t have the resources — from large staffs and generous budgets to digital-savvy leadership — of a well-funded tech company.
At The Creative Group, we wanted to find out how organizations are addressing these challenges as they attempt to keep up with digital trends and offer effective solutions to internal clients.
We partnered with AIGA, the professional association for design, and Graphic Design USA to conduct a brand-new creative and marketing benchmarking survey of nearly 600 industry practitioners with hiring authority. We also reached out to leaders at companies like IBM, A+E Networks and others to find out the real-world stories behind the statistics.
Following is a preview of the research, which will be available in full later this year.
Mastering digital marketing is now table stakes for business success, but many creative teams find themselves dealt a bad hand. Our survey takers told us they struggle with inadequate staffing levels, skills gaps and tight budgets. Creatives and marketers also said a lack of savvy among digital marketing leadership is preventing them from developing better strategies in this space.
No surprise, most professionals in our survey feel there’s room for improvement when it comes to digital marketing. More than half (55 percent) rated their organization’s efforts as fair or poor. In contrast, less than eight percent said their company is doing an excellent job. Many respondents cited a lack of collaboration between the IT department and creative and marketing teams as a big barrier to success. If you’ve ever had to partner with technology professionals in your organization, you can probably relate.
Feeling overwhelmed at work? You’re not alone. Seven in 10 creative professionals reported their department is understaffed. While many companies recognize they need to hire people who can support digital initiatives, recruiting and retaining talent well-versed in the latest platforms and strategies is tough.
In fact, 71 percent of survey respondents said it’s difficult to find professionals with digital expertise. What skills are most needed? According to our survey, creative and marketing teams seek individuals with data analysis, web and user experience design, content creation and marketing, and search engine marketing proficiency.
Organizing for Change
Some creative teams are taking a page straight out of the Silicon Valley playbook to overhaul how they handle digital initiatives, and that page is entitled “Agile methodology.” Agile is a philosophy that emphasizes a set of core principles, such as self-organizing (and often cross-disciplinary) teams, collaboration, continuous delivery, and understanding and responding to change. It enables fast-paced experimentation and iteration on a day-to-day basis.
While agile has long been a popular approach for software-development teams, the concept is still quite new to many creatives. But it’s catching on.
“The agile process has dramatically changed how creatives work,” says J. Dontrese Brown, chief creative officer of J. Dontrese Creative and former director of Brand Creative-Bank at Capital One. “From a product standpoint, people just want to go to market. They want to see stuff work or fail. Get the metrics. Re-do it again. And test.”
The Agile Org Chart
Agile can also help address a challenge all creatives face: ongoing and often sudden shifts in direction. “It’s perpetual evolution over here,” says Bob Calvano, vice president of Design at A+E Networks. “The industry changes so fast, you have to have a team where the mindset is very open to change, transition and continuous learning.”
Calvano joined the company over three years ago as part of a re-organization. Designers went from working as a group on one brand to becoming a centralized design team on the digital side of the business that reports up to Calvano. On a day-to-day basis, though, the designers work on agile-focused product teams that include developers, quality assurance professionals and product owners.
This squad or team set-up is one that Carol Smith, senior design manager at Watson, IBM, recognizes from many different agile work environments. She’s often seen designers reporting to designers, developers to developers, and so on — but they’re collaborating daily and reporting to a team lead for those projects, too. “Making agile teams work is definitely not easy,” she says. “Ideally, the teams are driving their own work and working very independently.”
At IBM, there are shared agile coaches that help teams identify potential issues and outline processes that work for each group.
The core idea is to have small, focused, empowered teams that can move quickly to build, test and iterate based on real-world feedback. Agile can also break down silos between groups, such as designers and developers. “The idea of agile is that you adjust and change,” Smith says. “It creates cognitive dissonance for a lot of people. We’re going to solve a problem; now go figure it out. It feels very new and strange and uncomfortable. It demands the same creativity and problem-solving skills most professionals in the design world already bring to the table — just applied in a different way.”
Want to learn more about how creative teams are tackling digital? Subscribe to The Creative Group blog at blog.creativegroup.com to be notified when the full research is available later this year or follow me on Twitter at @DianeDomeyer.
Diane Domeyer is Executive Director of The Creative Group, a specialized staffing service placing interactive, design, marketing, advertising and public relations professionals with a variety of firms. For more information, visit roberthalf.com/creativegroup