The design world knows no shortage of great ideas, and no real boundaries around the application of those ideas. Creativity is fluid; best practices are ever-evolving. Even slipperier is the agency world, where design successes can be unique to one client, and in some cases, non-transferrable to others. Some days, this makes those proverbial “rules of thumb” hard to nail down. On those days, well … the best design solutions are all about being in the moment and relying on your creative instincts.
To tap into those instincts, I asked PMG’s very own Creative Director, Annette Sparks, for her insights. I myself, a non-designer with a vested interest in quality design, find it difficult to make sense of the dizzying amount of “best design trends” and “biggest design mistakes” blogs that hit my inbox at the start of each year. For me, those lists don’t mean much without a little perspective. The right perspective. Annette provided just that. Here’s what she had to say:
Q: Heading into 2017, the following trends seem to be consistently mentioned. Can you share your thoughts on them?
Use of video?
A: I think this is the year that video becomes a staple, not an indulgence. I believe we’ll see video implemented to serve a wide range of marketing purposes, from practical, educational tutorials, to a channel for demonstrating thought leadership, to a means for amplifying your brand personality,
A: There are certainly instances where cool photos and illustrations may not be enough. A little movement can really enhance the user experience – as long as you’re careful not to make your design look like a visual carnival.
A: Creatively using fonts, and mixing and matching them, is an interesting trend that can add personality and grab attention. It’s also a good way to support and highlight key messages. However, it’s important to make sure those elements are well-integrated into your overall brand strategy.
Designing for specific devices?
A: With responsive design, we’ve gotten used to designing for desktop and then ensuring it will adjust and render across devices like tablets and mobile. However, desktop sites have too much content for mobile. Conversely, when websites are pared down too much for mobile, you miss out on creating the optimal desktop experience.
The ideal scenario, then, is designing for devices independently to optimize user experience. Large consumer brands have done a good job with this – and I’m now seeing this trend roll out into smaller B2B brands as well. More and more B2B companies are recognizing the value of this strategy, and are allocating their budgets to accommodate multiple designs specific to device.
Brand differentiation (balanced with modular design)?
A: In the race to redesign websites to be responsive, if often feels like we have lost our brand identities. Sites look so similar that it seems they are all using the same assortment of modular templates and plugging them together like Legos, stripping away the brand that makes them stand out and be unique. As we now become more settled in our transition to responsive design, I believe that many B2B companies will begin to apply more individuality and creativity to their design strategies, and refocus their efforts on building their brand in unique ways.
A: Real people and situations, beautifully portrayed – it’s about reaching people with things that matter. I do believe messages and images are being more geared towards humanity and the greater good. However, this is a very fine line. I expect to see this strategy trending this year, but it needs to be genuine (and not politically fueled) to truly be exceptional.
Q: You’ve been in the design world long enough to see how it’s evolved. What are some personal ways you’ve found you can stay ahead of the curve on growth/innovation?
A: There is no true method to staying ahead of the curve. It’s more like catching a wave. Innovation is about applying ideas and creative thinking. Sometimes those ideas are great and they catch; other times they fall short and you seek another wave. To me, staying ahead of the curve is about observation; being aware of what is going on around you and applying it in a way that coalesces with the creative solutions you’re seeking.
Innovation is also about taking risks. It’s about trying something new or unconventional without the fear of failure getting in the way. Technology moves fast – meaning that it’s impossible to always stay ahead of the curve. For me personally, it’s important to be solid in a few key areas. The more you really own those areas, the easier it is to be innovative and grow within them.
Q: Expanding on our last question, how do you bring growth and innovation to your clients at PMG?
A: At PMG, we constantly share the ideas that we see in the marketplace and think will work for our clients. We discuss the whys (and the why nots). Sometimes innovation is not about what you are seeing on the surface, but the ideas behind it – and frequent collaboration is one of the best ways to surface those new insights. We also base many of our decisions on data – most design innovations are rooted in data and analytics.
And then there’s HubSpot. Our platinum partnership with HubSpot, who is always at the forefront of growth and innovation for inbound marketing, keeps us fluid and receptive to advances in B2B marketing. The energy and innovation that’s engrained in the HubSpot culture definitely helps the PMG team push forward with new ideas.
Q: It seems there’s an abundance of tools for marketers these days – what are three you can’t live without?
A: For me, that’s easy. Adobe Creative Suite for design work. Trello for project production workflow. Skype for social sanity in a virtual working environment.
Q: Many B2B companies choose to outsource projects like a website redesign. What advice can you offer for them?
A: We see a lot of B2B companies approach a website redesign in a similar manner: they know they want to repackage the look of their site. Most of them have seen websites that they like and want to replicate. But it’s just as essential to consider content, usability and optimization [for search]. For example, will the existing content “fit” their desired visual style? And what about building keywords into the redesigned site?
I would encourage B2B companies to look for a partner that offers design and development capabilities, as well as content development and site optimization, all under one roof. Also, look for a partner with a range of strategic capabilities: they should be able to present multiple solutions that will fit with your business goals and budget. And that may not always mean a complete redesign.
Q: How do you handle conflict with clients?
A: As a designer, you know that everything is subjective in the eyes of the viewer. You need thick skin; you can’t always nail it the first time. I like to look for a deeper understanding of what clients are trying to convey. Often it’s hard for clients to express why they don’t like something, and their natural instinct is to try and fix it with suggested design input. These conversations are valuable – they let me get at the ideas behind what’s really bothering them – and often lead me to the best solution. It’s all part of the process. Open, honest communication is always best.
If you have questions about PMG’s website strategy, design and development, learn more right here. Or for more B2B design insights, take a peek at some of our most popular design blogs:
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