This week Michael Ian Kaye, the creative director and partner of Mother New York and Thomas Kemeny explain what design and advertising could and should be learning from each other. As ever you can add your thoughts using the thread below…
Design is an iterative process and in the many iterations of recreating myself as a designer, I somehow found myself at an ad agency.
My first gig out of school was at a book publisher designing insides and eventually covers. A book cover served the higher purpose of literature, but also offered the opportunity to bring great design to the masses. Oddly, in some ways book covers were my first ads. They had to be illustrative and reductive, conveying a simple message with strong conceptual underpinnings.
Since then I’ve cautiously inched my design background deep into the branding world. I now run the design group at Mother New York, a company known for advertising.
I know I’m supposed to think an impossible rift exists between advertising and design, but in many ways we are similar. We both seek to create objects of meaning, we desire to be culturally relevant and we want people to see and appreciate what we do. The tension comes from a misunderstanding in our approach to achieving this goal.
Advertising offered me the opportunity to elevate the broader visual vocabulary and consciousness of aesthetics to a greater number of people. Advertising’s scale and reach gives it an implied importance, even when it doesn’t deserve it. Without reach, design runs the risk of getting smaller and smaller, talking only to a select group and becoming increasingly insulated and isolated.
“We both seek to create objects of meaning, we desire to be culturally relevant and we want people to see and appreciate what we do. The tension comes from a misunderstanding in our approach to achieving this goal.”
Michael Ian Kaye and Thomas Kemeny
As designers we are trained in creating enduring objects. Design to us is a process of distilling something down to its core essence. It’s not an end result. Not a thing you can copy and paste. Not a “pretty” filter in Photoshop. The process of design is what designers bring to advertising, especially when brought into projects early on. It’s a way of approaching advertising and communications with a sense of permanence. It’s a way of making the brand and the product one and the same.
Advertising tends to aim for disruption and temporal meaning. It can live on, but its purpose is to drive action in the moment, with permanence praised in hindsight rather than as an intended goal. Design can help the disruptive advertising story fit comfortably with the product story. Without it, work runs the risk of feeling tangential, fluffy or superficial.
Design begins with opening every door to see where an idea fits. It’s knowing what’s to the left, what’s to the right and what’s behind and ahead, giving firm grounding of where you are standing. It’s about setting the spectrum you want to explore in range and mood.
Advertising sees fitting in as failure. You look to the unknown for ideas. You search inward rather than outward for context. You try and stretch as far from the category and product as possible while still being connected. It is less about exploring all the different doors and where they lead and more about finding ones that can serve the function you need now.
Advertising is fleeting. It moves and inspires action in the moment, then changes. It shocks and surprises. It’s visceral. Design creates objects that are enduring. They can live on forever, adapting and evolving from their roots. Design codifies and clarifies. It’s meticulous. Advertising is far-reaching. Design is intimate and close.
“We exist in overlapping worlds, yet we often lack regard for each other, perhaps because we’re measuring the other by our own values. Yet without these differences design would stay small and breakthrough advertising could feel hollow.”
Michael Ian Kaye and Thomas Kemeny
Designers at their worst see advertising as corporate flash that is below them, attempting to bury the advertising idea in the aesthetic. At their best, designers seek to become part of the ideating process and provide longevity.
Advertising creatives at their worst see design as icing on the idea, bringing designers in at the end of the process to make things pretty. At their best, creatives see designers as collaborators that can bring depth and integrity to the work, knowing that a tight design connection gives the opportunity to stretch further conceptually.
We exist in overlapping worlds, yet we often lack regard for each other, perhaps because we’re measuring the other by our own values. Yet without these differences design would stay small and breakthrough advertising could feel hollow.
We will never be the same department – nor should we be. But sharing a roof puts the opposing viewpoint at our disposal, tempering an arrogant extremism and letting us focus where our passions lie.
Advertising paired with design offers broad exposure to something significant, pinning a lasting ideal in a single moment. It’s a beautiful partnership. Together, we can bring thoughtful design to the masses and turn ads into lasting objects of value.
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