Holistic ThinkingLet’s be honest, most people hate advertising. We are so overwhelmed with ads these days that we’ve learned to tune them out and distrust almost everything that advertisers tell us. Most ads get glossed over and forgotten—only to be replaced by even more lackluster ads a week later. While a very high percentage of ads fall into that category, every once in a while there’s an ad campaign that generates buzz—that gets people excited about a brand experience. Behind each one of those successful ad campaigns there was a designer, or more likely a team of designers, that thought beyond the design.

How do they do it you ask? Successful designers are able to step away from their assignment and think holistically about the customer experience they are tasked with creating. They focus less on the object/product they are selling and more on the story they are telling. Let’s face it—great designers are great storytellers. They design for people, not for beauty—putting themselves in the shoes of the customer and identifying their emotions, needs and potential reactions. But, as all designers know, that’s much easier said than done. Herein lies the problem: most designers get caught up with an individual design execution and never take a step back to look at the big picture of how the design fits into the larger whole. Thus, they fail at understanding the customer experience because they shy away from the purpose and emotion of the design, which is at the heart of all successful ad campaigns.

How can designers think beyond the design? I’ve found that the solution to this problem is to constantly question and try to understand the context around what you’re doing. While it’s easy to just put on your headphones, zone out and create a pretty design, it takes a much higher level of conceptual thinking to achieve success. To start, a designer must first define the customer—research and understand who they are and how they might interact with the product and design. Designers must identify and define the problem that they are solving. They have to establish an emotional connection immediately; otherwise, the consumer will loose interest within a matter of seconds. The key is to consider how the project fits in to the larger whole of the brand and becomes an interconnected part of something bigger. Designers that are able to keep that mind throughout the design process are better equipped to create a great design and ultimately an engaging customer experience.

In the end, designers must be able to listen, let go, observe, engage, learn, and evolve. They must balance art with functionality and usability and constantly strive to understand the customer that they are ultimately trying to reach. It all comes down to taking a step back from a design, and thinking about the bigger picture. Advertising is more than design—it’s an experience that is a never-ending journey of discovery.