Like Rodney Dangerfield, “Design gets No Respect”.”
The other day I stopped in at the lone Chilli’s restaurant in the Greater Toronto area - a shame if I do say so because, if ever a chain of casual dining restaurants should exist, Chilli’s should definitely be short-listed.
Nonetheless, one is aware that, when taking the chance to eat in such an establishment, there is a strong possibility that the 18 year-old who will be serving you will border on depression and demonstrate an utter lack of motivation at what is loosely referred to today as “service”.
To my surprise, I met the most articulate, polite and attentive waiter I could have asked for. He was so well-spoken that in the shallow recesses of my mind, I began to imagine how this fellow would deport himself as an account man in our agency. With that thought in mind, I inquired what his life looked like outside of a Chilli’s apron.
He (in an effort to protect the innocent, I’ll call him Burt) told me that he was a university student majoring in English and that he worked part-time for his uncle who ran a fairly successful accounting practice with a number of big-name accounts. I asked what he did for his uncle and he broke my heart when he said that he was building a website for him…
And there you have it. I asked Burt if he had any experience building websites and, of course, the answer was no. It saddens - and sickens - me to see professional, established and bonafide businesses think so little of the design/marketing profession that they would ask their young nephew to slap together a website for them as though the key requirement to being capable of delivering an effective and “on-brand” web presence is being young.
What is this mentality that pervades the business community that design requires no actual acumen but is merely within the realm of any young person who needs something to do? How did we get here? And more importantly, how do we get from here to a place where professionals and rank amateurs in the marketing community are properly segregated as is the case in nearly every other profession? Really, in which other profession can people claim expertise simply by having a software bundle? Hey mom! I bought a set of law books, I’m a lawyer!
Marketing matters! Is it people like Burt, or his uncle, who are dragging this industry into the toilet? Can I truly blame Burt, the starving college student who is simply trying to make ends meet? No, we - the marketing professionals - must blame ourselves. Turn left or right and you’ll find so-called schools pumping our graduates after 18-months/2-years with a diploma. Look ma! I’m a designer! No, you’re not. You’re a disgrace.
Understand, while design involves art, art is not design. While art is ultimately introspective and absorbed with getting in touch with the inner self, whether others accept it or not, design for professional purposes must engage a wider audience as a matter of necessity, based on a fine balance of subjective as well as objective factors. The ability to craft compelling visual messaging, whether online or in print, is a multi-pronged effort involving a critical understanding of the marketing problem, the market, the need for literary (copy) communication that will speak to the needs of the consumer as well as a creative execution to the design. And really, do we honestly think that all designers are created equally? Most suck, which is what allows organizations to figure they can get the standard lack of quality from anyone, and not spend too much money. If the quality of work out there was higher, it’d be more difficult for hacks to compete.
Designers should leave a 4-year institution - for design - and begin working in a meritus environment that will allow them to grow as professionals over years of service.
As an agency executive, I must take a stand: while there are truly qualified professionals out there, there are far too many hacks - and organizations willing to hire them on the cheap - who together are ruining this industry. It’d be great if we could somehow hold them accountable, but in this free market, people are free to do what they want to do. One thing I can do is speak out for the professional marketing industry and champion the minimum standards of capability we hope to offer clients who understand the difference between price and value, and care enough about their business to choose the latter.
Meanwhile, Burt’s story ruined my supper.
Dean Lloyd is the Angriest Marketer in the country and is Principal of Verb Strategy & Creative in Toronto, Canada, is also co-founder of Cornucopia (The Association of Ethnically Diverse Marketing & Communications Professionals) and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.