Unsworth Shepherd

Lessons from the intersection of design and advertising.

Advertising and design can be fractious cousins, with the relationship between the two and how they overlap varying from studio to studio. But there are valuable lessons to be learned in the space where the two fields intersect.

I’ve worked as a writer for both design studios and advertising agencies. Richard Unsworth and John Shepherd, partners in Unsworth Shepherd, have worked across that intersection too. We sat down in their Herne Bay studio to compare notes.

Unsworth started with London agency Cake, “one of the first agencies doing experiential events and telling brands that they needed to entertain people.” Having the end user at such close proximity impacted on the way the agency worked. “It was always a bit looser, faster, responding to how the market was responding to products coming through.”

Shepherd’s introduction to advertising was at Auckland’s Meares Taine, where the idea and the craft were sacrosanct. “Everything flowed from the idea. And visually, everything was done by hand; you’d take these really cool hand sketched things to the Mac Ops and art direct them.”

We try and tease out the key differences between the two fields. Pace seems the most obvious. As the voice of marketing, advertising is often driven by significant time pressures, especially when a brief’s objectives are tactical wins. A design brief is often looking to provide an enduring solution, so more time can be taken.

Shepherd has had his share of fast-paced advertising briefs, during his time at a retail-focused agency. I ask him how that rapid turnaround impacted on his way of working. “We made really fast decisions, without much time for disciplined design and strategy, based on what we knew to be true at the time. You make a wrong decision, you’ve got two weeks of it being wrong and then you try the next thing.”

I’ve also seen a difference in how creatives relate to clients; in advertising they are often quite insulated, with account service acting as a go between. Their focus is ideas, not the client’s business. Whereas in design, that relationship is often more direct, which can give deeper business insights.

Unsworth agrees. “With the size of our business, there is no hand off; us convincing the client and then handing off to someone else to do the work so the connection gets lost. We are personally engaged in the entire process all the way through.”

I ask whether they think clients in general understand the value of design and craft, the value of taking more time up front instead of just rushing into rolling out communication.

“That’s such a good question,” says Shepherd. “I like to think we’ve become way better at describing why what we do is of value to their business, at a much more senior level. We can have an upfront conversation about resolving a whole bunch of comms problems, while making it clear that design plays a massive part in that.”

“We’re able to talk to them more about what they actually need to get out of it,” adds Unsworth. “That lays this path for the rest of the business.”

Arguably, designers have the potential for a much broader remit with clients that advertising agencies; design can have a place in a client’s built environment, their customer experience journey, and how they speak to a broad range of stakeholders.

“That,” says Shepherd, “is where the value of our experience comes in. Even if the client is approaching us with tactical challenges, we’re not going in and saying we are going to create design work for you that plugs into there, there and there. We come back with one big solution that encompasses everything.”  

It’s one of the benefits of understanding where advertising and design intersect; the ability to offer a more holistic solution, with authority.

So what can the two fields learn from each other? Shepherd believes advertising can learn from the rigor with which designers explore the wider needs of a client, to ensure the longevity of their thinking and storytelling.

As for designers, they can learn “to be bolder - develop brand thoughts that are deeper and broader. Clients react so positively and have more ownership of a thought that spans all communication, brand behaviour and can become campaignable.” Unsworth sees the important thing to be learned from design is about recognising ideas for what they are: “Don’t confuse a short term campaign idea for a long term design solution.” And advertising’s lesson to design? “To have the confidence to fail, adapt, bounce back and succeed.”

UnsworthShepherd are an Auckland-based creative studio. Find out more about them at www.unsworthshepherd.com

DINZ Interviews

When the opportunity arises, DINZ interviews leading designers from here and overseas. These interviews seek to dig beneath the surface to address the common and uncommon challenges, problems and opportunities the design community faces.