"Design is a function of marketing"

I have been brought into the marketing leadership team at my place of employment. It’s good to see the marketing side of the business and the role design plays in that side of the business.

An interesting statement has been made a few times at the meeting though and that is that “design and R&D are functions of marketing”.

I understand the sentiment, but I think it is perhaps simplifying design a bit. I think design is an entity which is tied in with many functions of a business. Manufacture, business strategy, marketing, sales, logistics, procurement.

What are people’s thoughts on this? Do you think design is simply a function of marketing?

Depends on the company. It could be true at that place. With a lot of my office’s current clients the main point of contact is a marketing-type role, trying to reach and sell products to as wide an audience as possible. Their marketing initiatives include brand story and strategy which can often inform everything from the kinds of products they make, to the actual formal design elements.

At a previous place of work design was firmly in the engineering/R&D ‘silo’ and while marketing used design in advertising, web, print they had their own staff and we often didn’t compare notes on what we were trying to accomplish, beyond bringing in the graphic designers late in the project to apply logos in a tasteful way.

Certainly can be.

But first let’s define it as the upstream marketing, charged to do customer research. Not the downstream marketing, charged to develop the sales materials. Yes there should be a smooth transition between the upstream and downstream, but let’s look at them separately for the time being.

In many places, marketing is charged with discovering the voice of the customer and in that case, most definitely design is a function of marketing because ultimately, design is a function of the customer. All design does is provide solutions to the problems of the customer. Quite frankly, we are their bitch.

Blunt, and to the point, but the key statement here is providing solutions to the problems of the customer, and not developing solutions from the customer. As iab puts it we are essentially the customer’s “bitch”, however I’ve worked with a fair share of marketing types that basically treat designers as such because, by their own definition they know the problems (and quite often jump to solutions) better than a designer might because the research function is not part of our “job”. I think this stems from the silo effect. Granted, in many cases a designer’s research and the resulting output/input of it differs from what marketers provide, but I believe both kinds of research is important. Where I’ve struggled with this is that my research leans towards qualitative and theirs leans more towards quantitative, and qualitative research can be more difficult to articulate to stakeholders in some cases, or is easier to dismiss.

So, the question inside the statement “Design is a function of marketing” to me is, does marketing hand off pre-determined solutions to the designer? Or is the problem statement presented to design such that they can be leveraged to find solutions? If it is the former, then marketing does not understand the function of design and they are defining it on their own terms, this is bad.

Yes, this describes the ideal working relationship with marketing groups - leaning on them to provide context for finances, customers profile, some foundation to work off, and then ‘trusting’ design to use that context and in some cases challenge it, in order to go places the marketing group couldn’t get by themselves. This is an enormous struggle.

The person who made the statement is a self confessed “non-creative person”, and I respect him for saying that. I can see how his view has been formed from a sales and marketing perspective. “Design” and “Designers” facilitate sales through perceived increased quality, style and value.

I agree that designers are there to provide what the customer wants/needs, but further to this I think design is there to facilitate the unknown needs of the future.

I am thinking a great deal about how to lead design in our organisation. I’m the only employed “industrial designer” here and would like design to play a pivotal part in the business.

Good design fulfills the needs of the end user. Great design fulfills the unknown needs of the end user.

As for your future endeavors, I highly recommend you partner with your marketing group. Do not make it adversarial, do no create silos. Their task is to find customer problems and have the customer evaluate your solutions to those problems.

Of course you can do all of this work, but that would be inefficient and it requires different skill sets. Marketing is about creating the relationship with the customer. As a rule of thumb, most creatives are introverts who spend a lot of time in their heads. Not the best attributes for creating relationships. And don’t forget the great length of time it takes to create those relationships. Cuts greatly into the problem-solving time.