ID/Marketing Interaction

Hi All:

I am hoping to get some insight into how other ID groups interact with Marketing. In particular, who makes the final design decisions in your company?

The situation I am currently in is as follows:

I work for a Medium sized company that is breaking into a new market. I am the only Industrial Designer managing outside design firms for support. Currently our “Creative Director” for design is the marketing lead for the program.

For me, this has been an absolute nightmare. Design decisions are placed in the hands of someone that does not understand the ID, let along Manufacturing, process. Every milestone of the design process is influenced by Marketing…starting from day 1.

I tend to believe that the design process should be managed by a designer, not Marketing. Marketing should provide their input of market requirements, needs, etc…and then get out of the way.

So, in the end my question is: Is getting Marketing or Mgmt out of the way until the end too idealistic? Do others have this problem and how do you deal with it?


actually the marketing is generally the department that ID reports too in most corps. However it works best if the project is lead by a senior level designer with extensive experiance bringing product to market, and the development team is comprised of ID, Engineering, Manufacturing, Marketing, and Selected End-Users(for real-time validation), all working in unison on a shared vision. Non of this handing the resposibility over the wall, that is the path to instant failure.

I agree with the “handing over the wall” comment. I don’t expect the design process to be done in a vacuum.

So the design lead, as you indicate, should be a Sr. Industrial Designer. What is the optimal decision making process?

What do you see as a successful set of deliverables and who makes what decisions on those deliverables?

Ideally the deliverables are decided by the requirments of the project. You need to define the current development process, map it out. Use this map to indicate were problems are commonly encountered, now modify the process to streamline out these common issues.

You should always have a decission making process that takes into acount the tharget user, ideally their opinions should direct the final decision. However the joint team, each with equal say will make the final decision.

IP_Wirelessly, you’re pretty much out of luck.

Most of the marketing people I work with are too ignorant of design to realise just how little they know. Only the more experienced (including engineers) will defer to designers where appropriate - they weren’t taught what we do in school! (Although some schools are correcting this)

Marketing always has final say -

Someday perhaps IDEO will buy-out Steelcase and Frog will buy Flextronics and Fitch will buy whatever the Ad Agency that owns them…

Granted we are two individuals that sound as though we are in the same boat. And lets take the idea that we fall under the “norm” shudder

How does this get fixed? I have been working with this dynamic that Marketing has the power in design related decision making policiesf for three years…and it is fundamentally wrong. Engineers make fundamental engineering decisions, Software Architects make fundamental software decisions…blah blah…we’ve heard it all before.

How do we, as an industry, change this? I can stomach the idea of having a moron for a boss if he is a designer. But a moron for a boss who knows SFA about design…man, it is as irritating as sand in a bathing suit.


[quote=“nobody special”]IP_Wirelessly, you’re pretty much out of luck.

Most of the marketing people I work with are too ignorant of design to realise just how little they know. Only the more experienced (including engineers) will defer to designers where appropriate - they weren’t taught what we do in school! (Although some schools are correcting this)

Marketing always has final say -

I wish I knew how to fix it…

It seems we’ve always had to aquire enough business and engineering knowedge to carry on an intelligent conversation with anyone in a meeting, and therby gaining enough respect not to be second-guessed. Again it’s a function of long term experience.

I had one boss who would give a mini ‘intro to design basics’ response anytime he was told to change something for trivial reasons, simple line, form, color, balance, etc…whatever was nessecary to make the person understand they were talking to an expert and to shut up.

This, amazingly, was in a corporation that had determined that visual styling was the single greatest consumer purchase-desicion driver!

People who would never consider ‘correcting’ accountants, engineers, procurement or any other feild of expertise still feel fine saying “I don’t like it so change it to…” - This is our just our lot untill someone from ID is a Fourtune 500 CEO.

Yes, but companies couldn’t function without those roles. Many, many manufacturers function without designers. (If the budget’s there, and there’s an insightful PM, they’ll outsource a design firm.)

Engineers and Marketers are just used to making the design decisions. If not them who? Many haven’t even met a designer before.

Plus many believe that unless research told them specifically to do something, everything else is fair game. Likewise if it’s not a documented ‘requirement’ it doesn’t get done.

Re; the Fortune 500 comment: Steve Jobs may not be formally trained, but he’s the most important enabler of design at Apple–even on occasion coming up with the ‘breakthrough’ ideas like the split-arm iMac.

It sounds like were saying the same thing - lots of mktg/engineers are ignorant of design.

The question is: what do you do when they start telling you how to do your job?

Are we to be resigned to always be ‘…out of luck’?[/i]

The most important part of being a sucssessful, not famous, designer is knowing how to communicate and find the balance between engineerin/marketing/design/manufacturing/budget/customer. Listen to the other participants in a development project, they might have a point, if nessisary come to a compromise. We are communicators both visually and verbally, use these skills to make you points. However design rarely has the final say, without firm data/research to back it up. If it is an aethetic issue present it to a group of consumers/emd-users for thier input.

Never let your pride or ego cloud your judgment, great ideas and insight can all too often come from the most ubscure participants.

so in other words, keep doing what we’ve always done.

I’m glad to see that this issue is being addressed on core’s discussion boards. I think it is a serious issue that will have a major effect on the future of the Industrial Design profession. At the moment most marketing departments can say “Who’s your Daddy” to ID. I think this happens because of the way marketing and industrial design is perceived in the real world and in business sectors.

Marketing as a profession is not that older than ID, it became a formal profession with the rise of the machine, mass production, capitalism and the middle class during the Industrial Revolution. The first marketers probably came from the ranks of sales and advertising professionals. These were people that were close to the market and had a feel for doing business, with either a customer or consumers. These were people that also had some decision making authority. ID on the other hand, formalized into a profession with the transition of the artisan / craftsman (gold, iron, and silversmiths, carpenters, sculptors, artists, furniture makers, potters, glassblowers etc.), into a designer of mass produced products, instead of a designer/builder of one of a kind fashioned objects. Thus the first marketers probably solicited the artisan/craftsman/engineer to invent and conceive the products that they wanted to sell.

Unlike ID, marketing’s popularity and recognition was obtained by an authoritative presence and the ability to become seen as an asset to business. Look at the marketing profession today. Marketing exists in all businesses that sell services or goods. It is the intelligence agency of a company, whether it is a small business owner realizing that his bakery can make money by selling cookies along with his usual pastry goods, or the marketing department of an insurance company that through consumer research and competition realized that it had to expand and offer various policies to its customers.

So by becoming the eyes and ears of a business, marketing became as valuable as gold by observing and recognizing the potential for growth and wealth in all business sectors. It also plays a key role in implementing its theories on how to create growth and wealth within an organization. Since most marketing departments are the implementers of there marketing data / research / strategy / whims, (call it what you will) then they become the authoritative presence in formulating a strategy, service or good.

They then solicit the help of other professions to help them implement there strategy, advertising agencies, graphic designers, engineers, industrial designers, etc. Therefore ID becomes just another asset or tool that marketing can apply when making a good that needs “sex appeal”, “innovation”, “make it look good”, “has to have a modern feel”, “looks like it was engineered not designed”, “change that color”, “I don’t like how it feels”, “It’s to big!”, “We need to make it cheaper, but still look good”, “Can you put a texture on this”….the solicitation goes on and on.

Unlike marketing which is in mostly all businesses in one form or another, ID can really only be applied to manufactured goods that will be sold in large numbers to a consumer world. ID also has some limited applications in medical products or in industrial machines, but again ID is brought in as a marketing tool, nothing more.

For ID to gain prominence in business and the real world it has to become a strategy maker and implementer, instead of just another object maker.

Very true, but with Chinese manufacturing companies offering design services for as low as $1000 for a complete product similar to a tablet pc with an ergonomic handheld IR camera wand. It is hard for ID to ever gain this respect, since marketing only thinks of us as stylist.

How do you propose we change the mind sets. I have actually had multiple clients when I bring up articles about IDEO, Frog, and other design case studies and how they imcrease sales dramatically, say yeah that all fine and dandy but design is just a fad and I do not see the need to do research or interview consumers “hell they do not even know what they want until we tell them”.

left out of above…
$1000 included the Pro-E part and assembly files as well as the FEA and 1 functional prototype assuming the client would provide the internal components required. This was an actual proposal that we lost and were told if we could mach the deliverables and cost we could have the work. Yeah like we could match the price for those deliverables. Shoot the prototype housing @15in x 10in x 2.75in (min to enclose internal envelope), would have been more than the $1000.

ruggie accuratly points out why marketing has achieved its athority, but his ‘beat them at their own game’ type suggestion seems unrealistic and undesireable to most designers I know.

Guest repeats the gripe of dealing with design-ignorant clients but seems to suggest it’s moot because of offshore competition.

At one time there was debate over architect-style certifications to be administered by IDSA, but that’s utterly impracticle.

Certainly the vast widom available to Core has a solution to our problem!

Dude, when do you think ID came into play? The modern term marketing wasn’t used until much later just as the term industrial design. I think your post might lack the dimensionality of reality, it reminds me of a marketing brief.

The simple fact is that what marketing does cannot be quantifiably measured or emotionally felt, it is the best gig running next to selling insurance if you ask me.

I will point to my own company because it is what I know. We have about 300-400 designers of various kinds and probably at least double that in marketing. Line plans are strategically made, the market analyzed, briefs labored over, but the cold facts are that the 10 best selling products we ever had had minimal marketing interaction, and the 10 most innovative, trend setting products where never briefed at all. One of our President’s actually did the research to dig into it, what was his background? R&D. So say what you want but the numbers talk.

True story, two marketing guys sit admiring a prototype. One says to the other, “man that thing is hot, I’m really feeling it (standard marketing buzz words)”, the other says, “I know, I wrote the brief for it”

A good marketing person is great to have on the team because they have the gift of gab and can sell ice to Eskimos, but generally, simply put, you don’t understand the creative process, how things work, or what is relevent in peoples lives. I would rather have a social anthropoligist on my team than a marketing person any day. They are great for letting you know what sold at retail this month but really don’t have the slightest sense of what will be trending when you product will hit market in 2 years or whatever. The rare exceptions to marketing mediocrety are godsends to us all as most of them can not market there way out of paper bags.

You could talk and wave your hands all day, but without tight design and engineering, you’d have nothing to sell my man.

The thing is as simple design moves offshore, we are getting better and better at what marketing does, analyz the market, research consumers, investigate new markets and combining it what we do innovating new ways to use, construct, and look at physical objects. Watch out marketing team, you might be relegated to being sales meeting presenters. Some companies like Diesel have actually gotten rid of their product marketing department all together letting design figure out what products to sell at what price points.

All in all, the best marketing people are like the best politicians… THEY KNOW HOW TO STAY OUT OF THE WAY OF THE PEOPLE WHO ARE REALLY GOING TO DO THE WORK. :wink:

IP, putting at the end of the process will most definately lead to failure. In my experience- as the only designer in my company, the best way to get your design through is to include them at virtually every step of the way and especially the beginning. The better direction you have at the beginning of a project, the closer your design will be to what they expect. And you have to give them what they expect-atleast one concept- then go off on your own direction in progressive steps and lead them along the way. First you have to show them that you are capable- by designing the product the way they expect. Then you lead them along to how the design can be better and more functional and beautiful and easier to produce…etc.

Our projects were typically “marketing/management driven” but to a certain degree i think its because we let them. I think most designers don’t mind being told what to design and are happy following direction. As we (engineering/design) started to show proficiency, we began to get a little more pull in the project meetings.
Some things we do now are ask for specific info from marketing and management- and hold them to it. When you get these specs- seek out problem areas or opportunities that you can “innovate”, or certain aspects that need particular design attention. When you find these “opportunities” point them out and tell the marketing and management guys right from the start. If they like 'em and they sink in, your design opportunities become a “marketing direction”.

Every company has its own hieratical structure. I might be bold to say that companies that use either in-house or outsourced ID professionals usually summon ID help, because in today’s market place they find it necessary to have an “innovative”, “good looking” product that will appeal to their customer and/or consumers, and at the same time out bid their competitors with innovation, “looks” and price. Whether Industrial Designers like it or not that is how our job function is perceived. We are the “stylists”, the makeup artists of the manufacturing world, if we can also make something manufacturable, innovative and cheaper, “GREAT!!!..You’re hired!” That is why at this point in time ID is looked upon as a commodity, a commodity that can possibly be substituted by lower paid designers and firms, whether they’re US or Martian.

I think the issue at hand, and how this spread got started was with “IP wireless’s” question:

“I tend to believe that the design process should be managed by a designer, not Marketing. Marketing should provide their input of market requirements, needs, etc…and then get out of the way.

So, in the end my question is: Is getting Marketing or Mgmt out of the way until the end too idealistic? Do others have this problem and how do you deal with it?”

The people calling the ID shots, in most cases are Marketing and/or Business Management. Who solicits ID help and formulates a design brief (guidelines) for industrial designers to follow? It’s usually Marketing / Management. They are ID’s clients; if you were doing freelance work wouldn’t you show your client each step of the way, what you’re working on for them. If you were in Marketing and / or Management and you’re the one in control because you’re soliciting this type of work, wouldn’t you want to see what you’re paying for, and give you’re two cents worth of opinion at every step of the way. I would say it’s very idealistic to keep them out of the loop. The more experience I get in the ID world, the more I start to see that we are the ones being ever so often disenfranchised in the product development process.

Yo wrote:

“The simple fact is that what marketing does cannot be quantifiably measured or emotionally felt, it is the best gig running next to selling insurance if you ask me.”

I would have to agree and disagree with this remark, and with how it relates to the question at hand and with ID.

Real Marketing is very quantifiable, it has a cause and effect, it can be measured through market research, sales data, demographic studies etc. On the other had ID, I would say is more unquantifiable because it cannot be measured, and is more emotionally felt, it is subjective. It is so subjective to the point that the designer(s) working on a product are the ones that decide it’s “look”, while taking into consideration business and engineering constraints. The idea of defining a “look”, “style”, and “trend” is very subjective. The talented and experienced designer handles all these issues with razor sharp proficiency because that is what they were trained to do from day one.

If you were to look at an industrial designers training in its simplest terms, the professors in most cases would put themselves in the client position. They would solicit the work by generating a brief with certain business, marketing, engineering constraints, have students run off and work out these id problems, and then educate the students on what they did wrong or right. I believe that is why ID goes under so much scrutiny and easily becomes subordinate in the real world.

For things to change our subjective method of creating and designing products must be quantified for us to defend our positions and decisions against our solicitors who are for the most part trained in quantitative material, and find the “subjective” realm an open arena for them to express, and in some cases, lash out their own personal intellectual frustrations, ego, creativity, taste and opinion to a subordinate tool or appendix of marketing, which in most cases are the “subjective” realms of design.

What I have also observed is that dysfunctional marketing tends to blur and exaggerate what is objective and subjective. They either do not perform the quantitative aspect of there jobs that they were trained to do, and start to mingle with the subjective as absolute truth instead of personal opinion. This is when you start to see marking decisions and demands being made on whims and personal opinions instead of stone cold facts. I’ll have to agree with Yo, this is the biggest scam in Marketing.

I also agree with Yo, when Marking becomes subjective then anyone can do it. Just like ID, that’s why I’m sure a lot professions think of ID as a commodity, “Hey they just draw pretty pictures, anyone can do that even my high school daughter that can draw good”. ID must become more quantitative; to do that it must function like marketing. Once it functions like marketing then it will gain more respect and authority over its decisions.

The lesson I take from your story is that breakthroughs aren’t briefed but rather incubated and championed not by process, but by talent and insight.

With 300+ designers you guys are an innovation factory!
…I need to figure out how to do that with 1/20th the staff.

Thanks for the excellent post.

All businesses, from Aunt Edna’s corner bakery to Coca-Cola, need the sort of long-term strategizing specific to Marketing activities to survive and thrive. That is a proven fact. Walk into any bookstore and there’s almost always a “Marketing” section filled to the brink with the latest hoopla, buzzwords or success story told by the latest sales guru or TV business personality of the hour. Scams or not, try now to find the Industrial Design section anywhere, we’re in the Decorative Arts aisle, thank you very much.

Even if most business books are a lot of hot air sold at a premium, the fact remains for such books to continually appear in such numbers, someone must also be buying them. This in itself proves the point. And what do repeated reads of these books reinforce? That What you project and How you sell is everything, product is secondary and can be custom-fit to your specs cheaply, quickly and anywhere today. Enter the world of globalization, creative imitation and the the quickly eroding need for genuine originality or practical problem-solving in product design. Being first now feeds the competition.

Since marketing as a distinct discipline is taught in business schools across the world in an ever-increasing number of institutions, it has inevitably gained more clout and visibility than design, and I’d venture to say even engineering in terms of measurable business impact. In fact, both design and engineering can be rightly said to be fully subordinated to Marketing, which is itself far closer to higher management heaven than us. Business sees and uses us as executants first and foremost, and this is an important distinction. Where I work design and engineering have more leeway than in most firms due to the highly-technical applications we provide for, we even assist Marketing in drafting product briefs and better gauge consumer needs in the field. But everywhere else I have worked at before there was no doubt about who called the shots.

We actually live in very conservative times, historically speaking, where those whose education is based on memorizing text, mathematical computations and empirical tests performance raises them high above those trained in what used to be called the “humanities”. An Age of Enlightment, this is not. Surely, we all can argue having often substituted for engineers in perfectly empirical, technical situations such as mechanical design, and so on, but the vast majority of designers do not seek that type of work. This way that “touchy-feely” aura we project in industry will never disappear and ensures we stay labeled a nice-to-have versus a must-have. I am not at all surprised reading here about $1000 design projects in Asia, it is the natural flow of events from imitative manufacturing to services, especially in a country (China) that today, latest statistics show, graduates as many engineers yearly as the U.S.

Those here seeking “solutions” to being manhandled by Marketing from time to time obviously see this as a “problem”, even though typical industrial designers do not normally impress with their business sense, and that’s putting it mildly. One ideal road to nirvana here is for more designers to enter the business ranks and become Marketing directors, and so on, an ideal opportunity for product designers to have true, positive, long-lasting influence on any market segment in any line of business. But, proportionately-speaking, you don’t see this happen, though you see engineers take that route more often, ill-prepared as they are to relate to direct consumer needs and human psychology in general.

As long as designers only want to keep designing, even after 5, 10, or 15 years in the field, they’ll never make it in the driver’s seat. It’s also true that once you start rubbing shoulders with the suits on a daily basis you can kiss your CAD station and markers goodbye, perhaps many designers are just too passionate about their work to just give it up, even if it means less money or influence. Artistic personalities are that way, thus our label sticks.

For most engineers, their original field of study is strictly a ramp to more. For designers it seems to be an end in itself. Not that there isn’t enough to re-design out there, but at some point many experienced and talented designers can become far more useful to their employers and the general public by stepping out of their comfort zone and applying the same skills, vision and approach to higher echelons of the mechanism.

There are only a handful of design-driven firms out there, firms where the full design methodology, as we apply it daily, permeates the command cabin itself. I don’t see why engineers are more apt for the job than IDers, but I see why they are regularly being selected for management or marketing positions and how apt they are at self-promotion. Are designers too humble, too navel-gazing or simply more of the introspective, loner type typical of artistic pursuits? Does ID in itself need better marketing perhaps?

Creativity sometimes comes with a high price to those endowed with it, but no marketing type or creative director can work without them. What’s more, overly emotional individuals don’t do well in the pragmatic, highly-charged world of business politics, so designers considering marketing a royal pain are actually more right than they think and aren’t missing much either. They probably wouldn’t be happy in that line of work, it’s also fuzzier than what we do and unappealing for those of us preferring to deal in certitudes.

Call it a necessary evil to keep your passion alive. Or join it to alleviate your suffering. Shaking the tree always brings the fruit down.