Is the agency of the future a design agency?

The agency of the future

Yesterday the Dutch marketing magazine Tijdschrift voor Marketing asked me if I could write some thoughts on the importance of design for marketers in 2012. This blogpost elaborates further on what I wrote.

To me, design is a really interesting concept. However, the problem with it, is that we limit its meaning to ‘design as form’. We talk about how beautiful stuff is designed or the importance of packaging design. Although I have a deep respect for designers, I don’t want to talk about ‘design as form’.

There’s another side to design that fascinates me much more and that’s what Tim Brown, the CEO of the innovation company IDEO calls design thinking. When you start to think like a designer, you’ll get to find creative solutions to all kinds of problems. Basically, because designers think in terms of solving problems. Design thinking is more of a method to come up with creative answers based on a profound understanding of how users think and behave.

Let me give you an example to illustrate this. IDEO developed for Bank of America a credit card with a service attached to it, called Keep the Change. Every time a user uses this card to make a payment, Bank of America would round it up and transfer the change to people’s savings account. Turns out people started to save quite a lot of money without ever noticing it. And it turns out people thought this was such an amazing idea that they actually started to switch banks in order to enroll in the Keep The Change scheme by Bank of America.

I wish that we as a creative agency would have come up with this idea. It’s design thinking at its best, for several reasons:

1. it starts with a profound understanding of human psychology and human behaviour: people have a neurotic relationship with money. They know they should save more, but somehow they just don’t get started. Keep The Change is designed around that understanding.

2. it uses insights from behavioural economics. Instead of trying to convince people to save more through campaigning, they designed the product in such a way that the desired saving behaviour is triggered in an unconscious and automatic way. Behavioral economists call this ‘choice architecture’.

3. it’s service design: They baked a service into the product that is so valuable that it’s actually worth switching banks for.

4. it’s designed for excitement and Word-of-Mouth: Keep the Change is a service worth talking and sharing. They didn’t call it ‘Luxor credit plus’. They called it ‘Keep the Change’. My mother would be able to explain and recommend it to me.

So how does this relate to ‘the agency of the future’.

I think there’s something profoundly wrong with **our creative methodology**. We don’t put human understanding at the heart of our process. We put creative communication at the heart of our process. And creative teams. And they are trained to make impactful commercials. Back at Boondoggle Amsterdam, we killed the creative teams other things Astrid blogged so eloquently about in the past. Recently, when we started SUE Amsterdam we also killed the strategy department. If you use design thinking as your frame of reference, you need strategic creatives and creative strategist. A strategic planner is just a creative with a different toolset. What we do is putting these people together in a process in which they have to come up with creative solutions to the marketing challenges of our clients, based on profound human understanding and ideas that are stuffed with smart tactics and strategies to persuade people into action.

Therefore, creativity is not a department in an agency, It’s a process between a group of people that apply design thinking to solve marketing and business problems of our clients. And that is what the agency of the future is all about.


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