Book Review: Creative Strategy and the Business of Design
Business is not one of my strong suits. As someone who is surrounded by business professionals, whether that means the soft side of marketing gurus to data analysis doctorates, I continually have to ask for clarification on certain matters.
Douglas Davis’ Creative Strategy and the Business of Design helped me understand the main key-points that my peers repeatedly had to explain to me in graphic design terminology.
I’m sure I’m not the only graphic designer who needs help understanding business terms. Douglas Davis explains everything in easy-to-understand stories, case studies, and personal experience. Not only will you understand the business professionals across the table from you, but it will also allow you to strategically present and design campaigns for said business professionals.
All-in-all Davis helps graphic designers and creatives to learn how to speak and approach businesses in a way that will help designers gain a sense of freedom and understanding in their work.
As a graphic designer, I enjoyed the Creative Strategy and the Business of Design. The branding, the soft-touch cover, and the design elements throughout the Creative Strategy and the Business of Design made it easy to read within a weekend and encouraged me to pick the book up to see what type of element would come next in the book.
Davis allows his personal and professional experience to show how each tier of the business structure that eludes so many creatives can create a successful graphic design business. Instead of showing why each element of the design is important for the business professional across the table from a designer, Davis shows why the designer must approach the concepts of design principles from a business standpoint. It’s not enough to have a good graphic design background if you don’t know how to understand the business behind the designs.
One of the glaring aspects of Creative Strategy and the Business of Design was the lack of female incorporation into the book. That’s not to say they are non-existent. They appear more so throughout the last half to third of the book, but whether through citation or collaboration, the most prominent showcase of women is when Davis proposes projects for graphic designers to try for their portfolios.
The lack of female presentation is disappointing, but it does not subtract from the overall usefulness and effectiveness of Davis’ premise for the Creative Strategy and the Business of Design. I hope to be able to try some of these business formulas into my briefings with my department, my coworkers and my own graphic design business.
Part I of Creative Strategy and the Business of Design allows graphic designers to fully understand what is important about learning business terminology and business methods.
It’s not enough to just know what business professionals mean when they want something creative, however. It has to be integrated into how to approach a design project and how to form a strategic plan in the decisions graphic designers make on campaigns and projects.
Davis helps graphic designers understand business terminology to approach design briefs and campaigns in a way that will help further the business’ goals and objectives while also promoting good design. He has experience in creating great work with many other great graphic designers. Being able to draw from these experiences and his own experience as a business student at NYU, Davis shows how to incorporate the two sides for a single goal.
Being a graphic designer has its perks in this section, especially when Davis can pull keywords to the forefront and call attention to what might need to be reiterated to readers and need further clarification. This section is sorely focused on vocabulary retention but makes it easy for readers to flip back if they need a reminder about any certain concepts.
Part II of Creative Strategy and the Business of Design makes me think of the meat of this book’s focus. Part II allows graphic designers to understand what they should look for in a creative project. It’s not important enough to know how to make something look good. Graphic designers must make an organized and strategic approach to business professionals.
Davis gives you the tools, along with the business terminology, to create said strategic approach.
Finding the right angle and research to approach a graphic design brief can prove daunting for many creatives. Being overwhelmed and told to siphon through multitudes of data to make a graphic design project is not what a lot of designers want to hear. They want to be told to make something pretty and eye-catching and responsive. Being told something ‘looks good’ will not help business professionals to reach their goals. Being told why creative liberties were taken on a campaign will help those business professionals remember to hire you in the future.
This section will probably be the densest for graphic designers or creatives to understand. While Davis refers to many aspects that graphic designers and creatives will be familiar with, it will be the basis of everything else throughout the rest of the book and future projects that graphic designers will be trying to implement throughout their careers.
Part III of Creative Strategy and the Business of Design is a great integration of all the information before it. This section primarily delves into how you format your research into a creative formula for your graphic design business to effectively pitch to the business professionals.
With the brand ladder, it’s important to learn how to create a cohesive brief with your gathered research that will make sense to both graphic designers, creatives, and the business professionals across the table. With a complete disregard from English grammar rules and sentence structure, Davis encourages readers to compile a run-on sentence of who, why, what, where, when, and how to appeal to business professionals.
Davis takes you through many examples the brand ladder can be used in with various companies. He pulls together all of the previous terms and aspects from Part I and II to create a cohesive project’s direction and themes.
Presentation is the last bit of Part III that Davis touches on. It’s partially fruitless to compile and orchestrate most of this work and be inefficient in executing the presentation to the professionals at the end of the tunnel. Davis both pulls on personal experience for this topic and the professionalism of a great presentation for a design brief. Practice, more research (in the professionals viewing said presentation), and professionalism during the presentation are all valid and good points Davis brings up during this section.
Part IV of Creative Strategy and the Business of Design is almost an afterthought.
Davis focuses on the graphic design career and professionalism for his last section. Both focusing on how-tos and what-to-dos for the new or even experienced graphic designer, Davis looks at how he has been able to create quality experiences in and before his professional career.
One of my favorite aspects of this section is when Davis publishes his Master's degree transcripts. Both of these were completed when he was employed full-time and attending classes full-time. He reiterates the importance that your grades won’t make an impact on your professional career, but your understanding and portfolio will help you create lasting impressions on your potential for your employers or potential business connections.
Last but not least, Davis ends Creative Strategy and the Business of Design with theoretical projects that can help the new and even seasoned graphic designer create new projects for their portfolio as well as a slew of graphic designers and creatives to find inspiration from. While helpful, I find this as being a bit of a cop-out. While I can understand why this section helps implement the strategies throughout Davis’ book, I feel as if it would be more helpful as an aside throughout the actual premise it was helping readers understand.
Want to keep up-to-date on my current reads? Need some recommended books for your graphic design career or business start-up? Join my bi-monthly e-newsletter for my book recommendations that will help you develop your business or graphic design careers.