Why Every Marketer Should Care About Design

Kyle Eliason

Only a fraction of digital marketers consider design a core component of our jobs. Traditionally, we leave designing to designers. This lets the rest of us spend more time serving our king and queen: data and text. Besides, we’re just a [insert job title here] – most agencies have a design team to do pesky design work. Let them do their thing, right?

 “The problem is that design isn’t just a department, it’s a discipline,” Andrea Mallard, the CMO at Omada Health, says on High Resolution. On the show, Mallard explains that design isn’t simply a unique tactic that can be used in certain scenarios. Instead, design is a muscle that can be used by anybody for almost any task. Yes, in certain cases an expert designer is necessary, but even for everything else, design is still a factor.

Design is for Everyone

Design permeates everything we do; it’s far from just an artistic practice. All outward-facing marketing materials communicate a message, whether you intend to or not. And design plays a key role in how well or poor those messages are received. Plus, choosing to ignore design is still an active design choice — and in many instances, a poor one.

Let’s take user experience on a website as an example. Traditionally, UX Design would only refer to user research, user journeys, usability and layout among a few other things. But really, the experience expands past those boundaries. If the advertisement that gets you there is involved with the process, it must be factored as well. Or if the site is extremely slow, then that might overshadow any amazing layout. True user experience is created by engineers, SEOs, product managers, and content strategists alike. And that should be by design.

There may be many little touch points to your product that are seemingly innocuous to the user, but they’re noticed whether consciously or not. Although these touch points may be secondary to what your main offering might be, they’re indirect and put together, they’re powerful. It’s the basics of integrated marketing communications – every piece of communication that works together

The Power of Design

In 1982, two social scientists, James Q. Wilson and George Kelling, theorized that a person’s environment directly affects how others behave. Their Broken Windows Theory study focused on criminal activity. They said that if your neighborhood is disheveled, graffiti litters store walls, and broken windows are commonplace, the neighborhood crime rate would go up. Interestingly, they linked an increase in petty crime and serious crimes alike.

Whether or not this theory could potentially revolutionize law enforcement, the underlying principle is definitive — your environment heavily dictates your behaviors.

This idea is marketing in a nutshell.

To make things more simple, we can think of design as the catalyst to moods. Carrie Cousins at Design shack notes:

Moods can change based on events, environmental factors or even by viewing something, but mood is primarily a feeling that just happens and is less intense than a specific emotion. It can impact how a person thinks about everything he or she comes in contact with.

Simple tweaks to design can severely affect design and lead to increased chances of success.

Where Design is Important (Short Answer: Everywhere)

The reason the Broken Windows theory is important to all of us is that it applies to every facet of your life. If you’re trying to get that new job, you better dress for the part, speak clearly, be polite, and so forth. This isn’t just about your ability to do the core function, but it’s about all the little pieces that add up to trust.

People notice superior design principles. Blogger Sean Johnson reminds us that “being good at design demonstrates you have taste. And people like to be around people with taste.” One of the issues that we run into is the perception that other people don’t really notice or care about design. That’s not true. “ Design is one of the most powerful forces in our lives, whether or not we are aware of it, and can also be inspiring, empowering and enlightening.”

Okay, I acknowledge that simply saying design is everywhere and everything you do or don’t do is a bit daunting. Let’s break it down into marketing speak – ROI. Here’s a few areas that you’ll get high ROI on your work deliverables.

PowerPoint Presentations

Ugh, it always comes back to PowerPoint. PowerPoint has the distinction of being among the most hated tools, while remaining a common tool to communicate powerful ideas. The reason so many people hate it is simply because so many presentations are just mind-numbingly terrible. (If Powerpoint Feng Shui isn’t a thing, it should be.) So, why not make sure you do it well?

Jeff Bezos notoriously banned PowerPoint in favor of “narratives” — 4 to 6-page memos. His gripe is about how sloppily people use the tool. He saw too many people using it for dry, narrative-lacking presentations. Bezos loves presentations (much like Jobs), but instead of dry content, he used design and imagery to convey his narrative.

Check out Slidegenius’s Design 101 for tips on creating a well-designed PowerPoint presentation.

Data Visualization

At Portent, we do massive amounts of data analysis. We love to show numbers and explain what’s going on. However, data spreadsheets by themselves are tedious and can make even the most functioning brains come screeching to a halt.

Providing the right kind of data visualization goes a long way. It gives better context to the data and allows it to be consumed much easier. As information design pioneer Edward Tufte explains in his book Visual Explanations, “Clarity and excellence in thinking is very much like clarity and excellence in the display of data. When principles of design replicate principles of thought, the act of arranging information becomes an act of insight.”


I’ve looked through a lot of resumes in my career, and although they’re for all sorts of roles, I do appreciate design aesthetic. I’m not talking about over-designed resumes that could be considered more avantgarde than anything else. I’m talking about simple, attractive design. The same thing I’d want to see on reports and deliverables. A candidate that appreciates simple design principles communicates that they know what’s appropriate for what occasion.

Check out Ignition’s Five Resume Design Tips for Non-designers for some good ideas on simple, clean resume design principles.

Design is everywhere and it makes a difference. I’m not saying that you need to spend double the time on all your deliverables but do try to find ways to make things nicer to interact with. Learn the best practices of design and apply them to your everyday life — you’ll start to notice a difference.

Kyle Eliason

Kyle Eliason

Senior Client Partner
Senior Client Partner

Kyle is an Account Manager at Portent, Inc. He brings over 9 years of experience managing digital media projects. He is passionate about innovative marketing strategies – the more creative, the better. When he’s not account managing, he’s either on a soccer field, on ice skates, or screenwriting. On a blue moon, you might catch him on all three.

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