Creative Strategy and the Business of Design

By Douglas Davis

Creatives get various demands and design requests from clients, but there’s this exact same request hidden in all of it: “Solve my problem.” In this article, Douglas Davis explains the need to explore the words behind the pictures and discusses the business objectives involved in creative problem solving.


At some point during my career, I realised that I lost creative battles because I was ignorant of the larger business or marketing considerations that informed aesthetics. I could write the design proposal, build the team, design or direct the executions, and pitch the ideas – yet I can remember times when none of this served me. Why? I didn’t have the
whole picture.

Then one day I stumbled into a strategy session. It was a completely new experience. The format was like brainstorming, but for a chess match. The discussion centred on trying to understand who the consumers were for this sandwich shop account we were pitching. What motivated them and why? How would our product fit within their lifestyle choices? Could we credibly position our product as a viable choice for them?

In that one meeting, where I had no formal strategy training to rely on, no concept of business, and no polished marketing vocabulary to add to the discussion, it all began to make sense. This was that thing that beat me. I recognised it, though I didn’t understand it, and yet I did have a whole career of carrying out the result of meetings like this. I decided to become what I refer to as “a creative who understands business”. So I applied to the Master’s in Integrated Marketing course at New York University. The program was laser-focused on brand strategy, digital marketing, analytics, operations, and competitive strategy. The result of adding left-brained strategic thinking to a right-brained creative problem solver equals clarity on the relationship between business objectives, marketing strategy, and the creative product.

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About the Author

davis-webBrooklyn-based Douglas Davis enjoys being one of the variety of voices needed in front of and behind the concept, strategy or execution. His first book, Creative Strategy and the Business of Design was just published June 2016. Douglas is an Associate Professor within the Communication Design Department at New York City College of Technology and an adjunct in the Branding and Integrated Communications (BIC) program at the City College in New York City.






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