Reading time: 16 mins
For those of you who have been following my Instagram feed know that every week for the past 25 weeks, you’ll noticed that I’ve been posting my booknotes on Douglas Davis’ brilliant book, Creative Strategy and the Business of Design.
In this blog article, I’ve curated all my notes into a single place, showing you my key take-aways.
However, this is just a re-cap - to get the most of the book, I really recommend you get a copy yourself.
I picked up this awesome book after watching Douglas’s interview on The Futur’s Youtube channel - if you’re not familiar with it, it’s well worth a watch.
The amount of knowledge crammed into these pages is astounding, everything from business term definitions, business models to best practices for process, and a wealth of other tricks and tips.
They’re all presented in an approachable and engaging way, supported with articles from Douglas' peers.
After reading this book, you’ll never look at creative strategy or the business of design in the same way!
As Jacob Cass, Brand Identity Consultant and Founder of Just Creative said:
"This book is what separates good designers, from great designers. It bridges the often neglected gap between business, design and strategy. A must-have resource."
Brace yourselves for some real long-form content, and get your scrolling finger ready!
Part 1: Why do we need inject strategy into creativity?
As Thomas John Watson Jr, former Chairman and CEO of IBM once said:
”good design is good business”
Injecting creativity into the start of the business discussion boosts the success of the eventual outcome.
In today’s market, it’s not enough to sell a product or service - you need to engage with your consumers and build authentic relationships with them.
The most effective way to do this is to combine creative and business thinking into a single seamless solution.
The first step in achieving this synergy is to understand the language of business.
You need to communicate in the rational language of business as well as the emotional language of design.
Part 2: Know your key business terms
In this spread of notes, we explore the common business terms we all need to know, or think we know.
Terms covered include: insight, differentiation, segmentation, and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs - all fundamental business terms.
It’s great to get a new perspective on these must-know business principles.
I particularly loved this quote:
"Strong insights inspired by research inspire strong concepts.
Strong concepts inspire relevant and compelling creative work.
Relevant and compelling creative work wins clients and new business."
Part 3: More key business terms and definitions
More key business terms to help you understand the business of design.
This spread covers: metrics, features and benefits, the purchase funnel, positioning statement, and marketing allowable.
A couple of hugely important takeaways:
If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it
Features tell, benefits sell
Part 4: Last of the key business terms and definitions
Even more useful business terms and definitions, like scenario analysis, creative strategy framework, and brand activation.
Now we have some language to work with, it’s time to ‘emerge from the cocoon’ and turn these words into inspiration.
It’s time to discover how to apply these into out everyday working - it’s important to remember that different companies may use these concepts but call the by a different name.
Part 5: The benefits of building business solutions on strategy
As the ancient design proverb says:
'Those who have not done the research have nothing to design'
Okay, maybe I made that up… but it is true!
To create an effective design or business solution, it has to be based on a strong foundation of research holding up a sound strategic plan.
Now we know the language of business (from the nudenotes above), we’ve equipped with a new perspective and the ability to justify your recommendations.
Clarity and strategy go hand in hand - one can not exist without the other.
Clarity and strategy give you a guiding light during dark days of deep development when your head can be spinning with possible solutions.
There’s also a useful exercise for you to find out who can help you to strategise and implement your solutions:
1) Identify areas of confusion or lack of ability.
2) Without blame, find the top reasons why, and label the process, communication and strategy.
3) Formulate a solution for each area of confusion - with 2 to 3 sentences.
4) Add a projected impact or benefit of those solutions (you may need a few drafts to get the most objective language possible).
5) Now you’re ready to identify the person most likely to be receptive to your thoughts - you’ll either get fired, or you’ll lead the solution process.
Part 6: What they say versus what we hear
This set of nudenotes tackles importance of being fluent in the language spoken in the room, to ensure clarity of communication, so everyone remains focused on the same goal.
Until reading this book, I never really gave much thought to how the language you use to communicate your ideas can effect the way your ideas are received.
But it makes sense... understanding perspectives and the way people communicate their goals or needs is essential to delivering the right business or design solution.
It’s an empathetic way of communicating - use the language the others are speaking.
There’s a brilliant quote in here as well, which I love and helps get me focused before big design meetings, by Tibor Kalman, the ‘bad boy’ of graphic design:
”We are here to inject art into commerce.”
Part 7: What they say versus what we hear or what they say versus what they need
These notes offer some techniques on aligning business and creative goals of your client or business, towards building long-lasting design solutions.
Gaining clarity on goals is a must for any creative project, how can you aim for something without knowing your destination?
Simple answer: you can’t!
By getting clarity early on in the creative process, you can focus your efforts early, improving your overall efficiency and effectiveness.
You need to make sure that you align your design with the measure of success, so everyone’s on the same page.
Part 8: You talkin’ to me? Reaching your target on behalf of the brand.
How to get a greater understanding of connections between brand and targets.
The first and biggest step is to understand that you are not the target!
Stop creating solutions for yourself, and fully immerse yourself in learning who the target audience is.
This will help you reach your audience on a deeper level to deliver better business and brand solutions that resonate with your target consumers.
Relevance = response.
Seek clarity of the target, don’t waste time stabbing in the dark.
Do it right, or do it twice!
Part 9: Understanding Features, Benefits and Values
I think that this is one of the most overlooked concepts in delivering effective creative business solutions.
It was great to see a whole section of this book dedicated to this.
By developing deep understanding of features, benefits and values, you can develop an effective positioning strategy for your brand or business.
This ensures that your solutions resonate with your consumers, and provides differentiation from the competition, so you can stand out from the crowd.
For more on features and benefits check out our dedicated blog article, where we look at the definitions and differences between features and benefits, along with a couple of techniques that you can use to transform your features into benefits.
Check it out here: Features & Benefits 101.
Part 10: Copywriting Tips and Introducing the Creative Strategy Framework
The start of a creative project can seem very chaotic - insights, facts and research flying all over the place.
It can be overwhelming, leaving you feeling disorganised, inefficient, panicked and tense.
This also features the introduction of the Creative Strategy Framework it can be used to organise your all your information and enable you to pull out strategic threads to inspire new concepts.
This is done by adopting the three step process of quantity, quality and pull strategic threads.
Neil Feinstein’s copywriting tips help to craft the copy you will use to populate the Creative Strategy Framework to ensure concise and compelling results that will guide the following creative process:
1) Read what you wrote out loud.
2) Watch the rhythm, and vary your sentence length.
3) Tell them something new, not what they already know.
4) Always answer the question ‘why should I care?’.
5) Focus on the benefits.
6) Imply urgency.
7) Touch their hearts and minds.
8) Tell them what you want them to do.
9) Make them feel.
10) Write like a person, not a professor.
11) Edit. Edit. Edit.
As Hemingway said:
“The first draft of anything is shit.”
Part 11: Gettin’ Knee Deep in Creative Strategy Framework
These nudenotes offer ways to organise your data to fill your own Creative Strategy Framework to provide clarity, increase inspiration and reduce risk.
This then enables you to take creative, calculated risks whilst keeping on strategy.
I’m particularly pleased that I managed to get in a geeky reference to Star Wars in this one:
Become a Design Jedi:
Order leads to clarity.
Clarity leads to inspiration.
Inspiration leads to solutions.
Even if you don’t use this framework in your project, these best practices offer handy insights on how to get more clarity from your clients, so you can create a comprehensive brief, and build better research to focus your ideas towards your project goals.
Part 12: The Creative Strategy Framework
This spread of notes explores the details of the Creative Strategy Framework and how it allows you to play detective, organising and extracting insights.
It helps you to fill in the missing parts, remove all the irrelevant stuff and reduce information overload.
As Douglas says:
"[it] helps begin the process of developing relevant solutions that are on brand, on strategy, and on message."
The Creative Strategy Framework will become your design bible.
Part 13: Looking for Some Help with Your Positioning Statement?
It’s hard to start any creative project without a sound positioning statement.
It focuses creative development, empowering you to spend time get it right early on in your project.
This is how you take you creativity beyond “make it pretty”, rooting your ideas in strong insights tailored to your target consumers behaviour to ensure it is relevant so your ideas get the response your ideas deserve.
Remember, to leverage your data collected from Creative Strategy Framework during the creation of your positioning statement.
Otherwise it’s just a pointless exercise and you won’t reap the rewards of the process.
Part 14: How to Craft Amazing Positioning Statements for Your Brand or Product
It’s time to take everything we have learned in the previous nudenotes about features, benefits and values.
Distil all this information into crafting amazing positioning statement by using the widely used and time tested framework:
“For [target], [brand] is the [category] that is the [point of difference] so they can [end benefit] because [reason to believe].”
Your positing statement should inform all of your design solutions, but as Douglas says, “it is only as good as the information that goes into it”.
What if you are in a situation where people don’t value this level of detail?
Don’t worry, this spread of nudenotes has some helpful insights into how to change their mindset to see the benefits of rooting your creativity in strategy.
Part 15: How to go beyond "make it pretty" and Why We Need Briefs
I’ve set myself the task, after reading Creative Strategy and the Business of Design, to think more strategic and less tactical about my daily work.
Now, I’m always striving for clarity on the real problem that needs solving.
The way to achieve this is by asking the right questions.
More and more, I find that it’s not just about making things pretty - there is almost always a deep insight waiting to be discovered.
This is where the real value is for everyone involved in the project, even if, at first, your project’s stakeholders aren’t on board.
It’s this value I have learned to chase in every design project that comes across my desk.
The starting in point is always a concise and clear brief.
This is where the all the concepts from the previous notes come together.
Every creative brief you create should have these three things: clearly defined goals, narrowly defined target and insights on target needs.
Part 16: What Should Be Included in a Creative Brief? Part 1
Now we’ve established the importance of a brief within a creative project, Douglas explores the elements of a good creative brief.
This spread of nudenotes shows the first eight of eleven questions that every creative brief should answer.
As mentioned in the book:
"The brief is where the specifics of the previous chapters come together. When sitting down to write a brief, you'll need a clearly defined goal or goals, a narrowly defined target, and some insight into what the target wants"
If you want a happy and effective creative team, you need to feed them good concise and compelling briefs.
Part 17: What Should Be Included in a Creative Brief? Part 2
Loved reading about the four fundamental elements of the briefing process:
1. Communicate objectives
2. Brand Essence
3. Consumer Profile
4. Consumer relationship with the brand
How hard can it be, right?
But it will be worth it...
Constructing a thorough brief takes time, but it provides guiding parameters which focus the creativity toward a set goal.
This is turn reduces the time wasted on dead-end creative exploration.
The end goal of your briefing process should be to create and maintain a synergy between strategy and creativity.
This synergy is the most successful way to true creative genius.
To do this, you must have a good understanding of these four fundamental principles, and be able to communicate them clearly.
Part 18: How to Use Empathy and Story to Reach Consumers?
We all love a good story, but few of us see it as a tool for successful branding.
It can be a highly effective tool to take a complex brand system and distill it down into a story full of villains and heroes.
Using storytelling tools helps you align strategy and creative teams enabling them to work together towards that happy ending at the end of those classic stories we all know and love.
These stories can be used to understand the consumer, and to make it easier for the consumer to understand your brand.
Your story should reflect the needs, wants and desires of the your consumer, and how your brand solves their key problem.
Part 19: What’s the First Thing You Do When You Get a Creative Brief?
I bet your answer is not to question the target audience in the brief, right?
I hate to tell you this, but you’re wrong.
A deep understanding of the target audience will help your brand to stand out, or differentiate, in the market.
It also allows your teams to better internalise the target audience: the way they talk, walk and think.
Having this deep understanding helps them to deliver better solutions for your target audience.
Also in these nudenotes (top quarter), I’ve added more from Douglas on how to align creative and strategy teams to avoid an ‘us versus them’ mentality.
This is why alignment is so important between these teams.
Don’t work in silos!
As Douglas says: “Focus on slaying dragons, not each other”.
This mindset only distracts your teams from delivering the best possible solution.
Part 20: Make a Sale without Selling and Overcome Brand Barriers.
Over the previous 19 spreads, we’ve been through all the various elements of the a creative project.
Now it's time to put it all together and talk about your ideas in the best possible way, to ensure your concept is the one that gets used.
It’s time to talk about pitching and presenting.
Presenting my ideas so they resonate with my peers and clients is something I always think long and hard about.
It’s something I still struggle with today, but, as Douglas says, “practice makes presentable”.
Presenting and pitching is something that I know a lot of us are afraid of, but Douglas breaks it down so it’s manageable and a simple process for us to follow.
Part 21: Do You Struggle Presenting Your Creative Work?
I don’t know about you, but I genuinely find it interesting to work across both business and creative barriers.
As Douglas says, "gone are the days of creativity for creativity's sake" - and I definitely agree!
Ideas only have true value in business when they have measurable outcomes which provide a solution to a business problem.
As I mentioned earlier, metrics are everything.
You can’t know what success is unless you have a quantifiable metric to measure it.
Presenting creative work too often relies on subjective language, but by folding the language of business into to your presentation, you can re-frame the critique in a presentation from subjective to objective.
This empowers you to better justify your creative decisions.
Solving problems through design is what I love to do, and I realise now that solving the problem is the easy part.
Presenting that solution in a clear and concise way, so that the work does all the convincing - that's the tricky part.
I know that the lessons learned in these nudenotes will help improve my ability to do just that.
Part 22: Hate It When You Get Vague Feedback on Your Work?
It can be exhausting to interpreting the feedback you get on your creative work.
Vague feedback can lead to scope creep, endless revisions, or worst of all, starting the project from scratch.
By keeping your feedback framed in an objective way, you can provide the right solution to the right problem - a problem that your target consumers need to be solved.
The best way to do this is to ensure your solutions link back to the findings of your Creative Strategy Framework, and you will be onto a sure winner!
Part 23: How to Survive as a Creative Person, or How to Take a Punch in the Face
Here are seven career tips by Ron Berger, in his contributing chapter in this book.
Hopefully they will help you as they have me.
As Douglas says in this book:
"There will always be someone who works cheaper and knows Photoshop better, so to stay relevant you must become strategic"
As a packaging designer, I’m constantly on the lookout for ways to leverage strategy in my solutions and process, so I can ensure the best possibility of a successful design.
Sometimes it can be a bit tricky, but it is always worth it!
Part 24: What Skills You Need to Have to Go from Beginner to Director?
We find out Douglas's two cents on how to further your career:
1. Think about the words behind the pictures.
2. Exhibit the ability to develop sound strategy from research.
3. Development of relevant written conceptual execution created from strategy.
4. Admit when you don't know - ask for help.
Ever since I have read this, I’ve been thinking about how I can level-up my own career.
One day, I would love to be a creative director, and by adopting these four mantras, I know I keep moving closer to that goal.
Now we move on to the final nudenotes spread: let's go slay some dragons!
Part 25: Facing Your Fears: Dragon Slaying
In part 25, we learn how to take all the skills we have learned in the past 24 parts, and head out into the world to get shit done.
The key takeaway for me was learning how to change your mindset from right and wrong to what is and isn’t viable.
In creative business, there’s no one right answer to any problem.
The most important thing is that your solution is based on true insights.
Everyone has subjective opinions, but people pay for your objective analysis.
That’s all folks - 25 spreads over 25 weeks from awesome one book and one amazing author: Mr Douglas Davis.
I hope you enjoyed this booknotes series - I plan to do more nudenotes like this in the future, so if you have any recommendations, please leave them in the comments below, or drop me a message on Instagram, or even email us at email@example.com.
Shout out to Chris Do and The Futur Team for recommending this book.
If you love this content, then you should definitely check out their Youtube channel.
Massive thanks to Douglas Davis for not only writing this inspiring and insightful book, but supporting my nudenotes interpretation every step of the way.
I can already see the shift in mindset in my everyday work as a designer, and I hope that this book and these nudenotes help more people discover the benefits of creative strategy in the business of design.
To find out more about Douglas Davis and his work, check out his website.
For more booknotes, follow me on Instagram: @deanoj312.
Buy Creative Strategy and the Business of Design here.