Design vs Advertising



Thursday evening I heard Julia Hoffmann‘s talk at an event by the Columbus Society of Communicating Arts (CSCA). Julia first started working at Doyle Partners when she moved to the states from Frankfurt, Germany, then at Pentagram, moved on to Crispin Porter + Bogusky (CPB), then to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. One observation she made really stuck with me and I’d like to pose a question based on that observation to readers of this blog.

Julia said she was trained as a designer and considers herself a designer. When CPB tapped her to work there, she had no idea who they were. So she started asking friends if they ever heard of them. Flabbergasted they told her they were one of the best known agencies in the world. She replied by saying she thought Pentagram was. So she went to check them out and found their culture interesting. People were riding skateboards and wearing jeans, business casual. At Pentagram most people, she said, people wore ties, dress shirts and slacks. Friends also pointed out that CPB is an Advertising Agency not a Design Firm.

So, through her training and work experience she noticed a split between these two fields. Designers despised ad agencies, calling their designers “sell-outs” to “the man”. Agency designers, considered outside designers amateurs only worthy of freelance work (or admired them greatly). Julia had been used to taking a project from start to completion nearly on her own and generally working on something that gets handed to the client. In the agency world teams worked on projects. There were focus groups, maybe regulatory reviews, presentations to the creative director, account teams, and maybe one or more rounds of presenting to the client.

In my career I have also experienced this dichotomy. I have now worked at both design studios and ad agencies. However, when I did make the move to the agency, one good friend and fellow designer, who also worked at the agency, told me that it is a great place to work, but know that you will be working for “the man”, if you’re OK with that then go for it. I was and did. At least it wasn’t “Big Brother”.

What differences have I noticed? The biggest differences I see are when it comes to a well-rounded knowledge of applications and web design/construction. A lot of that could very well be just me, too. In order to stay competitive I’ve had to teach myself HTML, CSS and the standard Adobe products (though I know many more than that). Of course, being adaptive in your craft should allow you to flow back and forth between the two, just like Julia.

So, the question I pose is, have you noticed a division between design firm or agency designers? What is your background? Why do you think there’s a division, if there is one?

I look forward to your feedback.


~ by JR Prospal on 17 July 2009.

One Response to “Design vs Advertising”

  1. Hey JR,

    I enjoyed seeing Julia, too. It was interesting to hear about her journey through her career choices. I am not sure about design Ffirm, since I’ve never worked at one. I have however, worked at a magazine, a print shop, and a newspaper and I can make a comparison there. I have to say that working at an ad agency is by far the most rewarding to me. As a designer, it’s nice to work at a place where quality does count. In so many places I’ve worked, so many procedures never made sense to me. For example, at the newspaper, I’ve tried to improve quality by making suggestions on improvement in processes. There were procedures there that were so archaic and didn’t make sense. But they wouldn’t budge because “that’s how we’ve always done it” would be the answer. So right or wrong, trying to make things better somehow doesn’t count. Deadlines are the only things that matter. So, it was refreshing when I first came to an ad agency to see a company embracing change and making room for improved processes. It does seem that agency designers do strive for better quality. I think their clients demand it and deserve it.

    When I worked at the magazine, we did strive for quality, but our resources were limited and everything was on a strict budget. We were not working on the most current software and training was pretty much on your own.

    The print shop I worked at right out of college was even a smaller outfit. I did learn a lot from there and at times I actually miss the smell of the presses in the next room, but I have to say ad agency life is much more rewarding.

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