Havas London’s chief creative officer Vicki Maguire emerged onto the D&AD Festival stage at London’s Old Truman Brewery this morning acknowledging that advocating for a particular C-suite title isn’t really her style. But she fought the cringe to explain “why the next wanky title you actually need is chief design officer.” It’s partially against what she believes in, she said, being “historically anti-title, anti-silo, anti-department.” But she stood next to her agency’s chief design officer, Lorenzo Fruzza, to advocate for an ad industry where creatives work with designers as equals. She wants to change the dynamics of the industry, “so as creatives, we do not just look at the back of your heads.”
The power of good design is “pretty obvious,” opened Lorenzo. But that doesn’t mean it had the place it deserves. “There’s a massive job to be done in advertising” to elevate it, he said, before laying out what exactly needs to be elevated and why.
The answer is “incredibly simple,” as he sees it. Much of that is about recognising what we’ve already got. In the age when print was more important, design was “afforded an expert status within advertising.” Then the internet happened and in ad agencies, design gradually became more of an afterthought.
Vicki, a creative by trade, admitted that she was complicit. “We were instrumental in devaluing what we thought design could bring,” she said. But the blame is shared. Design is also “complicit in missing the boat,” said Lorenzo.
“We’ve all had that feeling of being the facilitator of other people’s ideas,” he said. That’s what needs to end. Imagine the power of good design when it’s paired with the power of what the online world has. There is a moment now to re-present and repackage what design does.
To do that, Lorenzo and Vicki highlighted three reasons why design thinking, when baked into a brand, can be powerful. Jumping off from three brands that are almost universally admired, they began with Apple. Unapologetic about how obvious that is, Lorenzo reminded the audience how emotional people are about Apple. He noted that as a company, the American tech brand is publicly proud of its design heritage too – something that trickles down and empowers design thinkers at all levels of the business.
Then it’s worth considering Instagram, TikTok and other platforms that have ensured that everyone has had creative visual storytelling tools in their pockets for years. Visual creation is more part of the fabric of day-to-day life than ever before, he pointed out.
Design is functional, he went on to declare, noting that at so many levels, it gives ad agencies the “chance to properly interrogate the brief”. That’s something that happened on Havas London’s ‘Black Plaque Project’ – a campaign to educate people in the UK about the Black contribution to the history that surrounds us. Although the central idea began as a PR-generating campaign, Lorenzo detailed how design thinking expanded it beyond the plaques themselves and made the idea more powerful, augmenting the sites of the black plaques with deeper, richer stories. “Let [design] functionally unravel the challenge,” he said.
Design is conceptual, Lorenzo asserted next. At art schools, Vicki joked that “if you were a shit graphic designer, they put you into advertising” and many in advertising, she suggested, have a chip on their shoulders as result, thinking that designers can’t have big ideas. The fact is, of course, that everyone comes to a brief differently. Look at Havas’ recent campaign for Vanish – ‘Me, My Autism & I’, which featured, as part of the broader campaign, an exhibition about items of clothing that are important to women with autism. One designer repeatedly rejected Lorenzo’s ideas, he proudly recounted, before showing the idea she came up with of using the clothing itself as typography. An idea that worked perfectly from the brief - and didn’t come from the creative department.
Design is still about the craft, as no one would dispute. Designers want to keep making for their whole careers, said Lorenzo. “That obsession is key in all good design.” Havas London recently showed this level of design craft in the detail of its Positive Impact Report, which was made to mark the company’s new status as a B-Corp. All the decisions in the design process responded to a sustainability brief, from the typeface to the ink used to the paper laced with wildflower seeds so after reading, it can be planted. Every detail added up to the central story of the project.
If you go along with all that, some simple changes can elevate design within your ad agency. The first step, Vicki and Lorenzo agree, is to make your designers partners of creative, not another department. Share the process. “No more of this white smoke coming out of the creative department like we’re choosing the next fucking pope,” said Vicki.
Next, pull up a chair next to designers. Not behind them.
The rest is about attitude towards the designers in your agency. Respect them, listen to what they bring to the table, and learn from them.
Vicki pointed at her chief creative officer title: “Bullshit, I know. But if somebody else has that title, why not me?” The same principle applies to chief design officer, she suggested. If more and more CDO titles appear, it will catch on and it will signal a change in advertising’s attitude to design. As Vicki sees it, that will be “giving it its due value and worth.” She said she loves working in a holding company because they get to do big work that makes an impact in culture. “We work on massive fucking brands that get their way into culture.” And she’d like to see more great design permeate through the campaigns Havas does with those clients. “I would love someone to nick a six sheet I’ve done for a BOGOF at ASDA because it looks so good… Elevating design is exactly how we’re going to do it.”