The ONE book you need to read on strategy in design!

Creative Strategy and the Business of Design’ Book Review

Creative Strategy and the Business of Design

Who wrote this book?

This book is written by Douglas Davis who I first came across listening to the Futur Podcast where Chris Do interviews him (I’ll put that in the show notes if you’re interested). If you haven’t listened to this podcast and you’re interested in graphic design, take a long look at yourself in the mirror! It’s insane.

David Douglas studied an art program at Hamptons University and then a communication design masters degree from Pratt Institute New York. Then, while he was a freelance art director, he studied Integrated marketing at New York University to understand the language of business.

Currently, Douglas is the associate professor within the Communication Design department at New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn.

Basically, he’s a worth listening to when it comes to graphic design with extensive knowledge.

Douglas Davis standing in front of an inexplicably large pile of rope.

What is this book all about?

This book unites business strategy and creative execution. You don’t necessarily get taught strategy when you study design which is fundamental.

As Douglas has had a dual career path as a professor and designer who understands the language of business, the book is highly readable and peppered with powerful points that illustrate the information he presents.

The book is split in to 4 parts.

Part 1 – Crash course in business and marketing for creatives.

Part 2 –Gathering an organising relevant information to organise strategy.

Part 3 – Developing and presenting the work

Part 4 – Increasing the value of your contribution to your clients.

Then, the book ends with 14 creative assignments to hone your creative skills.

What is also intriguing is that this book includes mini-essays written by other people that Douglas has worked with throughout his career – Advertising, marketers, brand, media, communication strategists and others.

This means the book provides an extensive overview from different industries that overlap with the creative industry.

3 biggest take-aways from reading this book

1) Language of business: features, benefits and values.

Understanding this IS THE FOUNDATION OF ALL CREATIVE DECISIONS. What wording, pictures, animations, illustrations are used in the campaign, portfolio, packaging etc. depends on these terms. If you truly understand these, you can differentiate your service from competitors.

‘Features (also known as attributes) are the key characteristics of the product or service.’

Eg. Airbags in the car, what food is offered on the menu etc.

Benefits focus on the customers’ needs and desires. The advantage that the product brings.

Eg. Airbags are the feature. The benefit is you won’t die when you crash your car.

THIS IS A CRUCIAL DIFFERENCE. Why? Because the feature alone does not make it relevant to the customer. The benefit does.

With only the benefit shown though, you still may not be persuaded to buy the product. WHY ‘The primary driver of purchase is the heart.’ Emotions are the key purchase drivers. So, how can you trigger emotions? With values!

VALUES – why should I care? As they are different for every person, values are personable.

If you look through this lense to understand how to most effectively direct your creative decisions, you will provide strategic help to your client. 

2) THE CREATIVE STRATEGY FRAMEWORK

A creative project can range from an extensive meeting where the creative receives an overload of information or the creative will receive incomplete information.

If you don’t organise your content, you may feel overwhelmed so it will be hard to produce effective solutions to your clients’ problems.

So, how can you cope with that? Meet the Creative Strategy Framework.

1) TARGET – target groups. Psychographic (Psychological attributes – personality, values, attitudes, interests or styles).

 or demographic (Socioeconomic characteristics of a population expressed statistically, such as age, sex, education level, income level, marital status, occupation, religion, birth rate, death rate, average size of a family, average age at marriage.)

THERE MAY BE MULTIPLE!

FACTS – facts on brand, product, service. Historical info on the brand, positive and negative information on the brand, Are there spoof videos online? brand perception in the market place etc.

FEATURE/BENEFIT – what are the features (attributes) key characteristics of a product or service, and corresponding benefits (advantage a customer gets from a product). LIST KEY COMBINATIONS. Feature AND Benefit – key to have together.

MESSAGE OR OBJECTIVE – communications messaging (What the target should take away from your brand communications, or client objectives. Drive engagement, Increase ROI by 20%, increase clicks etc. THE FOCUS.

FIRST STEP. QUANTITY. THEN, QUALITY. THEN, THREADS.

Douglas Davis advises to exhaust each column of information within 45 mins. Expect to hop around the columns.


This tool helps you organise information so that you can quickly and efficiently organise the information presented to you and know when you’re missing information.

Douglas Davis spends 2 chapters explaining all this in detail and I would highly recommend reading these chapters a few times to truly understand it.

3) The Art of presenting

Presenting your ideas in a convincing manner will obviously increase the probability of selling them to the client. There is nothing worse than working for days on an idea to then just get told it’s not right just because you don’t know what you’re doing pitching.

  • Matching the words to your audience. Most people don’t care about the intricacies of how you made whatever creative thing you made. They just want it to meet the goals that were set out in the brief. Keep that in mind.
  • Don’t Speak too much before showing the work, and don’t just say nothing before revealing all at once. Your client knows the history of their brand – they’re not stupid so don’t treat them like they are. At the same time, without exaplining the background to how you reached the logo means you will not give strategic reasoning to convince your client that your decision was the right one.
  • Framing – a lot of times, the client reacts subjectively to a logo proposal for example. ‘I like/dislike,’ the colour/font/ layout. If you have set up your presentation rooted in strategy, you will be able to show you’re client how the logo/design resonates with target audience for whatever reason. Make the conversation constructive so that you can understand exactly why the client feels the way he/she does.

Who should read this book.

Do you feel like you’re not thinking strategically enough when it comes to making aesthetic decisions?

Do you wonder how you can implement strategy in to your work?

If the answer is yes, then I would highly recommend this book.

I just want to leave you with these quotes from Douglas Davis:

‘Smart creatives have the opportunity to be more than just designers that make things pretty.’

‘learning the language of business helped me win more business and get more design work.’

‘creativity is the spoonful of sugar that makes the business or marketing objectives palatable to the public.’

Be a creative that understands the language of business.

Interested in reading the book? Buy here!

https://amzn.to/30D9rua

Hope this helps!

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