Insightful Design

What role does visual design play in a cultural insights and innovation agency? Crowd designers Elizabeth Holdsworth and Salem Khazali share tips on how they help to make our work impactful...

Designing for a cultural insights and innovation agency throws up many creative challenges and, over the years, we’ve learnt some lessons. Of course, each project is different, and every narrative requires us to flex our creative muscles in new ways – from decks to zines to adult colouring books. But there are some common ways of thinking that we’d like to share with you below. Adopt these and we believe that the insights you deliver will benefit.

Who, what, where?

As creatives, we always start with the same basic questions – ‘who, what and where?’ This set of questions unpacks like an enchanted toolbox, as in fact there are many more questions inside these questions. Who is the client and who are the stakeholders? What form will the research take and what are the hypotheses? Where will the work go once it’s delivered? Where’s it likely to be seen?

These magic questions get us immediately thinking about who the work is for. Because the point is really about the audience, and where we’re aiming. It’s like the hole at the end of the golfing green – it’s a long way away at the moment, but we need to know where the insights will eventually land.

Salem and Elizabeth
Salem and Elizabeth

Design is purpose

Being purposeful is key to good design.

We’re not just making things look pretty, stylish and trendy, or even tidying things up, so they are clear, legible and structured. Designers do all of those things, sure, but these are just by-products of what we are really doing – which is something far more fundamental. We’re visually communicating meaning and intention.

In its broadest definition; design’s really about purpose. One dictionary we looked at says: ‘Purpose or planning that exists behind an action, fact, or object.’ The example cited is of a search for ‘the appearance of design in the universe,’ showing that design can be interchangeable with intentionality – meaning amid chaos. This world we’ve constructed is our design. It’s our design to act this way. Tell us, dear reader, did you come here by design?

Cultural relevance

Working for a brand means understanding their voice and visual language, so that we can present the insights in a relevant way. Beyond this we need to think about culture and ask about how the brand positions itself in the world, and how the deliverables reflect this intention.

Aim to be flexible

As much as having a clear overview of what we need to communicate, we need to build fail-safes into the design process. The phrase ‘kill your darlings’ comes to mind. Client needs can change rapidly, so another habit to get into is to learn not to see your design choices as precious. This is relevant to most fields of design; however, brands are often keen to adopt the latest trends, when they can do so authentically, and so must you be.

Keep it minimal

The best work is brave enough to say a lot with very little and if you look at great pieces of design, it’s nearly invisible. Working in insight, we often feel we need to show clients that we’ve earned our fee. Often this means we write a lot, and in design terms, it means cramming many things onto one page. Don’t be afraid to strip things back. Once you do this, the message you’re trying to communicate will be much clearer and, importantly, will connect more profoundly.

To talk more about the role of design in insight and innovation, get in touch