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Agencies must prepare for the impact of DIY design tech on client perceptions


By Phil Rainey, Creative director

February 22, 2016 | 4 min read

As a general trend, it’s fair to say that the evolution of digital technology is making it easier for brands to take more of a hands-on, DIY approach to design and marketing than ever before.

Phil Rainey is the creative director of Cuckoo Design.

Smart phones, social networks, ‘off the shelf’ web frameworks such as Wordpress and Drupal, affordable hi-res cameras, aerial drones, the list goes on: from advertisements for major brands to full-length feature films, the affordability and quality of these new technologies have created a seismic shift in what is possible.

For example, recent ads for Bentley and Allied Irish Bank were shot on the iPhone 5S, and this year’s Sundance Film Festival included the first movie to be shot almost entirely using an Apple device and an $8 app called Filmic Pro. Likewise, not so long ago, achieving cinematic aerial sweeps from the skies would have involved complex logistics, air-traffic control, not to mention a jumbo-jet sized budget. However, recent drone near misses to a world champion skier and passenger jet over London leads us to question if this more accessible camera technology could be a dangerous price to pay in the future?

It’s not just the moving image where this shift is taking place. Apps such as Font Candy and Phonto now provide a brand’s audience and advocates with exceptional quality design tools to manipulate imagery and typography. It’s increasingly becoming hard to decipher whether a design professional is behind this work or not.

Print costs have also drastically reduced through online DIY services such as vistaprint. You would be surprised at how many new business meetings I have attended where the potential client has pulled out with pride a business card from a service such as this, bursting with excitement at their bargain-basement cost, while I fight the impulse to spit out my coffee and call the typography police.

Countering client perceptions

However, whenever brands utilise new ‘DIY’ tech effectively as a means of getting their message across, it inevitably leads many clients to question the need to hire expensive cameras and lighting as opposed to using cheaper alternatives such as smartphones. This tech shift now means our clients are now much more savvy when it comes to costings. “Can’t you just take the picture on an iPhone?”. “Why do we need expensive lighting if we’re shooting outside?”. “All web sites are just templates now aren’t they, so why do we need to pay for design?”. These are all comments I’ve genuinely heard, or heard of in recent times.

So, while technology continues to help our industry turn around jobs faster in a more cost effective manner, this in turn has created a saturated market place with an ‘anyone can have a go’ approach. How then do we, the ‘experts’ in our field, truly show our worth?

Firstly no technology (unless I’m missing something?) ever came up with a great idea. Everyone loves a great idea whether it took 5 minutes or 5 days to get there. Clients love a bit of theatre and are appreciative of the creative story as to how we got there. This is our true worth and what sets us apart from the ‘have a go’s’. Secondly most clients really appreciate an understanding of our craft. They may initially question the need for that expensive lighting rig or paper stock, but once educated, they will understand why and how such enhancements benefit their product. Over time this mutual trust benefits the client/agency relationship going forward and the questioning begins to diminish.

Who knows what technology will be achieving for our industry in a few years’ time let alone 10? It’s an exciting time for us, but it’s also exciting to tell clients the story of how we got there.

Phil Rainey is the creative director of Cuckoo Design.


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