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Updated 26 Feb 2020

Times are a-changing digitally: Designers, are you ready?

The digital space is evolving at a rapid rate. It begs the question: what will the role of an advertising agency look like in the future? In case you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by the prospect of being an unemployed designer, these self-help points will encourage and motivate you to tackle the changes that are coming. 

Martin Roberts, 18 August 2016  Share  0 comments  Print

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It happens often. Two conference attendees strike up a conversation. The one works in-house at a large corporate, the other at an advertising agency.

What the latter person finds utterly astounding, is that they both not only share the same title of ‘web developer’, but that the former has no real background in said field, and in fact knows very little about the web or writing actual code. Yet, they are both working ‘in digital’.

Do you (really) know your digital from your digital?

It is becoming a reality. Big corporates and traditional consulting firms are moving into the realm that has historically had only one occupant: the advertising agency.

These bigger businesses can afford to pay well for talent. Arguably, though, said talent may not have tangible experience in the digital design field.

Paul Boag, a veteran of the web industry, has written about four digital trends that he sees gaining momentum: The move towards in-house teams; the rise of software as a service; the automation of code; and the decline of the website.

Related: 5 Tips to hiring the best employees

This raises the all-important question: What will the role of an advertising agency look like in the future?

1. Don’t depend on the tools of the trade

Tools are great. I've learned my fair share from them over the years. From Flash to 3D Studio Max, Quark to Dreamweaver.

It's all about Adobe CC presently, but many designers are migrating to Sketch, Maccaw and a host of similar applications being churned out by software developers.

But, and this is a big but, software comes and goes. Yes, Photoshop has been an industry standard for many years, but what is more important than quick pace in your work flow, is learning how to 'think' design. How to 'understand' different concepts. How to 'feel' which elements would work better in a certain way than another.

This type of experience is invaluable, and learning such skills will be gold wherever you find yourself in the future.

2. Develop your soft skills

Would you rather work with a willing and keen 7/10 designer, or an arrogant 10/10 designer? Working with someone who has an ego is difficult – you’re unlikely able to teach that person.

If you can learn to develop soft skills like being approachable, kind, interested when spoken to, and excited about jumping into a task at hand, people will respond well to you. Sure, they don't always come easily, but I cannot stress enough how important developing soft skills can be.

Having worked in a few companies over the years and having freelanced with many more, it still amazes me that some people think that talent alone is enough.

Sure, talent probably got you the job, but does it make you friends? Do people want to work with you? Are you really indispensable?

Developing -digital -skills

3. Embrace changes in the industry

Once upon a time, most of my day involved print design. You know the kind; brochures, stationery, reports.

Over the last three years, 95% of the work I've produced has involved digital products - web and mobile design, social media content, interactive PDFs.

Even illustration and iconography almost always finds its home on the web. To have solid DTP skills and a good eye can be transferable, but believe me, times are changing.

So go with the changes. Put in the hours. Watch tutorials. Don't sit on your hands. Having traditional drawing skills is great, but how about your Wacom skills? As hard and as clichéd as it sounds, try and be the best by evolving year-on-year.

I truly believe that most agencies and individuals can, and will, survive (and flourish) by not only being very good at what they do, but by being and doing that little bit extra, in a special way.

If you're getting results, are liked, and are adapting well, you'll probably be just fine.

As Charles Darwin said: "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change."

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About the author

Martin Roberts

Martin Roberts. Beginner dad. Mid-weight husband. Expert cappuccino drinker. Head of Design at Flume.

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