New creative titles. New team structures. New ways to adapt and thrive.

How design-led thinking spawned a creative identity crisis.

New creative titles. New team structures. New ways to adapt and thrive.

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Your business card may soon read “Recruiting Storyteller,” “Brand Evangelist,” Culture Curator,” or “Content Designer.” Why? Because there’s a seismic shift happening in today’s creative departments—and a crop of new roles is popping up that never existed before, as a result of demands that never existed before, either.

As design-led thinking takes its place at the strategic core of some of the most influential companies out there, it’s redefining more than every customer experience touchpoint. There’s a transformation taking place beneath the surface as well—design-led principles are shaking up companies’ inner workings, structures, and titles.

After decades of relatively consistent totem-poles in the creative and marketing realms, it’s easy to feel disoriented at best, or dismissive at worst, about the new titles and structures. (Although we may quietly admit to Google-searching Culture Curator job listings). But today’s creative platforms afford heightened possibilities—and clients and consumers are demanding new levels of personalized experiences. So it’s no wonder that roles are evolving to fill the gaps and opportunities. The inevitable result: new hats for all.

We may have liked our old hats just fine. We were in our groove when we could run with our go-to creative processes and save the day with a great deliverable. But the good news is: we can navigate this shakeup if we look at why it’s happening and where all its threads lead us—which is right back to the design-led thinking that triggered this entire shift.

Brave new worlds and the roles that build them.

“Brands must do more than create ads: they must create worlds,” argues Gaston Legorburu, Executive Director and Worldwide Chief Creative Officer at SapientNitro. He’s authored a book on the advent of “storyscaping,” the art of creating experiential brand stories where customers become part of the tale. For example, TOMS shoes makes every customer a hero in its mission to provide shoes to people in need. Through a story well told and values deeply shared, the customer and the company come together in a storyscape.

To design a storyscape, we creative leaders must break from convention in our own epic adventure of adaptation and reinvention. “Today’s creative directors need to do much more than creating. Now we’re as much curators of concepts, information, technologies and ideas,” writes Ian Haworth, Wunderman UK Chief Creative Officer. “Our role as curators means we have to become modern-day Medicis (just without the assassination attempts!).”

We nonviolent, sneaker-clad Medicis must solve massive business problems while working as internal diplomats, budgeters, and idea-sellers. We become conversational in virtual reality and social media. We must coordinate between IT, operations, and even finance. And we must be as good at managing a PR fiasco as we are at cooking up award-winning concepts.

This silo-smashing trend transcends every role within the creative arena. For example, Netflix is currently seeking a “Product Experience Writer” who understands user interfacing as well as brand voice and “can work alongside video creators, image designers, and metadata geeks.” Meanwhile, PepsiCo is stepping away from enterprise hierarchal norms by creating a team “with a unique start-up feel” for its Brand Specialists.

This process of adapting to the creative world’s shifting demands and responsibilities can feel messy at times, or even disorganized. Because we’re not just wearing new hats. We’re trying them on, sometimes entire teams at a time, making alterations as we go, and seeing what works.

Design spurred this shift. But it’s here to help us navigate it too.

Amid the chaos of this evolution, we can lean on the exact design thinking that fed this whole revolution. It can serve as a steady guidepost to help us adapt ourselves and our roles to the new landscape (or “storyscape” if you prefer).

Design is, after all, creativity with applied process. It whittles the perfect pegs to fit your organization’s holes. And we can evolve similarly to the way you’d approach any design exercise:

  1. Study the greats.

    You may or may not need a “Content Strategist and Designer” all rolled into one, but it is intriguing that Procter & Gamble is hiring one. And maybe there’s inspiration to pull from the job description that marries content strategy with digital design, UX, and external agency collaboration.

  2. Experiment, experiment, repeat.

    Few ideas are born perfect. Amid a shifting landscape, it can take time to refine the best structure for teams and roles for individuals. After all, the first step to solving any design problem is empathizing and understanding the human needs involved—and it can help to gauge how other industry leaders are framing people’s roles. For instance, if Google has Design Ethicists, what can you pull into your playbook as your company navigates the exponentially growing intersection of design, technology, and humanity?

  3. Embrace order and alignment.

    Sure, you’re experimenting, but remember that definition is also key to the design process. If creative leaders and executives communicate clearly about what the role entails for their organization at this moment, then each party is better poised to help the other succeed. Facebook differentiates between a “Creative Strategist” and a “Design Strategist” in its creative department, then breaks the roles out further by industry sector to specialize in specific clients.

  4. Everything with a purpose.

    Bake deliberate intentionality into absolutely everything. As longtime creative director Robert Fleege once noted, “An ad is finished only when you can no longer find a single element to remove.” The same is true of the stories we tell and the roles through which we tell them. According to AdAge, the relatively new title of Chief Creative Officer is still a tenuous one as the role’s purpose and responsibilities take root. Even so, AdAge says, “A CCO may not work for all brands, even if it seems like a trendy hire.”

  5. Yes, creativity is still your secret weapon.

    “Creativity may well be the last legal unfair competitive advantage we can take to run over the competition,” says Dave Trott, former chairman of The Gate. While no one’s looking to run anyone over, he makes an important point. Business will always hinge on creativity at the end of the day—a fact that can give us permission to come up with a title or team previously unheard of. Apple’s Geniuses are a prime example.

Amid ever-shifting technologies and trends, linear career paths are a thing of the past. And organizational charts should probably be written in pencil, not pen. As design leaders recently speculated in a piece by Fast Company Design, tomorrow we may see roles like “Avatar Programmer,” “Chief Drone Experience Designer,” or “Cybernetic Director.”

We have to admit, there is something positively liberating in the idea of an organic, design-led approach to building teams that can do anything from personalizing in-store experiences with geo-fencing apps to developing augmented-reality extensions of print ads.

Sure, before storyscaping took up the creative juice we used to expend on walls of Post-It headlines, the world was simpler. But there’s nothing like letting a design-led customer experience transform our own professional experience. While we’re embracing new skill-sets and jailbreaking out of traditional silos, we’re creatives at our core. We can relish the act of re-imagining the realms we work in. And we can let it push us further. Even if that means trying on a new creative title.

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