We live in a post-advertising era. Right? Media divergence, social platforms, and a new generation of brand-savvy (and skeptical) consumers have collided to effectively demand a more layered approach, changing the entire communications landscape—and with it, what it means to be a designer.
How has advertising evolved?
Advertising, careers, and egos were built on the 30-second spot, with art directors and copywriters gifted in manipulating emotion in 30-second chunks. Like Marshall McLuhan said, “the medium is the message.” An entire industry and creative process was effectively a formula built around a specific medium. We have for some time now moved beyond that formula and today you can skip ads, stream your content, and dip in and out as you please. Heck, people know what “pre-roll” is on YouTube.
There is no more ‘captive audience’ or ‘one-formula-fits-all.’
Creating impactful design in a post-advertising era
The same goes for packaging: It used to be all about the retail aisle. P&G built an entire branding education around the first, second, and third moments of truth that allowed brands to maximize standout on shelf. It’s what, as a designer, I grew up on in the 1990s. But that approach doesn’t fly anymore.
Because half the time people are buying groceries on DoorDash, or choosing a product based on a pathetic little thumbnail—and they made that choice six weeks ago when they talked to their friend or saw something on TikTok. Again, there is no more formula for what works on pack.
This shift is what allowed Kraft’s Mac & Cheese to get rid of 90 percent of its comms from its recently redesigned pack. Packaging’s priorities have changed. Brands need to think beyond a single touchpoint.
A collision of skills
This divergence of platforms and the death of specificity that goes with it has meant an equally marked convergence of design skills and disciplines. Actually, let’s not be quite as coy about it—it’s more of a collision than convergence.
We are at a cultural, creative, and advertising shift because technology is not only expanding, but also now informs the creative process. It has given everyone the tools to design a website, direct a film, and create video content.
But it’s also adding value. Take tech such as Midjourney or Craiyon, which allow users to create AI-generated imagery from any textual parameters. So, if a bot can come up with stunning art and visuals, then what does it even mean to be a designer these days?
The current scenario for graphic designers
There’s an incredible pressure on designers to be so much more in this post-advertising era. When technology originally started to influence design 15 or 20 years ago, you had a surge towards specialization, with the emergence of web designers, front-end designers, digital designers, and so on.
But today’s designers need to look at the whole picture—not just focus on a few touchpoints or a single message. They need to think more in terms of systems design and understand whole ecosystems, how one piece connects to the other, and how it influences, evolves, or enhances it.
Intimately understanding culture is key to reaching such an overview. The past five years of my life have been spent understanding how technology influences cultural behavior. Part of the designer’s role is to know how people engage with new platforms and different forms of entertainment and media.
We have to be masters of knowing TikTok versus Instagram or Twitter, or the differences between feed and reel. Only if you live and breathe that culture and people’s behavior can you choose the correct medium to execute your creative idea—whether that’s through video, a post, or a poster. Such ‘social listening’ is one of the most important tools in our kit.
Back to the idea
But even more importantly, the design industry is in desperate need of more ideas people. Everything comes back to the idea, the creation point: What am I doing? Why am I doing it? What is the emotion I want to elicit?
The act of execution is so much easier: There are free fonts, templates, and mockups—we all know we can make things look good. But is a design effective? Does it tell a story? Everyone can be a graphic designer these days, but not everyone can be Milton Glaser or Jessica Walsh.
Our industry is recalibrating around creatives, hopefully empowering them to take ownership of their voice. But the post-advertising era designer needs to lean into culture and actively inhale inspiration. Read, watch, travel, get out of your sphere and experience. You don’t need to think too much about traditional career paths, but you must be willing to work at it.
How to be an impactful graphic designer today
You can be taught how to be an amazing art director, or even a ‘designer’ who crafts visual design and communication. But what you can’t be taught is how to latch onto an insight and creatively manifest it into something unique.
So, to today’s designers, I advise you to embrace the complexity of it all: the platforms, technology, touchpoints, and culture. The best in the business do this, the Collins-es or the Dixon Baxi-s of the world.
In a way, we have come full circle. There has always been a cyclical nature to this business of ours—from the rise of the specialist to the dominance of the multi-disciplinary agency. Maybe it’s time to think back a step further, to the original creative, Leonardo Da Vinci. He valued the idea above all else—it is an aspiration more timely and important than ever.
Kurt Kretten is Global Chief Creative Officer at Marks. A creative leader and curious soul with over 20 years of experience in everything from brand design to product development, advertising, and film, Kurt is a multi-disciplined designer in a mad pursuit of experiences that connect people, culture, brands, and technology in meaningful ways.
Frequently asked questions
What does it take to be a good designer?
Creativity and active interest to improve your designs. It’s also important for aspiring designers to look at color theory, the industry, popular brands, and the work of other designers. It’s not crucial to have a design degree; many self-taught designers with strong portfolios and the right skillset work for well-known design firms on a wide variety of major projects.
How do you ensure you have a lucrative design career?
Making sure you have a portfolio that shows your versatility to work with various design assets—especially responsive UI design—is a great place to start. The process of building a lucrative design career depends on creating a personal brand and networking with the right people. Adding value to brands and positioning them for success is the most crucial factor.
Is it hard to be a designer?
In graphic design, like many careers, networking is important. However, in the end, it boils down to how well you can create impactful designs for brands. Making use of networking opportunities also helps. While it is a challenging career path, becoming a designer is not difficult provided you have an eye for design and a drive to do great work.
What is the post-advertising era?
The post-advertising era is the current state of media and advertising. Because a lot of advertising is easy to ignore, it’s crucial to get every design element right. With brand and product design, it is vital to incorporate design thinking that aims to solve problems and meet users’ needs.
How old is advertising?
Mass communication in advertising started in the 17th century with London newspapers carrying advertisements.