Designers and Marketers can be friends

How Design Thinking helped our startup growth hack our way through investment — and deeper thoughts on that

Parrot that used to visit my studio (São Paulo, 2008)

I’ve been a designer for over a decade now. Before I started my career I had this idea I’d spend most of my adult life designing movie posters inside a cool marketing agency with some Hollywood studios account. Being a very lazy reader, movies had a very significant importance to me when I was growing up. I’ve always been amazed by graphics on big billboards and bus stops posters (specially sci-fi ones!).

It’s funny enough that a bit more ahead I never really liked the Marketing classes in university. It wasn’t a big part of the degree (had one subject only, right at the last year I believe) and by then me and my friends we’re already too much in love with the idea of Design as a process & a service, one which the main goal is to find the correct way of communicating properly it’s message (in product, graphic or web).

We saw Marketing as this terrible, heartless, tactics to manipulate peoples emotions and trick them into buying stuff they didn’t really need — of telling a fake story for the sake of selling more. Obviously your perception of these things change, as the world itself, and nowadays people expects much more from brands than fireworks & a slogan that doesn’t connect at all with their daily life problems. Gladly moving to Europe helped me reviewing this stereotype too. Now brands need to become relevant for real people, or they just die.

“People are giving importance again to function over form, a thought that has always been present in the Design process.”

I like to think that part of this change in the way society relates to companies right now is due to a better use of Design principles by Marketing executives. Actually taking time to look deeper, research, understand, simplify, and talk to their customers in a modern management era where CEO’s becomes everyday more ‘human’ is a huge evolution. What I mean by that is that people are giving importance again to function over form, a thought that has always been present in the Design process. No wonder why the UX boom and why the term ‘experience’ (UX, XD, PX, etc.) is more relevant than ever before.

I mention this because…

In the (so far) brief story of, a t-shirt printing startup I co-founded a couple years ago, we’ve came across a very interesting fact relating Design and Online Marketing. Very often in a starting business you find out that everyone should help as much as possible — sometimes with things not necessarily related to our exact field of expertise. Fact is that in order to help a little with bringing traffic to our company blog, back in 2013, I (a natural born nonreader, and who rarely writes) started writing a couple articles about t-shirt design (mostly technical & conceptual stuff for t-shirt designers) and Branding. We thought it was better to come from someone with knowledge on that, even though our target market wasn’t exactly upcoming clothing brands.

What we didn’t know back then was that lots of people were actually interested not only in visual inspiration related to Graphic Design, but also in conversations about it. It was only when I managed to convince our editor to publish a silly exercise about colour psychology (which I entitled “The Brand Colour Swap”). A couple days after publication, traffic to the article started to grow exponentially and other websites started pointing to it. A few weeks later, we were in Co.Design, Huffington Post, AdWeek, Gizmodo, TNW, and lots more. Some months later we released part II (see footnotes) and managed to get even better results in terms of exposure, thanks to our Marketing team efforts.

“The results of the ‘viralization’ of the article were vital for closing our following investment round.”

Of course it was nice to see people visiting the blog and engaging with the article, even the trollers. The results of the ‘viralization’ of the article were vital for closing our following investment round. It helped our SEO efforts on a much deeper level than we thought initially and made us increase our lead generation by 300% in 2 months only, what made sales grow proportionally and helped us closing the first semester on a break even scenario.

Being a full online company, Online Marketing is our bread & butter (or ‘feijão com arroz’, ‘pà amb tomàquet’, etc.). No need to say that after that, ‘Design’ started having a much bigger importance on the blog editorial strategy (as a topic) and also on growth hacking techniques we implemented, as we saw the effect creative thinking had on results.

It was a simple graphic exercise, but it changed the game for us. More than anything it changed the way I lead conversations with Marketing now, how I emphasize internal processes being well thought (in startups it can get crazy!), and how I understand now that Designers think differently than most people — hence why I’m always going be asking “How are we going to do this?” when they come with the “Why’s” and “What’s”.


  1. If you’re interested in reading The Brand Colour Swap II, go here:

2. If you want to follow me on Twitter, I’m at @paularupolo.

3. I’ve been running an experiment with embroidery express services topics as well.