What advertising can learn from design

Design is not like advertising led by concepts and egos but by game-changing solutions for long lasting social issues


Designers like to think about design. How many advertising courses are there? And how many design masters? Have you ever noticed the difference between the 24 hours of advertising and The Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven? One day versus nine days — designer’s magic: nine days in a week — of exhibitions, lectures, workshops and seminars about design thinking, circular design, social design and service design.

It is the paradox of design: in striving to improve the world for everyone, the subject often fails to move the individual.

Designers don’t think about their ego, it is really about knowledge, about public interest and truth for us all. It’s about teamwork, about specialists who are teaming up to improve the world together. Designers know they can solve the issues policy makers are struggling with, because they have their own way of looking at the world. At first sight it all seems vain conceit, but those who look further will see the urge to innovate and to improve the lives of many. It is the difference between ‘I know what people like’ and ‘we know what people need’. Where advertisements are focused on the here and now, design is looking to the future of mankind. It is the reality against abstraction. Hands on versus theoretical discourse.

Intersection of advertising and design
The difference is visible in graphic work. Where advertising tries to convince the consumer directly, design is less human and more reserved and often somewhat arty. It is the paradox of design: in striving to improve the world for everyone, the subject often fails to move the individual. Marcel Wanders is an exception. He conquers the world and is an export product for Holland, but many designers are still critical. Because success is suspicious, they find what Wanders does ‘gimmicky’. Another example is Markthal Rotterdam. Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam designed the ceiling. Their work is called ‘Cornucopia’. The exuberant ceiling includes decorations such as cauliflowers, strawberries and a solar system. Many designers consider it shoddy, but it was still nominated for the Dutch Design Award. It’s art at the intersection of advertising and design.

Best of both worlds
Design is too often detached and academic. A bit of advertising streetwise wisdom would give many design work more impact, but on the other hand, a bit of design thinking would give advertising more credibility and advertising people just a bit smaller ego.