Should marketers be forced to learn design?

12th September 2019
Author: Chris McKay
Posted in: News, People, skills and leadership

You might have seen this viral Tweet a few days ago:

Rachel Byrne had no idea her tweet would see thousands of likes, retweets, and comments from passionate marketers and designers. We interviewed Rachel to try and understand why this issue resonates with so many people and to get a better understanding of how marketing and design might evolve in the future.

Is it acceptable for businesses to expect marketers to have design experience? Let’s find out!

What was the reaction?

This tweet struck a chord with many marketers and designers, who shared their thoughts and experiences in the comments section. See for yourself!

From marketers

Rachel certainly wasn’t alone in her anger towards the expectation that marketers should be able to perform the same function as a designer or other role, on top of their other duties.

From designers

And those were just marketing perspectives on this issue. What did designers think about their profession being passed to marketers?

From the opposition

While lots of people from both professions voiced their frustration at the assumption, there were others who didn’t understand why so many people had taken offense.

Wherever people stand on this issue, they’re pretty passionate about it.

What did Rachel have to say about all of this?

We caught up with Rachel to ask her a few questions about why this tweet sparked such a heated discussion.

“I had absolutely no idea it would get this kind of reaction,” she told us. “I was just venting my frustrations to my group of followers. Before the tweet blew up I had very few marketers following me, but I did have some designers in my network and clearly this struck a chord with them too.”

Although she was receiving a lot of support, Rachel has had to mute replies on the tweet because of critics accusing her of having a bad attitude or being unwilling to learn new skills. Before she did this though, she left some final words on the matter:

Rachel has her own theories on why employers are expecting marketers to have design experience.

“I think it’s because of a lack of understanding of how digital content is created. Marketers now need to have a lot of digital skills like social media, running a website with a CMS, blogging, etc. and some companies expect them to also be able to create the graphics and imagery to go along with it all. But that’s just not how it works. In both my previous job roles, I’ve devised the strategy and written the content, but then I’ve worked with a designer to make sure the aesthetics accompanying my content are high quality. Marketing and design are two entirely different professions.”

But, whether we like it or not, everyone in the twitter thread seems to agree on one thing – this blurring of job requirements for marketing roles is becoming increasingly common. Is there ever a situation where it’s okay to ask a marketer to be competent in design?

“I currently work in the charity sector and we can’t afford a designer,” she admits. “It’s meant that I’ve had to learn simple design tools like Canva since I started, but they’re very user-friendly. Whatever content I create in Canva won’t be comparable to what a designer can create with a more complex tool, like the Adobe Creative Suite. I think it’s only okay to expect marketers to do design when the budget is extremely limited, like in non-profits or very small companies. The vast majority of for-profit companies are doing their content and their marketers a disservice by not hiring designers. They should at least have an agency on hand to create their graphics and imagery.”

How might the marketing and design roles evolve in the future?

If job advertisements are anything to go by, it’s clear that marketers are expected to be able to have design skills by some employers. It’s likely that this is partly due to a shift within marketing to be increasingly digital-focused, and, as Rachel said, employers failing to understand the distinctions between the two roles.

Marketers use data to create strategies that inform content creation. In a company that has access to both marketers and designers, the content will be written by marketers and accompanied by graphics that design has created. Maybe this is too simplistic a description, considering all the different experiences we’ve seen shared on Twitter, but that’s traditionally how digital content is created.

While the majority of people might agree that asking marketers to reach a professional level in advanced design tools like Photoshop and InDesign is unreasonable, the increase in accessible and easy-to-use software and tools has meant that more marketers are dipping their toes into the design world. But what does that mean for the future of designers?

“I think there are a wide variety of new tools coming out that are empowering marketers without design skills,” says Karla Rivershaw, Head of Marketing at Turtl. “But that doesn’t replace the need for designers whatsoever. If marketers are given the right tools, they can free up the designer’s time by doing the groundwork, and then the designer can focus on more high-level tasks, as well as acting as quality control for the content being produced by the marketers. The two roles are separate and valuable but they will both need to evolve as we move increasingly digital.”

Regardless of the wishes of a few employers and their job specifications, marketing and design will not be merging any time soon. The truth is the kind of candidates who have significant experience in both marketing and design are extremely rare. It’s unrealistic and unfair to ask either profession to learn all the skills of the other just to cut costs. New, easy-to-use, innovative tools help marketers bridge the gap, but designers will likely remain a core (but separate) function alongside marketing.