Why we can't have nice things

POSTED BY Nick Thiel on Feb 10, 2014

The design process has a lot in common with professional football. We work in teams. We rely on professional grade tools and equipment. And we try to hire the best talent for the job. But this last trait is perhaps the least consistent. Sometimes the tools and equipment are mistaken as a suitable stand-in for quality talent. And this is where things go wrong.    

The NFL has become a ratings juggernaut and is arguably the most exciting sport on TV. Despite the Seahawks blowout of Denver at Super Bowl XLVIII, Fox drew a record-setting 111.5 million viewers, the most-watched event in US history. These numbers contribute to nearly $10b in annual revenue for the league. 

This success didn't happen by accident. The NFL and it's broadcast partners utilize technology to tell a rich story beyond the X's and O's of what's happening on the field. The various in-game narratives captured by cable cams, 4k cameras, and on-player microphones, keep a broad audience engaged even if the game is a dud. 

The short film Sunday Symphony covers the brilliant orchestration that goes into an NFL broadcast. The level of investment and talent is staggering. 

But $25M of the best equipment does not buy a great broadcast. You still need people to run the cameras. To cut from angle to angle. You still need talent to tell the story. These cameramen, technicians, and producers aren't just anybody off the street, they're some of the top talent available. But that's what you'd expect from a $10B business, right?

Changing channels to the design industry: We produce powerful tools in the form of brand identities, packaging systems, interactive experiences, strategic platforms, etc. We deliver great work on a daily basis. But at the end of each assignment we're often asked to deliver this work, these tools, to client-side teams or "cheaper" agencies to implement. The reality is that these teams do not always have the training and skills necessary to handle these tools and all too often produce disappointing results.

Come on, that's not fair! We can't expect our clients to have world class designers, writers, and developers on staff. That's why they hire us!

And yet, it's still a problem that needs to be solved. There are a couple solutions that come to mind:

• Spend more time on the front end of a project interviewing client and partner agency teams
• Get more involved in recruiting qualified talent for our client
• Embed members of the agency team on the client side to help the transition of a project
• Develop detailed guidelines and training tools
• Make these tools/systems so inflexible and rigid that they're impossible to misuse
• Scale down the sophistication of the work to a manageable level based on talent available

The first four options take an incredible amount of effort, while the last two are draconian and uninspiring. Regardless, it's a shared decision between the client and the agency. This team effort requires a calculated investment to see the work through, from concept to implementation. It may seem hard to compare the NFL's multi-million dollar investment in talent and technology to any of our clients, but I'd like to think the investment is worth it. After all, the NFL wasn't always a $10B business. 


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Feb 11, 2014 at 6:42pm

Great interactive lunch topic, nice to see it out in the world. As I tell folks, "Any one can draw, when you put your signature on paper you're drawing. Some people are just better at it then others."


Feb 11, 2014 at 12:54pm

Great points Nick.
To add:
"The reality is that these teams do not always have the training and skills necessary to handle these tools and all too often produce disappointing results."
More important than training and skills would be vision. Beauty, or vision is in the eye of the beholder. Transfer of vision, or to inspire a following is what great leaders do. This is the responsibility that falls on us as creative leaders. To inspire and bring along tour audience whomever it may be, I see is our calling.
Never easy.
Never done.
Certainly always messy!