How to Succeed in Design, Branding, and Marketing Insights from an Industry Expert

How to Succeed in Design, Branding, and Marketing: Insights from an Industry Expert

An interview with Namanh Hoang, Founder at AskNam (Twitter, Facebook)

Q: Who is the typical person in your industry in terms of age, education, and background?

When it comes to the fields of design (particularly graphic design), branding, and marketing, the demographics can vary greatly. The age can range anywhere from 16 to 90, or any age as long as they are still cognitively functional. As for education, that too can range from people with no educational background to Ph.Ds and MBAs.

Q: What kind of education or training is usually needed to get into your field?

Since design, branding, and marketing are creative careers, a person typically doesn't need to have an education to succeed in the field. Some people can just be self-taught to use the typical applications such as Photoshop, Illustrator, and so on, and in combination with natural creative talent, they can easily rise to the top of the industry.

The other two routes are through vocational schools, i.e., specialty design colleges, or traditional education through colleges and universities. However, it is important to note that, in my opinion, if a business is judging people in the design, branding, and marketing fields solely based on their education, they are likely missing out on a majority of talented people out there.

To be honest, the best education one can get to really succeed in this field is through a critical thinking mindset that is constantly interpreting the world around us. The more we experience design, marketing, and branding strategies around us, the more we build a compendium in our minds of common sense rules and innovative strategies from which we can copy or create our own creative interpretations.

Q: How do people often build their careers in your industry? Do they usually stick around, or is there a trend of moving to different roles or fields?

People generally start out in design by understanding the basic tools that people in our field use every day. Design requires actual skills that come from doing the work. However, marketing and branding are more mental, and the only tool is your brain's ability to identify problems and opportunities and how to solve them.

Typically, people start as designers and then move up into more senior design positions that oversee other designers or provide art direction. As they gain experience and are able to see the bigger picture, that is when they typically begin transitioning into higher roles in marketing and branding.

Note we are talking specifically about marketing and branding roles that involve creative assets as opposed to people in marketing who are purely analytical, such as measuring KPIs that don't require any natural or learned talent.

Q: What are some challenges that your industry is facing today?

There is often a divide in the educational system that treats artistic degrees such as graphic design as something wholly separate from marketing and branding, although both marketing and branding are dependent on graphic design.

Many students graduate college with a reasonable ability to design. However, they lack the marketing and branding acumen to deliver winning designs right out of college. They usually need to be mentored on the job to begin understanding how marketing and branding play a role in developing good graphic designs.

Q: What do you think the future holds for your industry, especially considering advancements in technology like AI? Will your field remain relevant in the next 10-20 years?

AI is certainly something that strikes right at the heart of the design, marketing, and branding industry.

AI tools such as Dall-E, Stable Diffusion, and MidJourney can easily displace opportunities at the entry level since they can design, craft marketing copy, and even create hundreds of logos in minutes.

However, what AI lacks is originality and creativity. It can, of course, simulate it, but any creative output that it creates is still dependent on creative input from real people. That certainly raises the standards for what people will demand in terms of original creativity in the future. Take an artist like Mr. Doodle. If he didn't exist prior to AI, AI would likely be incapable of developing his style from scratch.

AI could also provide marketing suggestions. However, they would be rudimentary. The nature of guerrilla marketing, for example, is often a concept that has never been attempted before.

Q: What's something surprising or unexpected about your industry that most people don't know?

You don't have to go to school to learn design. Most people can learn all the tools needed from YouTube and other learning resources. It is just a skill that takes time to hone and improve.

As for marketing and branding, that, too, just takes time and exposure to it. I am self-taught in graphic design, reading books back in the 1990s. When it comes to marketing and branding, I have to rely on a vast knowledge base of experiences that I've collected throughout my lifetime. I can reference branding and marketing campaigns as far back as the 1920s up to today, which allows me to pull from it to create new ideas for today.

Most people don't know it, but many of the most iconic Apple designs are not originally Apple's. From the iPod to the iMac, even the Apple calculator is a derivative of Dieter Ram's designs created for Braun in the 1950s.

A formal education, especially at prestigious art and design institutions such as CalArts, likely has a curriculum that will expose people to this, but I've found that non-specialized general education institutions often skip over this. However, it doesn't mean that it can't simply be learned just by Googling the information.

Q: What advice would you offer to someone who is just starting out and is interested in working in your field?

Design skills can always be improved with time, and there is no need for a formal education to achieve it. However, great success in the industry requires a particular mentality that naturally loves the field of study. It's the kind of mentality that is open to absorbing all the marketing and branding that surrounds us and has an unending curiosity to seek out knowledge and understanding.

When I see an ad or logo, my mind naturally dissects it, figuring out what works and what doesn't. I look up the case studies to understand what motivated that direction. Then I file it away in my mind with the other billions of things I've seen in the past, and hopefully, one day, I can pull them out again to make use of them.

I don't want to say that a formal education has no value. It certainly can, especially for people who might lack direction or self-motivation. A structured curriculum is designed for just that. However, if you have the talent and drive to succeed in this field, you can do just as well without a formal education. In fact, without the boundaries of a structured educational system, a person could easily outpace any student in school. I think the most parallel career to this would be cooking, where pure experience can create Michelin-star chefs.

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