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“Communication Design”, “Visual Design”, “Marketing Design” or “Brand Design”?

I think the titles matter.

“Communication designer”, “marketing designer” “visual designer” are used interchangeably. You rightly refer to this as label mania. At Grammarly we used the more generic “brand designer” title, regardless of focus area or orientation (surface/structure) similar to what you recommended in the case of “product design” as a title, it allowed for more growth and agency.


In the case of brand design, i've experienced, it also helped avoid pigeonholing as “marketing” design. What are your thoughts on the use of “Brand Design” as the general title?

Brand Design for Design Orgs


Can the Centralized Partnership model be applied beyond product development? 

In my brand design career, I’ve reported directly into marketing, reported into product, gone back and forth, had part of my team report into product and another report into marketing, and (only recently), reported into a centralized design org. As far as structure for brand design teams goes, I can say that I’ve seen it all.

Every downside that you cite about the embedded model sounded like my first hand experience in working on marketing teams:

  • Teams are focused on one marketing channel/KPI for a long time

  • Designers become lonely and disconnected, also undervalued, unappreciated, and consequently hard to retain. 

  • There is little cohesive design culture and community brand designers don't instinctively know how to collaborate in the product design process.

  • The user experience is fractured marketing and product communications drift further and further away from each other 

  • There are inefficiencies as efforts are duplicated. Marketing designers end up creating one-off solutions that do not scale, rather than harness assets from centralized identity and design systems.

  • User research is marginalized. User testing? We don’t know her. Marketing Designers typically have very little overlap with user research. Even when reporting into the same Product Org, I had to get extra creative and work really hard to bring my team closer to UXR. 

My Brand Design team at Grammarly sat on a centralized design team, (even though we ultimately reported into product). In order to be effective partners to other teams from within the centralized design team, I adopted a structure similar to the one below, where only senior designers/design managers would interface with marketing.

How groups within a brand design team can be organized as a centralized team
rather than embedded on another team like marketing

Well-integrated Brand Design teams help design orgs deliver on their mandate to support the entire customer journey

Probably one of my favorite lines from this book is how you frame the role of design within organizations and state it as a simple "mandate to play a role not only in every stage of development from idea to final offering, but to be woven into every aspect of the service experience."

Often brand designers themselves don’t understand their value beyond marketing channels. In order to meaningfully integrate brand design within the design org, I've found it’s helpful to explicitly map their work to the customer journey. 

Here is a very simplified example to illustrate how I would map the role of brand design (in green) alongside the role of other groups within the design org.

There were obvious brand design takeaways for all of the 12 qualities of effective Design Orgs. But I wanted to highlight this one, and get your thoughts. As a brand design leader, a recurring theme I encounter is that brand design teams struggle to realize their full potential, and take it for given that their impact is only expected at a surface level. 

When I started framing our team’s work in this way, and urged them to identify where they were/would like operating. It leads to interesting conversations every time. 

I’m hoping to make some version of this a part of my team’s onboarding, especially given more often than not, brand designers might come in only having worked in teams where their involvement was never facilitated beyond the surface, So making this explicit might help them succeed as designers on a centralized Design org.

Would you recommend other ways of doing this?

Delivering at all levels of scale

Brand Design teams can—to some degree—be organized by customer type 

I also used a similar framework for my brand design team at Grammarly–it was not perfect, my learning there was that even though we were not reporting into marketing, in our effort to be effective cross-functional partners our brand design team ended up being too adjacent to the marketing team.

I think of the identity team here as a systems team for the brand design team. I’ve seen success in bringing designers from this group closer to design-systems designers from the product design team on projects like web design toolkits, email design systems and campaign playbooks.

Brand Experience design here is in reference to brand design as applied to product experiences and interfaces, comprising of product and interaction designers that are more visually inclined. 

To illustrate, I modeled this for an organization (like Handshake) with two distinct customer types, and a separate track for corporate brand (employer brand, environments, swag)

Thank you so much for reading! I'd love to discuss. You can email me​ or reach me on twitter.

Thank you so much for reading! I'd love to discuss. You can email me​ or reach me on twitter.

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