Visual Design: Data-Driven Tactic or Qualitative Strategic Asset?

Visual design is having a moment of prominence—and perhaps reckoning. Companies no longer treat design like frosting for their messaging; rather, often, the design is the message.

Although there are limits to how many words a person will read, let alone absorb, people’s appetite for images seems to be inexhaustible (if Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, and TikTok are any indication).

But here are a couple of uncomfortable questions: Can marketers stand up for artistic design while still getting the ROI their bosses expect? If every piece of visual content is judged by transactional metrics, is there any place for a human touch?

My team at Widen and I tried to answer those questions in our third annual Connectivity Report, which was published at the end of January (2020).

We found a gap between the perceived importance of visual design and the lack of focus it receives from chief executives: Design still seems to be viewed as a tactic rather than a business strategy.

We also found that brands differentiate between the concepts of “quality” design and “successful” design.

That distinction is key to the reckoning I mentioned. For years, brands have subjected the emotional, connective power of design to the authority of business metrics. If design is to become strategic, though, we need to find a balance between qualitative and quantitative signals. The 2020 Connectivity Report found that numbers simply don’t capture the true value or potency of quality design.

It’s Important, But…