Untying the one-armed paperhanger

Gail Straus

I often marvel at the abilities of members of our creative teams. They turn out beautiful and responsive work day after day – work that is generally greeted with “I like it” or “I don’t like it” from the client.
Indeed, too often agency creative professionals operate like the proverbial one-armed paperhangers. They busily sit at their computers cranking out work with little intelligence to guide them. That additional arm would help them do better work that can be judged on more valuable criteria than whether the client likes it.

Agency founder and former designer Rudy Magnani would often say, “It isn’t creative unless it sells.” While effectiveness or whether the work does the job it is intended to do is a critical measure for agency creative teams, a sales metric typically comes much later. The work has already been in the market, in front of current and potential customers. The sales cycle has progressed and opportunities won or lost.

What if writers and designers could begin the creative process with insight into how audience members think and receive communications? What if they had good understanding upfront of what language or images resonate with them? What if they could approach the client with reactions from their target audiences and could talk about what customers like or don’t like? Would answers to these questions represent the second arm for our paperhangers?

When we can all get beyond the notion that marketing research – developing insights and intelligence that enable our creative teams to do their best work – is an investment not an expense, we all operate more efficiently and effectively. Let’s untie that second arm from behind the back of our designers and writers and free them up to work with all the tools we can provide.


Magnani is an experience design and strategy firm that crafts transformational digital experiences to delight users and deliver sustainable competitive market advantages for our clients.


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