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A Designer and a Marketer Walk Into a Bar…

by Megan Grocki
6 min read
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Users can be better served if marketing and design would work more collaboratively.

We’re consumers in a media-driven world. And, as such, we’ve grown used to product placement, telemarketing, “advertorials,” and celebrity endorsements. We like football, but we love Super Bowl ads. And we know there’s no shame in choking up over a credit card commercial. But treat us like just another “consumer segment,” and we’ll turn on you in a heartbeat. It’s a classic love/hate relationship.

But when did marketing become the Evil Empire? Why is it that marketers are seen as crass manipulators, battling to the death with their pure-hearted UX counterparts? What if you’re trying to do both, and doing it for the good of your users?

Why They Gotta Hate on Marketers?

Granted, there are a few bad apples in the world of marketing who have given the rest a bad name. But I’m troubled by the intensity and persistence of the ongoing discord between design and marketing.

First, a little Marketing 101.

Marketing, as a whole, is a big nut to crack. It comprises a lot of sub-specialties such as advertising, market research, media and public relations, pricing, packaging, lead generation, social media, and word-of-mouth. Anything that a company does to establish and grow relationships with their consumers fits under the larger marketing umbrella.

In the past, marketers relied on a few tried and true methods to promote sales. There are the classic “Four P’s“: product, price, placement, and promotion—promote the right product in the right place at the right price. Then there’s AIDA: Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action. Create the awareness, interest, and desire, and drive the desired action: the purchase.

While marketers were out trying to make the sale, their design counterparts were immersed in the creative process, developing concepts and bringing them to life. And then along came experience designers, claiming that users would ultimately reject any product or service that wasn’t easy to use, no matter how pretty it was or how hard it was being sold.

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Experience designers and marketers both have the same end goal in mind: a happy client and a satisfied (and maybe even gobsmacked) customer who will return over and over and tell everyone she knows about her experience.

Good marketers and good designers both ask, “Why?,” and “What if?” Why do people choose to buy one product over another? Why do people fall in love with a brand? What would happen if we changed this feature or added that functionality? Good marketers and designers also ask, “How?” How do we get our brand to stand out in people’s minds? How do we create a great user experience? If we answered these questions collaboratively, great user experiences would be the norm, not the exception.

It turns out that experience designers and marketers can agree on one thing: ideally, a product’s meaning, utility, and value are driven by the needs and wants of that product’s user base. Concepts such as customer experience (CX) and relationship marketing have emerged from the marketing industry, while terms like interaction design and user experience have come out of the design industry. But on close examination, it’s clear that both terms have a lot in common: they all bring collective focus to winning customers and building loyalty by delivering positive experiences.

Power to the People

Users/consumers are more powerful than ever before. They can post unfavorable reviews online. They can write and promote a negative blog post about a company, product, service, or event. They can share their opinions on Facebook and Twitter.

Some companies rushed to create a Facebook profile and a Twitter feed, and after announcing the arrival of their “social media presence,” they called it a day. Smarter companies used Twitter and Facebook to give their fans a voice, and to gather their thoughts, opinions, suggestions, and criticisms. Social media marketing, when used in this way, can be a highly successful approach. Why? Because great marketing—and yes, there is such a thing!—comes from truly understanding who your customers are and what they want or need to do. Does that sound anything like experience design?

Who’s Doing It Right?

Below is a short list of companies that are effectively joining experience design and marketing. What do these companies have in common? They know that every impression or every click is a win, even if no financial transaction takes place. They lead with messages that illustrate why they exist and why they created their products or services. And their sites feature prominent calls-to-action with plenty of supporting information that explains the benefits of taking action.


Netflix delivers everything that’s great about movies. The site is designed to suck you in and keep you browsing, reading user reviews, and sharing your likes and dislikes with other movie fans. You can lose yourself for hours on the site, and not because you can’t figure out how to contact customer service.

Netflix nailed branding, with its ubiquitous red envelopes and spot-on name. And, as if movies delivered to our mailbox in postage-paid return envelopes wasn’t convenient enough, the geniuses in marketing came up with Instant Watch. Netflix gives us options: discs or no discs, Blu-Ray or regular, streaming through game consoles or Internet-ready TVs, one at a time or all-we-can-watch. It’s easy to change plans or report a problem, and losing a disc every once in a while is okay.


ZipCar wants to change the world by providing sustainable solutions to the problem of traffic congestion and pollution by offering members “cars on demand.” ZipCar marketers promise that car sharing can be as easy and convenient as car ownership. This promise is kept both in real life, as members get 24/7 access to shared vehicles, and via ZipCar’s online and smartphone interfaces.


Disney marketers know how to spin a once-in-a-lifetime childhood treat into an experience that people want to repeat again and again. Disney “magic” is evident from the minute you arrive at your hotel. The agony of long lines is mitigated by the presence of costumed characters or plasma screens with pre-ride shows. Visitors can avoid lines altogether with Disney’s FastPass or MobileMagic. Smart crowd control means everybody exits through the gift shop, where they’ll snap up a souvenir or two. And once they’ve returned home, they’ll receive reminders to start planning their next Disney vacation—the experience was enchanting, so why wouldn’t they want to rebook?

What Doesn’t Work

I recently bought a Toyota Highlander. A few weeks after the purchase, I got a letter from Toyota’s head of “Customer Retention.” How is that supposed to make me feel good? What a missed opportunity to start building a long-term relationship with the customer!

There have been times when I’ve been working with clients and have had to step in and speak from the user’s perspective. Like the time they wanted to label the “contact us” button “the 411” when their audience might not be familiar with that lingo. As a marketer, I’m familiar with the temptation to be cool and edgy. But, as an experience designer, I also know that the bottom line is, what will work best for the user?

Why We Can’t Go It Alone

In this economy, most companies can’t create just for the sake of creating or allow their designers to design something that’s beautiful but no one knows about.

Marketers accuse designers of being dogmatic and snobby. Designers accuse marketers of being sleazy, manipulative, pushy, and unethical. I don’t understand why both sides aren’t more focused on what really matters: endearing customers and building loyalty by delivering positive experiences.

Marketers need to understand that features and functions on their own don’t motivate decision-making behavior. But when they’re combined with good design, they can. Designers have to come to terms with the fact that, to paraphrase Don Draper, they’re not artists, “their job is to solve problems with design.” And pleasing a creative director isn’t as important as creating something that produces measurable results.

Kumbaya, People!

I think that user needs, business needs, best practices and great design should carry equal weight. I wish that marketers would understand the entire design process and not hurry it along. I would love to put an end to the approach that says, “Hey, look at us! We’re the best because we say so!” I know that we absolutely have to approach our customers with candor and honesty and treat them like people, not consumer segments.

I know that users (customers, patients, employees) would be better served if marketing and design could work more collaboratively. I’m pretty sure that working together would reduce workplace stress and improve inter-cubicle relationships. I believe that combining our areas of expertise and our understanding of the wants and needs of our users would make us more powerful. Together we can create a holistic customer experience built on the emotions the brand evokes and the actual physical experience of using a site, app, or interface.

And when we accomplish that, we all win.

post authorMegan Grocki

Megan Grocki, Megan bakes the best brownies on the planet. The end. Actually, that's just the beginning. Sassy, smiling and straightforward, Megan’s a senior member of Mad*Pow’s experience design team. With over 15 years of experience in research and experience design, Megan specializes in helping clients discover the attitudes, intents and behaviors of their users and understand what is truly important to them. By being the ultimate user advocate, she is able to improve the organization and presentation of content and refine the messaging in a way that rings true with the audience(s) and meets business goals. She has worked with clients including Bank of America, Aetna, Constant Contact and McKesson to sharpen their understanding of their audiences and design new digital experiences steeped in rigorous research and design thinking. She has been able to flex her marketing strategy muscles, creating new brand identities and developing clear and meaningful strategies for evolving brands. Until recently, Megan was also the mastermind behind Mad*Pow’s marketing strategy. From evaluating market conditions to directing digital marketing and social media strategies, Megan guided the marketing direction for all our events and promotional activities while collaborating with sales to support them in generating maximum buzz. Now that she has passed the Marketing torch, she is happy to wear just one hat as Experience Design Director. Prior to Mad*Pow, Megan served as marketing manager with Momenta as well as senior product manager and user interface manager at Bottomline Technologies. Megan holds a BA from the University of New Hampshire and is always seeking to continue her education by attending conferences, seminars and reading her weight in UX books. She is a founding member of the NHUPA. Her speaking gigs have included Refresh Boston, the 2010 IA Summit in Phoenix, the 2010 Usability Professionals' Association International conference in Munich, 2010 UPA Boston and Interaction11 in Boulder. In addition she served as IxDA’s Interaction12 conference program director. A die-hard tennis fan, Megan enjoys traveling the world, splashing in the waves at her favorite local beach and coffee shop-hopping around town with her husband and two young children. Megan is on Twitter at @megangrocki.


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