Today’s Creative Leaders Are Business Leaders

Today’s Creative Leaders Are Business Leaders

Steve Gustavson, Adobe’s chief creative director for the past10 years, says there is a major shift happening within enterprises today, wherecreative teams are finally getting a seat at the table to help shape thecustomer-centric business transformation agenda.

In this exclusive interview with CMO by Adobe, Gustavson talks about the reason behind this shift, why design and creativity are a strategic differentiator now more than ever, and, the key to fostering a culture of creativity.

How has the creative department changed over the last five years or so?

There’s a lot more maturity in the type of work that we do, and there is an expectation that creative teams serve as strategic partners to the rest of the organization. Creative teams are no longer seen as just an in-house production team who pump out assets.

Today’s creatives must be thinkers and creative strategists. This is definitely true for my team. And today’s creative leaders are business leaders.

Why do you think this happened? What drove it?

The first answer people give to this question, which I don’t think is the real answer, is there’s a bunch of data that shows that design-led companies outperform those that aren’t. And that’s great if you’re appealing to a purely data-driven, left-brain kind of leader who you’re trying to convince.

But another reason creative now has a seat at the table is because we are the original experience makers. Designers and other creatives have been creating experiences for people for years. Designers have been customer-centric—in the way the rest of the business is talking about—for a long time. And we all know that people are loyal to brands and use brands when the experience is really, really good. So I think smart organizations are realizing that their creatives are an asset and can help in those higher-level customer experience discussions today.

Is there a brand that comes to mind (other than Adobe) that stands out to you from a customer experience standpoint?

I don’t even drink coffee and yet Starbucks comes to mind because they think about the entire experience. It is designed in such a way that it is seamless and connected across channels and aesthetically pleasing.

From an enterprise standpoint, one hot trend I am seeing is the convergence of product design teams and marketing design teams. We historically lived in very different worlds, especially in high tech.

You had your marketing Web experience, and you had one team that spent all of their time working on that, and hopefully they’re optimizing it, and hopefully it was a good-looking experience. But your product was completely different. And there was almost no connection between the two. That’s changing now, with a more holistic strategy spanning both teams—because your customers don’t care which team is making what, but it better be a seamless experience.

Which emerging technology are you watching most closely and why?

From a marketing standpoint, audio, to me, is the one that will have the most immediate impact. Video’s hard to do. And it’s expensive. Audio is a fraction of the cost and half the headache.

I’ve been really into podcasts lately, as I recently discovered Malcom Gladwell’s “Revisionist History,” and it’s all I listen to now. I walk or run at night and have blown through four seasons. I’ve also listened to his latest audiobook. I end up exercising more and walking more because it transports me to a different place.

Adobe is a big organization, with assets, content, and more being created all the time. How does your team foster creativity throughout the organization in a constructive way?

I think one of the natural tensions that creative teams introduce into an organization is to look at problems differently than marketing teams might. And I think some tension between groups is good. If we’re all agreeing, one of us is probably not thinking very critically.

Of course, there is some pushback here and there, but it is our job as the in-house creative team to challenge people to push the boundaries. And sometimes there are some hard conversations to be had, but we end up hugging it out nine times out of 10 because people see we are in a better spot.