Every designer starts out designing cool stuff that represents the brief. We are conditioned to take the answers given to us and design accordingly. The first time I started asking more questions about who was going to be seeing my motion designs was when designing for digital signage. Things that seem completely ordinary had enormous effects on the audience's ability to absorb the information, let alone be converted into paying customers. The amount of light in the area could affect readability. If it was completely dark, then the signage animation needed to have a darker background in order to be easier on the eyes and invite viewers to read it. The size of the screen and distance from which people would be reading the sign affected the amount of text and the time in which we had the text on the screen. Even the other visual elements around the sign affected how much attention viewers would be able to give the signage content.
From there, my curiosity grew and I started asking questions about audiences in every environment. What personal, cultural, and environmental elements affect a target market's ability, or willingness, to comprehend, relate, and convert? The answers were in personal experiences, preferences, and cultural influences.
Here's a simple, fictitious, example. Let's say a client is opening a brand new local coffee shop franchise in the Chicago area. Their mission is to create an inclusive environment where people from all of the diverse Chicago neighborhoods can come together over a shared love of coffee. They plan on strategically opening locations close to the borders of different ethnic neighborhoods (Greek Town, Chinatown, etc.). When it comes to both branding and content, most designers' first instincts are to tailor the content to each demographic. However, the since the coffee shop's mission is to create inclusion, we need to consider the culture of Chicago. The people of Chicago are perfectly happy keeping themselves divided. So, if the content catered to each physical location's area, then they would still only ever visit the one location and consider the other locations "not for them." In order to create a truly inclusive environment images of different ethnic coffees and baked goods, without any direct affiliation to a certain ethnicity, along with a diverse cast of people enjoying and connecting over the coffee send a warm message of inclusion. Even colors used in the branding and promotional content needs to be unassociated with any one culture or local gang. Every detail, down to the fonts, shapes, and the motion in any animated elements either resonate with the target audience, or turn them away. There is a completely subconscious reaction that happens... and we can absolutely use culture to our advantage when planning our content.
How I got here from motion design...
Once I understood the power of asking very specific questions about the audience members themselves, branding and creative strategy development for EVERY medium became exhilarating puzzles to solve! As a Motion Designer, I was often told to, "Just come up with something that looks good," or "Don't ask so many questions." It left me feeling as though there was something missing. Sure, I could make cool stuff... but I was never sure that it was accomplishing what it intended to accomplish, unless I knew more about the audience's environment/culture.
Creative strategy feels like home. It is the place where questions are necessary, data is paramount, and puzzle solving is the reward. Remembering back to before I ever set my first After Effects keyframe, I found the most joy working behind the jewelry counter at Walmart. I was 17 and every holiday customers would say, "I'm looking for a gift for my (fill in the blank) and I have no idea what to get." I asked questions about the person, their likes, dislikes, passions, the activities they liked to do, even the relationship between them and the person in front of me. The answers always led me to say, "How about this?" I couldn't wait until after the holiday passed because, inevitably, those people would come back and say, "They loved it! I don't know how you knew, but it was perfect!" At the time, I didn't really understand it either. Somehow, the answers just formed an image in my head.
As I grew in my trade, I began to understand that it was an innate ability to visually communicate ideas. By talking with a sports scientist, for example, I was able to design and animate infographics that broke down the complex scientific concepts into visuals that anyone could understand. That understanding led me to start a business creating content for social impact. I figured, "If I can communicate ideas, then I want to communicate ideas that make a positive impact in the world!"
From that particular experience, I learned that video and motion design were simply the mediums through which I was communicating ideas. However, my true purpose lives within that ability to ask unique questions and translate the (seemingly random) answers into creative that effectively communicates ideas and inspire action, regardless of medium. Working with marketing experts, branding experts, and creative directors to put together creative strategies that both support and work with the data while looking super cool... that's my niche. It makes my heart happy.