The convergence of data and creative

Sage quotes from Massimo Vignelli, Jeffery Zeldman, and Neville Brody illuminate an in-depth analysis of data-driven creative.

By: Adrienne Adair, Head of Creative, MMI Agency.

Sage quotes from Massimo Vignelli, Jeffery Zeldman, and Neville Brody illuminate an in-depth analysis of data-driven creative.

The life of a designer is a life of fight. Fight against the ugliness. Just like a doctor fights against disease. For us, the visual disease is what we have around, and what we try to do is cure it somehow with design.

– Massimo Vignelli

What would Massimo Vignelli have had to say about data-driven creative? What exactly is data-driven creative anyway? And who is Massimo Vignelli for that matter?

If you’re not familiar with Vignelli’s name then you’re surely familiar with his work. He created the iconic, minimal wayfinding design of the New York Subway system among many other things. It was the design that he was most proud of in his illustrious portfolio of work, although he could have said that about anything else he did and I would most likely agree.


Vignelli considered himself to be an “information architect,” taking complex structures and information and interpreting them in a simplified way to create minimal yet captivating designs. In other words, he was in data-driven creative before there was any such thing.

Today, insightful creative is derived from something far beyond the talents and intuition of a designer. Through digital media and technology, data and insights are pulled from the infinite depths of the Internet using APIs and algorithms. In the form of spreadsheets and dashboards, we interpret information that tells us anything from what time of day a consumer is most likely to shop, on which sites, if they are a dog or a cat person, if they have children, their political views, their brand affinities, charitable causes they support, and the list goes on.

Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.

– Jeffrey Zeldman

How does this have anything to do with creativity? What role does a designer or copywriter play in producing modern advertising in a digital landscape? And what about the other players – and all that data?

At my agency, data scientists who are adept at extrapolating insights are working alongside multifaceted research, digital, social media, public relations, media, and – of course – creative professionals. As Vignelli did, we are taking valuable, relevant information and interpreting it in captivating ways that benefit our clients. Insights based on data inform the big ideas and the smallest details. They influence the tone of copy in a branded Tweet. Data drives the choice of imagery, the color palette, and even the font selection in any format, from a banner ad, to a website, to an Instagram post. Therefore, data-driven creative requires informed strategy and creative thinking.

Digital design is like painting, except the paint never dries.

-Neville Brody


So, can designers, who have always loved the nuances of the tooth and weight of Crane Lettra paper or the specific curve of a particular Serif font contribute to the conversations taking place on consumers’ laptops, tablets, phones, and even watches? Can writers that love writing clever, conceptual full-page ad campaigns make a series of banner ads compelling and equally clever? In a word – absolutely.

It can be intimidating for linear thinkers to understand creatives, whose process is intuitive, intangible, and sometimes even inexplicable.

And it can be challenging for writers and designers to produce great work amidst an endless alphabet of acronyms: KPIs, APIs, ROIs, SMEs, SEOs, SEMs and the list goes on. The creative process doesn’t always fit into quantifiable, predictable columns, but as the saying goes, “Change is the only constant.”

Creatives and the advertising industry as a whole have a Darwinian ability to adapt in the service of our clients. And because brands have to find ways of engaging their customers in conversation wherever they are, advertising always finds a medium. Creatives, armed with all the insights and information the data scientists can provide us, make the conversations more interesting.

adrianne-adair Having known she wanted a career in the field of art from a young age, Adrienne Adair worked to tailor her education to the field of graphic design, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in graphic communications with a minor in Spanish from the University of Houston. Since joining MMI Agency in 2004, Adrienne has adapted her skills to the field of advertising creative, developing campaigns across traditional and new media for such brands as US Family Health Plan, Air Liquide, Direct Energy, NRG, Oreck, AIG, Legacy Health, eT Craft Burgers & Beer, and Dentistry for Children.

Subscribe to get your daily business insights


US Mobile Streaming Behavior
Whitepaper | Mobile

US Mobile Streaming Behavior


US Mobile Streaming Behavior

Streaming has become a staple of US media-viewing habits. Streaming video, however, still comes with a variety of pesky frustrations that viewers are ...

View resource
Winning the Data Game: Digital Analytics Tactics for Media Groups
Whitepaper | Analyzing Customer Data

Winning the Data Game: Digital Analytics Tactics for Media Groups


Winning the Data Game: Digital Analytics Tactics f...

Data is the lifeblood of so many companies today. You need more of it, all of which at higher quality, and all the meanwhile being compliant with data...

View resource
Learning to win the talent war: how digital marketing can develop its people
Whitepaper | Digital Marketing

Learning to win the talent war: how digital marketing can develop its peopl...


Learning to win the talent war: how digital market...

This report documents the findings of a Fireside chat held by ClickZ in the first quarter of 2022. It provides expert insight on how companies can ret...

View resource
Engagement To Empowerment - Winning in Today's Experience Economy
Report | Digital Transformation

Engagement To Empowerment - Winning in Today's Experience Economy


Engagement To Empowerment - Winning in Today's Exp...

Customers decide fast, influenced by only 2.5 touchpoints – globally! Make sure your brand shines in those critical moments. Read More...

View resource