From Responsive Design to Responsive Thinking

An interviewer once asked world-renowned architect Frank Gehry about his approach to designing buildings. Gehry responded that he doesn’t design buildings; rather he designs the spaces in between buildings. An interesting answer that rings true whenever you see one of his structures. It is also a lesson in how we should think as marketers.

How many times have we been asked to build an idea without knowing where it will ultimately live?

We ply our craft to create the most compelling and helpful content without a place in mind. The campaign that works so well on the wide-open spaces of the adlob, can often stutter in other media.

To keep going with this analogy, one of my favorite pieces of architecture in the world is the train station at Lyon Airport in France by Santiago Calatrava. It is a magnificent building that sits atop the train line in the plains of Lyon and looks like a bird taking off. It’s known as “Bird on a Wire” and it’s a beautiful idea, beautifully executed. However, Calatrava paid homage to himself with his new subway station at the World Trade Center and created something very similar looking. It is beautiful, but it is boxed in by skyscrapers and almost impossible to see. It’s more of a pigeon in a pothole than a bird on a wire.

Today everyone talks about responsive design, but that is all too often just a desire to put the same thing everywhere. Instead, we should be crafting “responsive thinking”: the art of creating ideas that are big and generous enough to manifest in a way that is totally relevant to the context they are seen in. Of course, our ideas are not expected to live as long as the Guggenheim in Bilbao or the Eisenhower Memorial, but they must still have presence and impact while fitting meaningfully into the landscape.

– Graham Mills, Managing Director, Digitas Health LifeBrands New York


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