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Q&A: Creative roles in the business world

Hi The Footnotes,

A good word to describe my life right now is unfulfilled. I work in an account management job at an events company which means that I make sure all the chairs, tables, staff and catering arrive at a location. I make sure that location has a liquor licence; I make sure the invoices are logged in the system; I make sure the client has signed the contract… those kinds of repetitive, depressing, soul-sucking tasks. Worse – I worked so hard to get here. I didn’t have a degree and I worked my way up from being an office assistant.

I am now wondering how I can get a job that offers me more creativity. I’ve reconfigured my expectations and I’m not expecting my dream job right out the gate; I also know that graphic design or something like that would require more study. I’m working on myself, trying to build my skills and educate myself about what jobs are on offer. I was hoping that you could do an article on creative jobs that people might not consider. And please don’t just publish something about being a fashion designer, a famous artist, a musician or an events planner… things that are outside the box.

Annabelle.

 

 

Hi Annabelle.

On my first read, your letter sounded kind of dark— and definitely angry. But I’ve probably read it around 8 times now, and I am getting more and more excited! Firstly, there is so much urgency in your voice, and also;  you are ready to research beyond the first page of Google – so you are really on the cusp of making positive change.

I also love that you told me to really step up and do some investigative journalism, I like a firm word. Enjoy,

From Sam.

 

For this interview I spoke to Christina, the ex. Head of Product at a HUGE women’s department store.

 

Sam: You worked in the tech team, but in a creative role. Break that down.

Christina: I’ve always thought it was funny that “tech” got hijacked to mean computer science.

Everything around you is tech. Your phone is technology, dating on Bumble is technology, online shopping is technology – there are more roles in that industry than ‘developer’. Most of them are creative.

I think that being in product development and or in business strategy is probably more creative than being an architect. You are making new products and processes – there is no limitation to what you do. People just don’t think of tech as creative.

 

Sam: What does ‘head of product’ mean?

Christina: Let’s say you work at Instagram and the business problem might be, “how do we get more people uploading photos?” or “how can I get more people to engage with photos and comment?.” The product manager would be the person to say, ok how can we change the usability of the product [the app] to fix this problem. You need to be creative to do that… for example, “do we need to have people see more of their ‘friends’ photos rather than just photos of influencers?” or “ Do we need to hide likes?” – they are thinking functionally, “what can we do to fix the problem?”

Or in my example [working a women’s department store] we were re-launching our e-commerce site. I had to try and build an online store that matched how people think when they shop.

Do they want to see activewear together as a separate category? Do they want to shop by colour, for example, ‘black jacket’ – Or do they want to shop by ‘work ouftits’ or ‘wedding guest outfits’. You have to be really creative and get inside the head of the consumer and build a product feature that will fix your business problem.

 

Sam: It sounds fun. What’s involved in the process?

Christina: It is fun. It’s rewarding and challenging and ‘tangible’ – you are working on a project that people will actually touch and hold and use.

So firstly, you could canvas [search] the market and look at what’s around. You find out what is working and what is not working by completing an empathy map, for example. So this is about finding out what people feel and think when they shop; then you pull everything together and build a strategy. From this point, you’ll build a project plan and work with a lot of other ‘creatives’ in the team.

 

Sam: What other ‘creative’ people do you work with in the process?

Christina: We work closely with engineers – who would argue they are creative… but probably not what you are after…

 

Sam: No… not really…

Christina: We work with UX designers who bring our vision to life. Like an architect designs the lay out of a house, a UX designer designs the experience of an app or an online shop.

They are implementing the product strategy. Say we decided that we do want people to search by ‘colour’ – they then think from an app or website layout how we can encourage them to do it.

I also work with the strategy team; a highly creative team! They are all about conducting competitive analysis and industry research. They will look at a competitor – like The Iconic – and say, “Hey, these guys have launched a Sneaker Hub” – what does this mean for our business? They are analysing customer behaviour and using this to help me do my job better. They might look at the back end of the site and then say to me, “Hey Christina, only 4% of your online audience are searching for “workwear” but 12% have searched for “blazer” – maybe you should rethink how you categorise.”

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Then there are graphic designers, copywriters and account managers. All of the brands online need ‘identities’ and we have an internal editorial team (copywriters) that will write about the clothes, designers to make their pages stand out and account managers that work on getting this approved with the brand; and it’s making our audience’s e-commerce experience stickier.

Then there is marketing. They want to know how they can amplify what we are doing to make more money for the business. How can the product (a new online shop) fall into the larger focus for the business? And then the marketing team also includes PR, partnerships and events; the people that are going to try and ‘launch’ our product. For example, our shopping audience use Instagram and Facebook – so do leverage this platform to get them clicking across?

 

Sam: Do you need to retrain or study something specific to be a product manager?

Christina: In my opinion, you could work your way up to a product management role from any background. In terms of technical skills, there’s a strong bias (on the internet) for product managers to have a degree in computer science. I’ve seen successful PMs with and without this degree – I have a business degree for example, but I think the most important trait is to be technically aware. As a product manager you probably won’t be writing code for your company, but you should understand the role of code.

There is a huge difference here.

Advice: Familiarise yourself with the difference between ‘off the shelf’ website themes, plug in features and then custom built functionalities – learn about different chat-bot providers, learn about how email marketing speaks to a website – or which type of check out mechanism works best. You don’t need to know how to code them, but you need to know what customers like to see and use. This is ALL things you can learn on the internet. You can educate yourself about how to build great digital products.

My job is 90% strategy (which is creative) and 10% technical.

Technology professionals, at their core, are very much driven by the problem that they need to solve and how they are going to solve it, or how they can contribute to bettering an experience. So, my advice is find a role in a company that is very closely connected to the end consumer. For example, you could work in customer service for an online store. Collect information and insight around what is working and what is not working and use this to build your analytical skill set.

 

Sam: Do you think that your job is creative?

Christina: Absolutely, I think that being in product development and or in business strategy is probably more creative than being an architect. You are making new products and processes – there is no limitation to what you do. People just don’t think of tech as creative.

 

Sam: Ok advice for getting in the door –

Christina: If I had my time again… I would find a really solid start up that I believe in and work with them. Learn everything there is to know about product development and finding product market fit and then leverage this to get a job at a bigger company.

If anyone else has advice for Annabelle, comment on the FB feed!

Also… tell me who you’d like to hear from next.

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