My first paid part-time job was for Mrs. Fields Cookies, in a mall in my hometown. Baking all day sounds like a great gig, but, like any food service position, it ends up being a bit more greasy and migraine-inducing than fun. But to this day, I’m grateful for that first shot, those first real work experiences and that first paycheck. And since I love to bake, I’ve definitely made good use of the frosting skills I learned there.

Every job comes with its own unique experiences and lessons that stick with you throughout your life. Unless you are doing nothing but breathing, any job you hold is likely to teach you how to both apply and adapt your skills to fit the needs of your position.

So how does a graphic designer take her skills and adapt them to the world of inbound marketing? Really, it comes down to taking key lessons I’ve learned while being at an inbound marketing agency, and making sure my designs align with those guidelines.

Personas: Users are Key

The heart of good design is a focus on the end user – or in the inbound world, your buyer personas. It’s not for the designer, and it’s not for the client’s company or anyone in it. Everything is set in motion around the people the client is trying to reach, and they are the only audience that matters.

For inbound marketing, this means developing and utilizing a brand style guide that helps everyone in the company to keep track of the brand elements in all marketing materials.

It’s making the transition from email to web page to downloadable ebook while keeping every bit of branding consistent across the board, and allowing the audience to have a cohesive experience as they work their way through the buyer’s journey.

Moving beyond looks and styling, good design doesn’t stop once the email has been sent off, or the case study uploaded. It watches and learns and adapts as it studies the results that come in.

That’s where numbers are involved.

Analytics: Numbers Matter

For you C-Level executives, this is a no-brainer. Good data is what you thrive on.

But despite the ever-increasing prevalence of inbound, some people just don’t seem to get how important data is to successful marketing.

Successful marketing, in turn, demands successful and effortless design (effortless to the user, at least). So we need these numbers to drive our designs, whether graphic, web, or product design.

Analytics allow designers to make informed decisions. Design work should no longer be created solely on the whims of a designer or client, not when we are able to measure nearly every online interaction and touch point.

And when it comes to creating and refining designs, analytics help designers to speak in a language that their clients understand. It helps transform more conceptual and “artsy” terms into something more clearly defined, and it allows them to back up their decisions with facts and numbers.

Following that, data allows a designer to test to her heart’s content.

Testing: Good Design Cannot Be Static

When you put anything on the internet, you’re putting it out before the scrutiny of the entire world. This is why, today, agile projects are becoming more of the norm, and businesses are taking analytics a step further by testing and refining the content they produce, as an iterative process.

Inbound has been around for a few years now, it’s no longer a hot new trend, and businesses are figuring out that they need to do more if they want their marketing to excel. Content and blogs can no longer be left to rot in a company’s Resource Center.

With testing, the resulting data tells designers and developers where the gaps are, and it shows us what we can improve in order to make our designs more seamless.

Yes, graphic design can be more of a one-time, print it out and frame it and you’re done kind of job, but when you’re building graphics for the ever-changing web, this cannot be the case. The expertise of the designer and the client’s familiarity with their audience and business help with the development of a design. That said, it always comes back to how the audience receives it, and how those experiences can be continually improved.

Teaching: Design Isn’t Just for Designers

The inbound world is a wealth of knowledge that we can all continue to learn from. There are so many great marketing resources and brilliant experts that can keep us up to date and keep our work from becoming stagnant.

To work as an effective marketing team, we have to share the knowledge we all have as individuals, and this includes design.

Teaching my team about design elements, general best practices, and helpful new tools can help them be even more effective at creating blog header images or graphics for newsletters. And the more that I can teach them, the more I can focus my time on the larger, projects on my plate.

It’s beneficial to businesses as a whole to not stay siloed and to share their experiences with one another.

Your Role in Inbound

No matter your level of expertise or current position, there is always more to learn, and always new ways to grow. But even better, those experiences will stick with you and help you approach problems if you let them.

If you work closely with designers, give them the resources they need to learn more about inbound and how it influences their work. Don’t keep them boxed up in their little design corner, but instead let them see how the work they do can have an even greater impact on the marketing results you want to see.

And if you are a designer yourself, let me know how else inbound, or related marketing tactics, have influenced the way you work and create great designs. Comment below, or message me on Twitter.

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