How to design anything


You might be hip to the great care and thought that go into the design of consumer products. Even so, the customer focus that has gone into Smart Design’s re-imagining of New York City’s trash cans—barely changed since the 1930s—may make you rethink your marketing approach, even if you market intangibles like financial services.

Because designing a campaign, even designing something as tactical as a landing page, is like designing a product.

The right target

Above all, make it useful to the person your targeting. It may seem obvious who that person is, but it’s often not that straightforward. Turns out the intended audience for the NYC trash can isn’t sidewalk pedestrians. It’s New York City sanitation workers.

Likewise, the primary audience for your campaign isn’t necessarily the people who will engage with it—it’s the people you’re asking to promote the campaign: your salespeople. Are you making it useful for them?

The true goal

To be useful, the thing you’re designing must help the person accomplish a goal. This is not the same as its use. It’s often bigger than its use. It’s how that use contributes to a larger objective.

For NYC sanitation, the goal isn’t to eliminate trash or give New Yorkers a convenience. It’s to make being a sanitation worker easier and safer. Once the goal is defined, other objectives often can be rolled into the design.


You arrive at these answers the same way Smart Design did:

  • Understand the history. The designers didn’t start designing at a white board. They approached the project with great tact and respect for what had gone into the original design and how that design fit into the daily experience of users.

  • Observe and listen. Smart Design’s biggest insights came from observing trash collectors on their daily rounds and asking questions. When was the last time you accompanied a salesperson in the field? Watched an end customer use your services? Listened in on a call with internal wholesalers?

Create your next campaign or communication with a clear goal in mind. Make it useful to the right person. To get better, get curious. Get better answers.

Photo by RockyJenny is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International