Industry Insights: Despina Zanganas RGD

Despina has been working with clients and producing award- winning creative for more than 18 years. Currently Founding Partner and Creative Director at 108 ideaspace, she also has experience running her own boutique agency and leading the creative teams at two major web agencies. She holds a diploma in Graphic Design and is active in women's leadership as a Founding Director of Lean In Canada.


What is the biggest challenge the industry currently faces?

There are numerous issues facing the design industry today: here are my top three, which are actually quite interrelated:


1. Online Marketplaces: The emergence of websites like fiverr and 99designs has led to uneducated buyers devaluing and commoditizing graphic design. These websites make it appear as if a highly creative design can be whipped up perfectly and cheaply. Even worse, they encourage creation of design work 'on spec'.


2. Crowdsourcing: What many people forget when commissioning design is that it’s not about pretty pictures but actually what works for your target market. Smart agencies take a strategic approach to design. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if you like the way something looks or not: it’s about how it achieves the client's objectives. Crowdsourcing changes design into a beauty contest.


3. Design Competitions and Spec Work: For a young designer or a struggling design agency trying to prove themselves, competitions and spec work are enticing because of the huge payoff if selected. The problem is that for every winner there are countless losers. These competitions once again devalue design because the designers are not getting paid.  Furthermore, competitions leave creative ideas open to theft by the people running the competitions - or other unscrupulous third parties. Worse yet, other jurisdictions can blithely ignore the rules set out by RGD and therefore make it difficult to create a unified stance against competitions and spec work.


RGD continues to address these issues through advocacy efforts, but we also need to step up to the plate as individuals by educating our clients one-by-one, demonstrating the value of involving a design professional throughout each engagement. Beyond pretty pictures, we need to make sure we're highlighting the deeper value of design as it relates to strategy and business success. 


What is the biggest challenge your agency currently faces?

108 ideaspace is a partnership of three strong individuals who have been together for 16 years. One partner is the strategist, the other focuses on technology while my responsibility, not surprisingly, is design. We’ve grown to 25 people and making sure that design is infused into everything we do and is embraced by everyone no matter their role is critical to our success. Finding great people is the biggest challenge. We want it all: exceptionally creative, technically capable, great attitude, and great work ethic. To achieve this, we look for proven staff who are open to learning and able to demonstrate this in an interview setting, we double-check references and we ask a number of team members to weigh in and share their opinions. Needless to say, a candidate's portfolio must also be top-notch. 


What new tasks/knowledge/skill sets are part of the graphic designer's job description?

Design has always been about connecting an emotional response to a business objective. Traditionally, this meant using colour, font, texture, layout, etc. Today, this list also includes a user experience, which is largely determined by where/how they are interacting with the design: on a desktop, tablet of phone. Design aesthetics will never disappear, but now design principles must be used to guide the user through a process. If a website looks beautiful but the user becomes frustrated, then it’s a waste.

Designers and developers now need to speak the same language and have to work together more closely than ever before. This doesn't mean designers must become developers or vice versa, but it does mean that there is an important overlap – and this is where the creative magic can happen. A simple example: a designer who doesn't know what a particular technology can do and who is unaware of its limitations may create a design that looks beautiful but is terribly difficult to program. Or the designer could be ignorant of a user interface "control" and create something that is not available "out of the box". Likewise, a developer needs to create a number of templates based on a master template design: if they don't have basic design knowledge the page may be functional but kludgy.


The synthesis between design and technology is something we embrace at 108 ideaspace by creating a work environment where designers and developers sit next to each other. We provide training to help them understand each other's lingo and the constraints and opportunities associated with each area of expertise. Most importantly, our methodology requires significant teamwork and interplay between the two roles throughout the process. 


What is your favourite non-work-related book?

Exposure to non-design related books gives me a new perspective – and helps refresh my creative energy. Without a doubt my favourite non-work-related book is 'Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead' by Sheryl Sandberg. It has completely transformed the way I live my life. Lean In helped me realize how I was holding myself (and other women) back. It helped me trust my abilities and myself. The book made me recognize my own subconscious biases and made me a better advocate. It also helped me become more open to learning and feedback. I am now a Founding Director of Lean In Canada, a networking group for women who want to grow their careers. It inspired me to help other women seek out abilities they didn’t know they had.  Check it out – it's at


What is the most exciting / innovative project you've seen (or worked on) in the last year?

We recently completed a series of projects for the Canadian Chiropractic Association. We redesigned their brand and create a unified logo that is now being used both nationally and in the provinces. We also redesigned their website, changed their member management systems, and developed an app – Straighten Up Canada – in conjunction with World Spine Day. With this client we did a 'full-stack' engagement, starting with the strategy phase, through the design process and through implementing the technology. 


What was exciting about this project is that it pushed the boundaries of technology on so many levels: the integration of many underlying technologies, the UX, the different platforms and the ubiquity of the applications across the organization. The common thread in all of this was the client's strategy and their visual identity, the difference being in how we executed this strategy on the web, Intranet, within Marketing Automation software, on Android, iOS and other technologies. Each execution had different UX guidelines and each were completely different technologies.


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