Kate Conway came into design through politics, which is the reverse of the more common route — politics through design. In fact, in college she didn’t think graphic design was a job, so she minored in art, partly to fulfill her love of photography.
After graduating with a degree in psychology, she started out in the nonprofit world, which led to a stint at Media Matters for America and later work at American Bridge 21st Century, the Democratic super PAC. Her career progressed from messaging, writing and research into management — first as creative director at the DCCC in 2018, and now as a partner and chief creative officer at Assemble the Agency.
C&E: 2024 is going to be an extremely busy cycle for creatives. What steps are you taking to cut down on rounds of edits and notes from clients?
Conway: When we set up on creative projects with clients, whether it’s a video or a logo design or anything else, we have an extensive conversation at the beginning to make sure that we’re all aligned about everything from the overall goals of the program to any particulars about the approach. Sometimes we document that in a creative brief. Sometimes it’s a quick email to make sure everybody’s on the same page. Sometimes we ask for specific examples if it seems like somebody’s got a particular vision they’re trying to achieve. Then we offer our creative take on things and we make sure that everybody is bought in on whatever direction we’re going to head in before we start any actual scripting or production or design work. That front end work is a huge time saver.
C&E: Has that upfront process lessened the need for mid-creative process changes?
Conway: When we’re talking about those kinds of mid-process changes, the way that we approach those is by making sure that we’re understanding not only what a client is saying, but what a client is getting at. I’ve realized that people who don’t do hands-on creative work tend to describe outcomes. But really, often what they’re doing is identifying a problem.
And so when our clients come to us and say, ‘Take that shot out and switch it with this.’ Sometimes that’s a simple process and sometimes it’s really getting at a larger concern. So we make sure that we have conversations with our clients and ask the questions that we need to get at the heart of what the concern is so that our fixes are not just reflexive, they’re also strategic.
C&E: How do you measure outcomes for clients?
Conway: We try to really read clients in on the process so that we aren’t letting feelings take over. What are our KPIs? What are the measurement tools that we’re using, and what are we looking at to measure success and why are we doing that?
For a lot of our video work, we look at video completion rates, and that varies in terms of how valuable that metric is — it varies a lot depending on the goal and the platform that we’re using. But we give clients a lot of insight into that, and we report out on those metrics so that they have a really solid understanding of why we’re measuring things the way that we are, and what it means on the user end. We don’t just throw a bunch of numbers at them.
C&E: We know it’s early in the cycle, but do you have an ideal platform for clients at the moment?
Conway: Facebook continues to have a really broad reach, but it’s a complicated platform for delivering messages on video because it’s very easy to skip them. So we are really careful about balancing our immediate plans to make sure that we’re basically attacking the problem from all angles. We will be doing a lot of work on YouTube, we’ll also be doing a lot of work on connected TV. Depending on our demographics and who we’re targeting, we might be doing some Snapchat ads. It’s really a process of doing the right pre-flight research to make sure that your media plan is allocating your resources to platforms where people are actually spending their time.
C&E: During a presidential year, candidates and groups on the left may look to the Biden campaign for creative guidance. Do you think they should follow the president’s branding lead?
Conway: I think it would be a mistake for political creative on the Democratic side to draft entirely off of the Biden campaign’s aesthetics. I think the Biden campaign’s objectives are to be consistent, credible, steady, trustworthy. There are all of these, sorts of, intangible characteristics that they’re communicating through their design. I think they really need to thread the needle between modern accessible and trustworthy and a little bit institutional.
I don’t think that is the objective of other campaigns. I think that there are times when what you really want to say to a district or to a state is that you’re a young, fresh face with new ideas and that your design needs to reflect that. At the end of the day, a design — particularly a logo and brand and visual ID — is a tool to communicate with people. It’s not an art project. So kind of letting go of your sensibilities about what is good and what your preferences are and making sure that you’re designing on behalf of the characteristics that you want to convey is really critical.