Andreas Markdalen, Global Chief Creative Officer at frog


What’s your relationship to visual design?

I’ve been working with visual design in form since 1998. I started my career at frog (where I’m currently the Global CCO) as a Sr Visual Designer almost 14 years ago, grew within the ranks to become Principal Director and frog’s Global Discipline lead for Visual Design between 2015-2018. Today, I focus on a broad range of things, but Visual and Graphic Design for communication, storytelling and interaction is and will always be something very close to my heart, and a passion.

What did your Senior Visual Designer role involve?

My first project at frog back in 2009 was to design a Photo management tool (imagine like an early iteration of Google Photos) for a telco client. I worked together with a Creative Director, a lead technologist and an Interaction Designer in developing a proof of concept. The visual design role involved creating the design concept working closely with the interaction designer. I was part brand ambassador on the project, ensuring that the brand was translated into a distinct user interface, and I ensured that the visual design took functional requirements and wireframes to a new experiential level. The team shaped the overarching concept and visualised ideas in different levels of fidelity.

I used Photoshop as the primary tool, and made live mockups and prototypes with Flash.

In my first years I primarily designed digital products (for interaction). Over time the visual design role had two focus areas: design for interaction, and design for communication (equivalent to graphic design).

How much has the role of visual design changed since then?

The role of visual design felt quite steady for a long period. Over the past 5-6 years younger designers are generally adopting a hybrid approach, driven by industry needs to adopt a full-stack type mindset. “Experience designers” or “Digital Product Designers” sit somewhere in-between visual and interaction design. These “new” roles bring both benefits and risks. The evolution of this transition goes hand in hand with Product design getting increasingly systemic; brand and visual design expression is developed in a foundational phase for a design system at some point and then trickles to the rest of the product in coming years. The need for visual designers to invent new concepts and expression is reduced (or at least not continuous). It’s not true for consultants at frog, but it is for the industry in general. Conformity, convergence and systemic rigour have been dominating themes over the past decades (for better and for worse).

I still see the sweet spot for visual designers being the intersection between brand and product experience. Being able to translate and imagine new experience that convey the right emotions in the right moments.

How does frog hire designers who can invent new concepts?

Designers are drawn to frog because they want diversity in the work. Every project is different (industry, client context, user context). Generally we find people whom haven’t really landed on a specific type of work they want to do consistently. They love change, they thrive in ambiguous environments solving hairy problems. A great portfolio showcases examples of work that scales across brands and industries. Visual designers are usually able to demonstrate the ability to craft a concept from scratch, interpreting the emotional vectors of a brand, as well as the utilitarian needs for the experience to shape a dynamic narrative.

How do you encourage quality with people you oversee?

Build close 1-to-1 relationships with each individual to align on short term and long term goals. Establish a personal discourse around work and life that will be infused in dialog and mentorship moments.

Build a culture of critique in the studio (or remotely). Meet twice a week and pin the work (digitally or physically), establish the trust to discuss and challenge the work. Bring the whole team in and discuss from all perspectives. It not only helps the work, but allows team members to form a narrative and storytelling around the work.

Sometimes the best way to drive quality is continuous iteration and refinement, other times you need to pull the plug and restart the machine. Build a relationship where nothing is taken personal and the work goes where it needs to go.

Do you want to share anything about visual design that I haven’t covered?

Visual design as a discipline needs thought leadership and vision. Emerging leaders in this space needs to be able to tell a story that C-suite, Managers and peers get inspired by and understand. Visual design isn’t something “new”, but we speak of it as such, as if it had emerged in parallel to terminology like UI/UX. The craft of visual design goes back hundreds of years. Visual design is one of the best tools to drive emotional impact in an experience. We need to push the craft further to explore new ground and tell new stories that drive traction to the discipline. When everything blends, when everything converges... we end up with a bland, mediocre, vanilla monoculture where everything looks, feels and tastes the same. Great visual design can be an answer to that.... Impactful visceral ideas and concepts that evoke and provoke new thoughts and emotions.