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Visual Asset & Design Automation: Why Creative Teams Sleep Better Now

Learn how automating your design process can lead to a more streamlined and consistent creative output—and why that's good news for everyone involved.

Rachel Witzel

In a twist of irony, if you're fighting exhaustion and can't get to sleep, you're bound to come across pillow advertisements show up on your TV screen.

Some pillows are plush. Some are firm. Some are shaped to fit your head in it like an egg in an egg carton. They all promise you a better night's sleep.

In the digital marketing world, some non-pillow things also help you get better sleep at night. For design teams, one such thing is design automation.

Automating visual asset creation can help lighten the designer's workload, create more consistent visuals across channels, and speed up the production process. There's an initial lift, but once the process is built, designers can free up time to focus on more creative tasks and create more efficient workflows for themselves.

And ultimately, that means better sleep for everybody involved.

Take Inventory... of Everything

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of building out automations and supporting workflows, there's a little elbow grease involved.

Start by making a list of all the different types of assets you'll need to support your content distribution plan. This may include:

  • CTAs
  • Infographics
  • Data visualizations
  • Social media posts
  • Hero images
  • Ad creative
  • Email header images

The list goes on, but you get the idea. Once you have this list, determine which ones can be easily made with templates and which ones will require more design time. Then prioritize based on business impact or marketing objectives. Is there an ad campaign about to launch? Is there an email program that needs a facelift? Is social media content getting stale?

Different brands have different answers to these questions. Your design team's next steps will have to balance a lot of the big-picture thinking that's happening around it.

Create Templates

For the visual assets that can be templated, start building out the templates. This may require some initial effort, but it'll ultimately save time in the long run.

Remember to include placeholder variables for text, images, and other content—and keep in mind that different variants and instances of this template will require slight tweaking.

Once you have some of your core templates built out, utilize tools and workflows that can further streamline the process.

  • Use Figma plugins. If your design team is already in the Figma ecosystem, the world is their oyster. There are tons of great plugins available that integrate with Excel and Google Sheets to sync data. That way, content teams can create their content, and the plugins can turn bits of data and call-outs into dazzling design outputs.
  • Use Canva. While Adobe and Figma get most of the love in larger design conversation, there's no escaping the ease-of-use and flexibility Canva provides. There are Excel and Google Sheet integrations built right in that allow for syncing up of data.
  • Leverage AI. Unless you've been perched under a rock for the better part of the past decade, you'd be hard-pressed to find any design team that hasn't come face-to-face with the power of artificial intelligence. (Content-Aware Fill, anybody?) Tap into AI tools to further expedite the kinds of creative and editing work that would otherwise take hours to complete.

You'll also want to consider if any of the visual templates can be executed by team members outside of the design crew. Can your writers make data visualizations from templates? Can the marketing team churn out social posts using the templates?

This is where user-friendly tools like Figma and Canva really shine. The design automation features that enable non-designers to take up some of the legwork will free up your design team for the kinds of assets that are more time-intensive.

Build Efficient Processes

Some things aren't so easy. In the case of design templates, you're always going to have assets that can't be templated. And thus, the asset creation can't be easily automated.

For these trickier assets, try to build out codified processes and guidelines to help streamline their creation. Think through all of the steps it takes to get a design asset pushed live:

  • Who is involved in concepting?
  • Who approves these concepts?
  • Who reviews designs and provides feedback?
  • How long do these steps take?
  • What team members are involved?

Once you've answered these questions, look for ways to remove superfluous steps, avoid content marketing bottlenecks, and shorten timelines (without being unreasonable, of course). At the end, you’ll have an efficient workflow that helps move visual concepts through as quickly as possible.

Keeping the Flow

Nothing's perfect. Especially content marketing processes. (And design work is included here in this bucket by default.)

Even after you've streamlined your creation process and introduced design automation, don't be afraid to reassess these things. Set regular check-in dates, perhaps once a quarter or twice a year, to see if there are any kinks that can be worked out to further smooth out your processes even better.

Even if you've got all your design output and workflows automated, there's always still room for improvement. Continual optimization will help to keep your process running smoothly and allow you to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of content marketing.

How to Start

To get better sleep, your team needs better workflows and less things to think about. That's where design automation comes into play. By giving your design team the flexibility and extensibility that comes from technology, it makes your entire content creation process better.

But it's a lot of work. The initial lift—taking an inventory of your assets, designing core templates, setting up automations—takes effort. Some brands need support to help organize and set up the tech stack to make sure automations work and stick.

Get your team on the same page, aligned around your digital and content marketing goals. In some cases, working with a fractional marketing partner will help you nail down your processes and design automations faster. More than anything, look for the solution that works best for you.