Building a New Creative Category
We Talk Creativity, Product Design, and the new SteelHouse Creative Suite with Our CPO Marwan Soghaier
Creative genius isn’t just limited to the artists, designers, and creative developers at SteelHouse. Creativity emanates from every corner of the business – from the designers of our creative team to the C level officers of our executive team. With the launch of the SteelHouse Creative Suite, we’ve decided to shine the spotlight on one of our great creative leaders, our Chief Product Officer Marwan Soghaier.
If you know Marwan, you know the man marches to the beat of his own drum. He radiates personality, and if you’re in the same room as him you’re practically guaranteed to be inspired through osmosis alone. He drives the next generation of SteelHouse’s products, and works closely with our teams to develop pivotal, game-changing additions to SteelHouse’s line of product offerings.
Not satisfied with creating just another piece of software, Marwan and the team members of SteelHouse have created a new category of creative software altogether. The Creative Suite gives anyone the ability to use the content from the world around them to build engaging ads – and as Marwan loves to point out, it gives the average Jane and Joe the power to leverage any source of creativity they find to help tell their brand’s story.
We sat down with Marwan to get insight into the Creative Suite’s creation, his outlook on product creation in general, and how he has seen SteelHouse evolve over the years.
To kick things off, let’s talk about your time here at SteelHouse. You’ve been here since 2011; how has the approach to product creation changed over time?
What’s changed, and it’s more of an evolution than a change, is that we continue to redefine performance, simplicity, and access when it comes to digital ads and their creation. We do this in an attempt to get people who are used to an agency mindset to change their way of thinking – when we first started, there was a dominant mindset of “do this for me because I don’t know how to do it myself.” We know that’s not how it should be, so we continue to make it easier for large brands or small retailers to get even more reach and more control over their marketing. And we’ll continue to evolve with that in mind.
Give us an elevator pitch for the Creative Suite before we dive into the details. If you had to describe it to a friend, how would you do it?
We’ve created a design tool that allows anyone – at any skill level, from a junior marketer to an expert graphic designer – to take an idea and immediately turn it into a beautiful ad. It doesn’t matter if you’re coming from a background in Photoshop or PowerPoint; the tool is built in a way to appease an expert or accommodate a novice.
It’s an elegant way to get from point A to point B, and it doesn’t sacrifice aesthetic for utility. It gives everyone total leverage and the creative prowess to accomplish very high-end creative without having the skillset to do raw design.
Take us through your visualization process. How do you fulfill your ultimate vision for a product like the Creative Suite?
I’m an incredibly visual person, and I like to imagine what something would look like if it were completely finished. In any conversation when someone is trying to explain how something works, I’m actively drawing an image in my head of how it will look once it’s done. Every conversation is a visual one, and every word is translated into a picture – the more complex the idea gets, the more beautiful the picture.
I then move on to how I would want to interact with it. How do I want to touch this, what are all the possibilities of how I would use this? That connects the dots on how it will work, and how it will actually be used by someone out in the real world.
From there I focus on the fuel and main ingredient for my process: oversimplification. I am constantly searching for the simple within the complex. I would rather be challenged by someone and be told that my take is too easy, because you can always make something more complex – that’s not hard. What is hard is to go the other way and make it simple.
So it all starts from there; there’s a different energy behind simplifying things rather than complicating them. And that’s one of the ideas behind the Creative Suite – we wanted it to look and feel simple to use, but be capable of creating ads that would make anyone believe the process took hours. And when you show people how simple it actually was, that’s what makes the sale.
What was the inspiration behind making the SteelHouse Creative Suite separate from the Advertising Suite?
There is so much of the creative advertising ecosystem that often has very little to do with advertisers. It involves many different creators who work in a variety of mediums within the industry, and they have the ability to build beautiful ads without even realizing they possess that talent. They have the ability to create stuff that any advertiser would use, but have no idea.
So we wanted to offer the Creative Suite as a separate offering to start with to ensure as many people as possible are exposed to it. To bury a creative tool that is this powerful in a product that only advertisers use would keep it out of the hands of the most creative. That’s not to say it doesn’t have a place in the Advertising Suite, but we wanted to kick it off by making it as accessible as possible.
You touched on this a bit, but what type of people do you see using it initially, and how do you think it will grow?
We know anyone who is confident in their creative capabilities will use it because it is so easy to build with. But I also think we’ll be pleasantly surprised by who else starts using it. Billions of people have a smartphone, and they’re lighting up their social networks with what they consider art, and often times that can be some of the best stuff out there. I believe what will happen is that everyone who is holding a phone and has an idea will be able to compose things that many of the world’s biggest brands would find to be compelling creative. User generated content is what it’s all about, and the Creative Suite is going to act as a conduit for creativity and help get it out in the open.
What was something that you really wanted to include in the Creative Suite but were unable to for launch?
Ultimately, the product will get everything we’ve envisioned for it, but the trade off when trying to launch a product is that you can’t build everything at once. As cliché as this saying goes, it rings true: Rome wasn’t built in a day. But it is true that there was a vision for Rome – if you know what something looks like in the end, you can have a lot of fun with what it starts to look like.
I think the hardest thing for most creatives is to know where to start. It’s not so much a solid understanding of the end-game – your imagination can run wild with that. But where to begin? That’s a question the world at large struggles with, in any industry and practice. It’s the procrastination paradigm – you don’t want to do anything because you don’t know where to start. It’s definitely common in product management, that’s for sure, but we didn’t let it hinder how we approached the Creative Suite. It has everything we think that is core to its experience ready for launch, but there is plenty that we have waiting in the wings that will only enhance the experience. We’re going to be doing some integration with social networks that is really going to be awesome to see.
What was a key moment that you can recount that was instrumental in shaping this product?
When we started development, we had to make an assumption on what the user experience should be for the product. About a year down the road we realized, much to our chagrin, that we needed to go back to the drawing board and redesign the product from the ground up. It was a very difficult moment, something that many organizations fail to persevere through. It requires a great deal of maturity; a massive commitment on the part of the individuals building the product, and a true commitment to the process and vision.
The first assumption was the wrong one, and we knew we needed to craft something that anyone would be able to use. So we went back and took another look, built something that we felt was incredibly fluid, easy, malleable, something you want to look at, and something that guides you every step of the way. We don’t believe we will need workshops to teach people how to use the Creative Suite; it’s extremely intuitive and lines up well with how you would naturally assume it would function.
I’m very pleased with what we have now, and without that moment of “hey, there’s a way to do this 10X better,” the product wouldn’t be where it is today.
A huge thank you to Marwan for giving us insight into his process, and also shedding light on the creative energies that went into the SteelHouse Creative Suite.
If you would like to try the SteelHouse Creative Suite out for yourself, click here to register and start building ads.