Frog Executive Creative Director Andreas Markdalen On His Go-To Tool For A World Gone Visual: Stock Photography.

Andreas Markdalen, the executive creative director of the design and strategy firm frog, shared his keys for breaking through the photo-saturated clutter and how he uses Adobe Stock for inspiration as well as trend-spotting.


There’s no doubt we’re living in the Visual Age. Instagram now boasts more than 800 million users (aka photographers) worldwide, and according to the latest estimates, in just 10 years up to 84% of internet traffic in the United States is expected to be visual. The volume and flow of information coming our way is positively tsunami-like, which creates quite a problem for content makers: They have approximately 50 milliseconds—one-twentieth of a second—to make a first impression, research says.


Make no mistake: When it comes to marketing a product or broadcasting a message, pictures do the heavy lifting. Uninspired images—say, rocks in a stream suggesting contemplation or a sprinting cheetah denoting ferocity—won’t cut it. Creative directors need higher-caliber and creative visuals that grab a consumer’s attention. And they need them yesterday.

With increasingly tight deadlines and budget constraints, commissioning original work isn’t feasible. That’s when design professionals like Andreas Markdalen turn to Adobe Stock. With stunning collections of images, graphics, videos, and more, Adobe Stock fits seamlessly into projects from massive ad campaigns to conceptual one-offs and everything in between.

Recently, Markdalen, the executive creative director of the design and strategy firm frog, shared his keys for breaking through the photo-saturated clutter and how he uses Adobe Stock for inspiration as well as trend-spotting.

Fastco.Works: From Instagram to emojis to Gifs, we’re becoming a more visually fluent (and inundated) society. What opportunities and challenges does this pose for creative directors?

Andreas Markdalen: You know, I’ve been creating visual systems and design languages over the last 15 years. There’s always that feeling of technology changing and people evolving, but at the same time, nothing ever really changes. Humans have been engaging with stories, pictograms, and pictographs since 15,000 BC. We’re designed to respond to visual patterns and metaphors. We look for beauty, meaning, and narratives that excite us. It’s in our DNA.


That said, the bar has been raised the past few years. People have higher expectations of quality and lower patience for mediocrity. Keeping the work conceptually cutting edge, while still mastering timeless qualities of storytelling, craft, and beauty—that’s the major challenge for a creative director today.

FCW: How does Adobe Stock help you address that?

AM: We often end up spending months working in complete abstraction, while insights take shape, not knowing exactly what will come out on the other side. Adobe Stock offers a great repository of images, concepts, and ideas that we can shape and mold our work around. It provides points of inspiration and practical artifacts that drive the story forward. We use it for ideation and the creation of directional moods for visual tone in the earlier stages of the project, and later on to build project assets and go-to-market materials.

Some of the newer features allow us to incorporate stock image repositories and placeholder imagery directly into our design tools. That speeds up the process and allows us to manage licensing with ease. We’re quickly able to prototype with content and validate with the client in real time.

Having ownership of Adobe Stock internally means I’ve been able to stay on top of account management and understand global patterns in image usage across all of our studios. This helps me see trends and emerging needs, also in real-time.

Markdalen and client team reviewing design directions

FCW: How has the role of stock photography changed?

AM: As a majority of the day-to-day [user experience] type work has moved in-house, consultancies like ours are increasingly asked to explore new territories. As we explore aspirational qualities of the brands we work with, image making, art direction, and content design are increasingly important.

Stock photography sits at the core of this.

FCW: How much do you customize the images? Do you enhance colors or make other edits?

AM: Almost always. In stock, we rarely look for a perfectly executed image. We look for the right ingredients. As we create branded visual systems for our clients, we need to tweak and customize the tone and style of every element. A great stock image has a raw quality to it that can be altered in novel ways, but that also can live on its own.


FCW: Thanks to smartphones, pretty much everyone is now a photographer. How does that affect your work?

AM: The impact of the smartphone is undeniable and extraordinary. It’s a great tool for us when designing, and I love that everyone, even nonprofessionals, can generate a beautiful image. It makes people look at the world in new ways, and that’s a good thing. The overall quality of the collective output is improving. Creativity and human expression are for everyone.

The imagery generated on smartphones—disposable, ephemeral, everyday—has become associated with a recognizable aesthetic that triggers certain emotions.

When Instagram first emerged, so did a new style of photography that celebrated everyday, lifestyle perfection. It felt new and exciting, but quickly became passé. Today some of those effects and subjects are laughable. It’s important not to let technology, features, and filters derail your work, simply because they’re there, ready to be used.

That’s why in our work we come back to high-quality, premium photography. We look for timeless beauty.

Final layouts utilizing Adobe Stock imagery.

FCW: Drone-enabled photography has created an entirely new class of images. How much are you using it? Does it change your view of the world?

AM: Drone photography certainly opens up new types of perspectives to leverage. The scale of impact and the quality of the photography has impressed me. Once the novelty wears down, however, it comes back to what you’re trying to say with your work. Always start with “why,” never with “how.” Drone-enabled photography is another tool, offering another perspective and another emotional button.

FCW: What stock photography trends are you most excited about?

AM: We love the breadth of imagery available across different media types. The high-quality video is a welcome addition. At frog, we design for real people, from all walks of life, cultural backgrounds and nonbinary gender compositions. I’m excited by seeing more quality stock photography depicting humanity the way it should be depicted—with truth and honesty.

This story was created for and commissioned by Adobe.

About the author

FastCo Works is Fast Company's branded content studio. Advertisers commission us to consult on projects, as well as to create content and video on their behalf.