Five Steps Towards Better Communication Design

Mark Busse – No Comments

That image and headline got your attention, didn’t it? Advertisers and designers work hard to get your attention. And if done well enough, even non-football fans will sit though the Superbowl just so to see a puppy reunited with his family. But many advertising campaigns flop and other graphic and communication designs fail miserably. Why? What have the designers missed? It’s far too complicated to effectively decode in a short blog post, but below are five things we make a point of dwelling on when we’re working on any design project.

1. Audience. Who the heck are we talking to? Something might be beautiful and even considered “good” design, but communication design simply must be targeted at the right audience. A design can’t be truly good unless it’s considered within the audience it’s aimed at. The audience is the key factor in the whole campaign and their needs, preferences, and priorities must be the answer to “why” every time. You may think this is obvious, but you’d probably be surprised how often real research into understanding audiences is done in design.

2. Images. How many words is a picture worth? Ultimately, we can communicate more through striking or unconventional images. Show, don’t tell, is so important. (Show, don’t tell, can be applied to how you write your copy too).  An image must arrest a consumers’ attention immediately, which is why humour is commonly employed. The image must say something if it is to be successful. It has to communicate a feeling, a message, or a mood. Don’t just stick a picture into your website or ad campaign and think that it’s good enough. Successful imagery will do more than take up space. Puppy images work great BTW.

3. Copy. Does it make sense?  Incorporate copy that can easily be decoded by the target audiences. You can tell an inside joke or pull something from pop culture if it’s appropriate for your audience. And it’s OK to target your messages instead of going with broad strokes. Make your copy accessible and easy to digest. Be smart, but not so smart you’re talking over your audience’s heads. Make sure your targets know what you mean, even if you are being indirect in your messaging. Typeface choices are key obviously here, but let’s leave that for another post.

4. Calls To Action. What do we want people to do? People need instructions and a clear understanding of what they should do next. We don’t need to talk down to our audiences, but we do need to understand that people are busy and distracted. Nothing beats a clear sense of purpose, so give your audience one. Striking headlines (like above) paired with compelling images will only get someone’s attention for a brief moment if they’re not backed up with guidance. The story being told should be simple and be tied into a straightforward offer or call-to-action for any hope of being effective. Our Calls To Action blog post was one of our top read stories of 2012. There’s a reason.

5. Emotion. What’s love got to do with it? Design that causes an emotional reaction consistently elicit higher responses because it is more memorable. This is partially why we’ve seen the rise of “sadvertising.” But not everything needs to be sad and not everyone wants to cry all the time. Consider what other emotions might appeal to your audience and go for those emotional responses. The human response is varied and your advertising or messages can be nuanced around so many different emotions. A sense of security, happiness, or even frustration can be the bedrock of a powerful campaign.

Bonus: What the best communication designers avoid

We design advertising campaigns for our clients as part of a branding project or marketing initiatives. They are difficult to do well and often hard to justify to clients who can’t spend millions of dollars to penetrate a media-saturated marketplace. And the visual design of many advertising and marketing campaigns are poorly conceived and terribly executed. It seems that many still believe Leahy’s Law, which states “If a thing is done wrong often enough, it becomes right.” Good communication designers should argue that running endless crappy ads will only produce crappy results.

By the way, that puppy above is our office dog Pepper and he doesn’t really need your help (although he loves treats!). Pepper has a Flickr set filled with cute photos if you want to see more of him.