June 26, 2009

Logo Design Mistakes

Smashing Magazine recently posted a very good article entitled, "10 Common Mistakes in Logo Design." This is a must read for anyone needing a logo. It explains why you should avoid "cheap" logo designers and what to look out for when presented with logo designs.

December 19, 2008

Strategic Design

Smashing Magazine recently posted an article called "Strategic Design: 6 Steps For Building Successful Websites." There are a number of good point regarding developing websites that are effective. Most of these points can also be applied to developing other marketing materials, such as brochures, catalogs, print advertising, etc.

The key message is that designing effective pieces is more than just designing something that looks cool. You have to know your audience, be consistent with your brand image (you do have a brand image, don't you?), and have set a goal for the piece.

June 27, 2008

And the Award Goes to...

I've known many designers who judge themselves (as well as other designers) by the number of design awards they've won. But, what do those awards mean? They mean that the judges (other designers who are considered to be top in their profession) deem your work as being the best of all other work entered in that particular competition. I understand the appeal of being honored by your peers. It can be the designer's equivalent to winning an Oscar or a Golden Globe Award. But, does it really mean that your work is the best?

Whether you're creating an ad, brochure, web site, or logo, what is the true measure of success? For the person paying for the work, it may be increasing sales, growing brand awareness, or generating leads. It certainly isn't winning design awards. For the client, design awards are meaningless. I've yet to see a design competition that used the client's criteria for success as a factor in awarding trophies.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for promoting good design. But good design by itself is simply art for art's sake. If you are a fine artist, that's ok. But, good graphic design must first and foremost, be effective. Those award show judges can only make assumptions about the purpose of a piece as well as how effective it actually was.

Years ago, I did some work for a designer who entered four direct mail pieces in a local ad club design show. His client had hard data that measured the success (or failure) of these pieces. Only one of the pieces were accepted into the design show. It was definitely the best designed of the four pieces. Although the other three pieces were highly successful in generating sales, the accepted piece was a complete failure.

So, even if design awards don't judge on measured effectiveness, there really isn't any harm in them, is there? If I'm a client, I want my designer focused on creating an effective piece, not on winning a design award.

If you're a client, ask your designer or agency if they enter award shows. If they do, find another agency; one that is focused on meeting your goals. If you really love their work and can't bear to leave them, then do not allow them to enter your pieces in award shows.

If you're a designer, leave the award shows behind and focus on creating pieces that are effective for your clients. Work with your clients to make sure there are processes in place to measure the effectiveness. Then, use that to promote yourself. Telling a prospect that you created an ad that increased sales by 10% is much more impressive than showing them all the design awards you've won. And what could be a bigger award than that.

May 26, 2008

Content Comes First

Throughout my career, I've been involved with the development of hundreds, if not thousands, of print ads, brochures, web sites, catalogs, etc. one of the biggest mistakes I've seen over and over again is designing these marketing pieces before developing the content. Often, this approach leads to either shoehorning the content into the design or eventually redesigning the piece altogether to make it work with the content.

Many years ago, I worked under a Creative Director who only thought about design. In an initial meeting to discuss an ad we were to develop for a client, she begin by talking about how the ad should look. Never mind the value proposition, the "hook", or anything else, her first (and only thoughts were on what the design of the ad. Once she designed it, I had the unenviable task of writing the copy for the ad. So, in writing the copy, I had to not only had to come up with the "hook", I had to make it fit the limitations of the design. If that doesn't seem like much of a problem, consider that the design she came up with didn't allow for a headline!

Working for this same agency, I dealt with less extreme situations where content was developed after the design. I worked on a series of testimonial ads for a local bank. Each ad featured a business customer in a setting related to their particular business. In this case, all of the photography was shot before any copy or headlines had been written. For most of the ads, I was able to create compelling headlines and copy to fit the photos, but I had to compromise with one of the ads. I came up with a really good headline for this particular ad, but none of the photos were quite right for it. The customer's expression in some of the photos was right, but the compositions was wrong; in some the composition was perfect, but the expression was wrong. If the ad had been written before the photo session, we could have made sure we got the right shot.

Similar situations can occur when designing web sites. Designing the pages of the site before content is developed can lead to either conforming the content to fit the web page layout or redesigning pages in the middle of the project. Conforming content to fit a design defeats the purpose of the site. After all, the reason for the site is to supply information. Design should facilitate the dissemination of the information, not hamper it. On the other hand, redesigning web pages in the middle of the project can be time consuming. It can also lead to poorer design if the changes to fit the content are just quick and easy fixes.

In the end, you really should have the developed content before developing the design. In a perfect world, all of the content would be fully developed before any of the design work starts. This is rarely practical, but the content should be at least thought out and in outline form before beginning the design process. During the development of the piece (advertisement, brochure, web site, etc.) the designer needs to keep updated with the developing content. Any changes that may need to be made to the design to accommodate the content are best done earlier than later.

May 7, 2008

Who Owns Your Web Site?

Of all marketing projects, perhaps web site development requires the most diverse set of skills. All but the smallest sites require the involvement of designers, copywriters, programmers, and IT personnel. Since most corporate web sites present a broad range of information, it's likely every department manager wants input in the project. With all these stakeholders, who should be in charge of a web site project?

Designers are most concerned with how the we site will look. IT's viewpoint is how to make the web site work. Each manager may have differing ideas as to what should be included and prominent on the site. Although each of these people are needed to develop the site, egos and goals can easily clash.

The person who leads this project needs to be someone who can bring all of these divergent views and personalities together. But even more important, this person has to have a firm understanding of the purpose of the site. This person may ultimately need to define the purpose. This is a job for someone from the Marketing department.

A company's web site is at its core, a communication tool, and as such should be managed by those most experienced in communicating the company's message. Your IT people may be extremely skilled at working with the technology behind your web site, but are hardly the ideal people to develop your site's content. Designers can make that content look great, and copywriters can make the words flow, but neither are likely to be best at placating the various managers who often have differing views.

Marketing understands its company's products and/or services, audiences, and value proposition. It also has the experience of working with multiple departments while developing various marketing tools (collateral, advertisements, sales aids, etc.).

This doesn't mean that Marketing makes all the decisions regarding the web site. In most companies, Marketing answers to someone else, whether that be a Manager, Director, VP, or even the company's top position. In fact, there may be several people in the company that have more authority than Marketing. However, Marketing is the proper entity to manage the web site project, pulling together all the pieces, keeping the project on schedule, and coordinating all the needed resources.

April 29, 2008

To Flash or not to Flash

Using Flash is a great way to add rich, high-impact content to your web site. But, just because you can doesn't necessarily mean you should. Sometimes, clients want Flash added to their site just for the sake of having it. I had a client tell me during an initial meeting that they wanted Flash on the web site I was redesigning for them. When I asked them what they wanted the Flash element to do, they really didn't have an answer; they just wanted something flashy.

Flashiness is fine if it serves a purpose, but too often the flashiness is distracting and annoying. How many times have you visited a web site with a Flash introduction and immediately looked for the "skip intro" link? If your visitors always skip the introduction then it's not only worthless, it delays your visitors from getting to the content they came for.

Flash can, of course, be extremely useful. It can be used to create interactivity that presents the site's content in a more effective way than static text and images. Flash can be used to create more effective navigation through the site. However Flash is used, it should always be used to achieve the goals of the web site (you have set goals for your web site, haven't you?).

April 26, 2008

Welcome to Form Follows Function

Welcome to the first post of Form Follows Function. I started this blog to discuss the integration of marketing and design. So, what does that mean?

A great design is fine, but if it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, then it’s essentially worthless. A print ad can win design awards, but if it doesn’t sell the company’s products, then it’s a worthless ad. Actually, it's less than worthless; the client paid for an effective ad.

There are plenty of blogs focusing on various aspects of graphic design – techniques, web design, typography, etc. However, I haven't seen a blog that focuses on both graphic design and marketing (that doesn’t mean there aren’t any, but I’ve yet to find one).

So, we’ll talk about marketing issues as they apply to graphic design. We’ll talk about how designers can think like marketers. We’ll discuss what clients want, or should want. We’ll probably also touch on ways that graphic designers can better market themselves.

At least that’s the plan. We’ll see how it goes. I look forward to your comments.