Happy New Year, unless you are Chinese of course, in which case I'm a tad early. This newsletter is a tongue-in-cheek look at typical client requests made to designers and why a client might want to think again. :-)

When my boiler doesn't work, I call my plumber Joe. He's an expert on boilers. I say 'Joe, my boiler isn't working correctly'. He gives me his professional opinion, I agree – and he fixes it. It's the same with design. Tell your designer the problem, don't try and tell them how to fix it. If I told Joe my boiler just needs repressurising, and actually it's the pump, I'm wasting his time and my money. It's always best to let the professional fix the problem – that's what you're paying 'em for.

Taste the difference
Below are some real life examples and comments we have received from clients after presenting the work. Design is emotive, we all have opinions and different tastes. That is the point, your taste might not be the taste of your target market, so you have to try to be objective. The best design comes from a single vision, think Apple, Dyson or Eames. Their products come from a single vision focused on their customers.

My wife's curtains
We presented a brand new corporate identity to a client, complete with colour palette. We researched the market, did a competitor analysis and applied some colour theory which included some localisation checks to make sure our recommendations would not cause offence in the client's territories. All went swimmingly until the Director reviewed the work and commented that he hated teal. He explained that his wife had just replaced the living room curtains for teal curtains which he loathed!

It needs to stand out more
'Fill up the space, make it bigger so that it stands out more'. If I raised an invoice every time I heard this, I'd be a rich man. Making things bigger does not make them stand out more. Take a look at the image to the left – which stands out more? Which is actually the easiest to read? Making design elements fill the space does not help raise their attention. If there are a number of elements to a design, say headline, photo, body text and call to action, aim for just one item to be the key focus. This principle is especially important when designing an exhibition stand. There should be one main focus to draw the viewer in and once they come closer they gain access to the smaller more detailed content. Space and position are the things that make the viewer take note. More on this in the 'heat maps' article below.

Can you make it justified centred?
First some terminology. Setting text comes in four flavours; align left (like this text), align right, centred or justified. When it comes to legibility for body copy the rankings go like this; justified (but only for very long articles and books), align left for most things, centred, only to be used on very small amounts of text, and align right (also called range left, range right). Align right essentially means your eye sees the end of the sentence first, nobody wants that.

A balancing act
In art and design a visual manifestation that has equal imagery across a central plane does not create balance. It creates a bland surface and the viewer's eye doesn't know where to look. From adverts, business cards and brochures, the most engaging layouts use principles that offset the balance. Symmetry rarely improves engagement.
What does that mean? It means that if you want you reader to notice something, place it somewhere other than middle centre, top left and middle right work well.

Can you fit all of his head in?
Yes of course we can, but doing so does not make the image dynamic. Always apply the 'rule of thirds' when cropping images. Middle distance cropping will make any image less engaging. Get in close (or pull away) and focus on the portrait's eyes. Look at the two crops to the right of the same image, nobody cares that the subjects head is not in the frame, our eyes focus on the subject when we get in close and personal. Here's a link to an extract from Know Your Onions: Graphic Design about the 'rule of thirds'. Add to that the principles of the 'Golden Ratio' and you have the perfect layout, promise.

A wandering eye
When we design website interfaces we use research that underpins how users view a webpage. These principles apply, albeit adjusted, to how viewers look at exhibition stands, adverts or any piece of communication. Viewers don't look at content in a way you hope they would. They don't read top to bottom, more like top to bottom right and then up to the middle. Don't expect your audience to care about your content, they don't. Let the designer place the key messages in the right areas.

A quick note on principles
Below are a few bullet points to bear in mind when making great graphic design.

  • If you've got more than three font sizes in a document, you may be heading for a typographic Eaton Mess.

  • On the subject of type. One colour only please, two at best. Multicoloured type is for the Early Learning Centre.

  • Trying to show every scenario with images will never work, most audiences are diverse, and their scenarios are even more so. Don't try to illustrate everything. Better to have one image that portrays one message than lots that are trying to say everything.

  • Do this when writing content: Headline, aimed at your audience and is the 'big' message. Then a short description of how you can help and a call to action. Job done.

  • An image may mean something to you, but may not motivate your audience. A badly taken photo of a youth worker may be the real deal, but a great picture of a happy youth will communicate more.

  • If you are referencing any other work you may be limiting the creativity of your own project.

Quality graphic design is a partnership between the client's aim and the designers vision and skill. Set aside taste and aim for a single vision.

Subscribe to our newsletter