In my years of publishing magazines, one of the things I tried to enforce most with our design was usability. Anyone who has worked with something needing to be designed has been caught in between a rock (beautiful design) and a hard place (more content).
However, if you look beyond each person’s artistic pride (which is also crucial, don’t get me wrong) you get to the most important, and far too often overlooked, aspect of layout and design:
An advert, for example, might look amazing but it will not be effective if it cannot transmit the message required by the client. On the other hand, if you have enough copy to write Bible 2.0 but cannot lay it out in a way which is attractive to your readers you will never reach your targets either.
It might sound obvious, however the best design is ultimately the one that works best in the context. A colourful flyer might attract a number of youths to your parish’s summer barbeque on the beach, but it won’t fill the church if you use the same bright and gleeful colours to advise the older members of the parish about a sombre prayer vigil to remember Christ’s suffering.
So how will you know when you have hit the right balance? There is no single simple solution, but even if you trust your agency or in-house design team blindly you will need to put in a lot of hard work at the brief stage. Skimp on this and you will most likely be throwing valuable money away.
So what is the information you absolutely need to collect before starting off?
- Do you need to communicate? We are constantly being bombarded with so much useless information that there are times when silence is golden. So you should always start off by questioning whether you actually have something to say. Whatever you do never accept an answer like: “because all the others are doing it”.
- What do you aim to achieve? The question before this should have led you to this answer, but if it hasn’t, now’s the time to ask it. Are you looking to increase branding and awareness? Do you need cash flow badly or have stock you need to get rid of? Do you aim to be recognised as an industry expert in the field?
- Who is your audience? Depending on your products or services and the previous answers you should by now have a clear picture of your intended audience. Learn as much as possible about them – what makes them tick, where they hang out (virtually or in real life), what level of education they have, whether they are male or female, whether they take decisions or simply influence them. Learn all you can – every bit of information you can gather is worth its wight in gold (in the right hands).
Once you have this information you can start working on whatever you intend putting out there – be it a blog post, an entire magazine or a 5-second radio advert. Make sure the design is tailored to target the right audience and communicate the right message. How will you do that? Well you’ll just have to wait for my next posts about the subject.
(#5 of 366 X 2012 project)
This post was originally written for LinkedInToMalta.