Suddenly, flat design is all the rage. From Microsoft to Apple, the “new” flat style is taking over screens everywhere, and our buttons and apps have never looked smoother. Of course, companies are now also in a mad race to make their logos flatter than the next guy’s.
Beyond the trend, there are several legitimate reasons for this. Simplicity removes distraction and communicates quicker — perfect for the online engagement frenzy and especially the mobile world of the smartphone. Things are just more easily decipherable with pared down visuals, and their smaller file sizes also satisfy our ever-increasing need for speed.
But one of the most compelling reasons for the change is that skeuomorphism is out — that is, we no longer feel the need to pretend that new media should somehow copy and replicate the look and feel of the tools and objects that came before. Digital folders on our computer screens no longer need to look like the paper folders in our file cabinets (do we still use those?), and navigation tabs on websites no longer need to look like the things that stick up from those paper folders. Just as we ditched Naugahyde in the ’70s, skeuomorphism was fun while it lasted — it served its purpose but it’s no longer necessary.
It seems like just yesterday that we were all scurrying to make every design look as 3-dimensional, shiny and “real-looking” as possible, with several drop shadows thrown in for good measure. Making things look like real-life objects was a handy style-bridge between yesterday and today, helping us familiarize ourselves with the cold new world of pixels. But we’ve been living in the digital age for a while now, and we don’t need that security blanket anymore. A digital world requires its own visual language, not a second hand copy of things that came before.
I love flat design and am happy that things have progressed to the point where simple forms, beautiful layouts, and typography can once again rule the day in visual communications. Trends are cyclical by nature, but what matters most is not the style — but rather, is it good and does it work?
Flat design can be wonderful but it is very difficult to do well — it takes “real” designers and illustrators to pull it off. Minimalism is deceptively simple and unfortunately, we see a lot of bad flat design because of it. As flat design’s inherent simplicity offers no place to hide, it will now be easier to separate “those who can” from “those who can’t.” All those tacky stylistic renderings and cheap “special effects,” layered upon ugly layer, did a fine job of concealing a lack of real design skill — but Halloween is over and the mask needed to come off eventually.
The key now is to make flat design and the return to minimalism as clever and interesting as anything more elaborate — boring, empty design won’t spark anyone to action and is the risk taken with less capable hands.
So… bring on the flat — no more 3-D buttons that feel like we can push them, no more leatherette backgrounds (why do we call them “wallpapers” anyway?) and no more spherical balls when a plain circle will suffice.
It’s time to move past all the unnecessary adornment and the land of bells and whistles — to embrace our present by looking to the past. Flat design is not a trend, it’s a reawakening.
There’s never been so much content, and there’s never been so much crap. Pin it now!
That is the sad fact in this time of the content creator, where everyone is making stuff and publishing it, willy nilly. Friends, colleagues, business associates and family — posting one blurry kitten photo after the next, banging out blog post after crummy blog post, ad hoc images with quotes slapped on them in Comic Sans, shaky videos that would make a sailor puke…
Even worse, the persistent drumbeat of current social media thinking says that content must be created on a consistent basis to stay relevant and expand influence, so the bombardment grows worse with each passing day.
Well, I've got great news for you, content creation isn't for everybody — and it doesn’t have to be!
But ever notice all the frenetic talk about the latest, greatest DIY tools these days? And all these great new technologies? Everyone goes gaga over the next quick fix for throwing up a website or using all these new social platforms, cheap templates, plugins, widgets, software… Mac vs. PC… ARGHHHH!
People always seem to be enamored with the latest-new-hot-gadget or gizmo, hoping to produce the next most amazing thing ever known. Talent can be checked at the door — the tools will do it all, or so they think.
When the desktop publishing revolution began back in the ’80s — everybody and their office assistants were soon calling themselves designers. As if just pushing some buttons would magically produce the same work that professionals who spent their entire lives mastering their craft could do.
But just as a paint brush is a tool and will not paint a beautiful painting by itself, a computer is a tool and will not design a beautiful design by itself either. It certainly won’t think strategically.
A paint brush will not paint a masterpiece without a master behind it. The brush is a tool.
A scalpel will not save a life without a skilled surgeon behind it. The scalpel is a tool.
A garden tool will not grow a bountiful garden without a green thumb behind it. The garden tool is… you got it — a tool!
Nobody cares about your tool
Social media is awash with people talking about… wait for it… social media! But social media is also just a tool! Now, there’s nothing wrong with this, it’s a relatively new area and if you’re trying to establish “thought leadership” in the social media space, then maybe non-stop conversation about Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google Plus fits your MO. I get that. But shouldn't the focus really be more on what exactly we are doing with social media? And no, I don’t mean the ROI conversation, I mean the content creation conversation and sharing good, engaging, original content.
Isn't that vastly more interesting, anyway? And isn’t that what, ultimately, will separate the best from the rest — perhaps eventually putting you in a position to grab that highly-coveted ROI?
What separates the best from the rest is what you do with the tools, not the tools themselves. It’s always been this way, of course, it just seems to be more-easily forgotten these days. Computers, software, platforms and the like are all part of the same thing — they are a means to an end, not the end in and of themselves. Producing amazing work is really where our focus should be, and while tools and the other things may help you get there, they will not auto-magically produce good work any more than a paintbrush will produce the Mona Lisa; or a pen will write a Shakespearean sonnet. A camera does not a good photograph make — without any regard for composition, lighting, timing, and all the other things that go into capturing a wonderful moment in time — it will never happen without the proper training, practice and talent!
And believe me, any illusion of slickness is quickly disregarded as run-of-the-mill by most people and brushed aside as completely amateurish by others who know better. Is that the impression you want to make? Is extremely average OK with you?
Everyone else has access to all those same tools and using them will make you look like everyone else, at best. That’s not going to get you very far in a time when there has never been so much content produced and the need to stand out never greater. Crappy content is everywhere — producing more of it is not going to get the results you need.
Why, oh why?So why are we so enamored with technology and tools? It is amazing, I admit, but perhaps it’s also an easier conversation to have. But if we stop and take a moment to realize what will truly set us apart and make a difference, shouldn’t we be spending more of our time discussing the very things that will get us there?
The best creators, those with real talent and the chops to back it up, are not the ones endlessly talking about the tools. They are too busy doing the work — feeding their creativity with the information and inspiration it needs to be remarkable, and then using the tools the way they were intended — as a means to get the job done. That’s it.
But let’s face it — not everyone is cut out for content creation. And that’s fine. Maybe it’s about fear, or people simply trying to make up for what they feel they lack. Hey, we’re all human and we don’t all have to be good at everything.
Producing good content is hard — writing, producing an infographic, an e-book, a good photograph or illustration — and not everyone is cut out for it. Access to all these new tools doesn’t change that. It may be easier to produce a cheap facsimile, but that’s all it is. If you produce insignificant work, then you will also be stuck in that same rut of insignificance. Period. Is that what you want for yourself and your business?
Now, while I encourage everyone to develop their creative skills and interests, I also encourage them to make an honest assessment of where they are and the impact they are having on their professional reputations and personal brands. Maybe even consider hiring a pro, especially for matters as important as your business.
Nope. Content creation isn't for everybody. And that’s OK.
So after 30 days of anticipation, parading out a different logo every day to generate excitement, Yahoo had the “big reveal” of their new logo. We are not only uninspired, we are yawning. And stunned. Stunned that another major company could take such an embarrassingly amateurish approach to their rebranding.
Now let me be clear, I’m not one for logo bashing — I think that’s way too easy to do and it becomes a kind of blood sport for a lot of people whenever a new logo is announced. Everyone jumps on the bandwagon to rip something apart rather than build it up. I much prefer the latter, when it’s warranted.
I held out hope for Yahoo, even during the 30 days of bad logos that they decided to roll out. I did harbor serious reservations about that strategy which in my opinion, created more brand confusion than it did excitement. Skeptical, yes, but I kept an open mind to see where they would take us.
Well, the logo would have had to be pretty damned impressive after all that buildup for it to have any hope of working. It was worse than I imagined. Not only is it uninspiring, it is technically bad in that there are just so many design no-no’s that scream “amateur hour” to any professional designer worth their salt.
Unfortunately, the video demonstrating the “science” behind its creation left me unimpressed and unpersuaded — in fact, it feels like a lot of smoke and mirrors to convince us in mathematical terms why it works and why we should like it. Such BS. In the end, it still looks terrible! Check your pockets folks, you’re being swindled.
But the clincher was CEO Marissa Mayer’s Tumblr post, where she explains the design process in her own words. After the first few lines, I honestly thought I was tricked into reading a satirical piece from The Onion or something. But no… here are some tidbits: Pin it now!
“Our brand, as represented by the logo, has been valued at as much as — $10 billion dollars. So, while it was time for a change, it’s not something we could do lightly.”
OK, fine so far.
“On a personal level, I love brands, logos, color, design, and, most of all, Adobe Illustrator. I think it’s one of the most incredible software packages ever made. I’m not a pro, but I know enough to be dangerous :)”
Wait, what? Uh oh, not liking where this is going. Why is the CEO of a $10 billion dollar company talking about Adobe Illustrator? The tools of design creation are so far down the pipeline from what she should be discussing… I am… well, let’s wait and read some more…
“So, one weekend this summer, I rolled up my sleeves and dove into the trenches with our logo design team: Bob Stohrer, Marc DeBartolomeis, Russ Khaydarov, and our intern Max Ma. We spent the majority of Saturday and Sunday designing the logo from start to finish…”
Holy crap — now she really lost me.
So the logo for this $10 billion dollar company was created over a weekend with a team that included the CEO and an intern? Perhaps Saturday was also spent with a tutorial of how to achieve bad kerning in Adobe Illustrator?
Nope. That was real, folks. It really was Yahoo’s CEO discussing in her own blog post how they went about rebranding a $10 billion dollar company.
I’m sure she thinks this was a radical move, with a take-charge CEO working down in the trenches on creating something in an inspired fit to reinvigorate the masses. But as CEO, you would think she would spend more time explaining the strategy and rationale behind the new branding — perhaps there just wasn’t too much more to say there. Instead, she chose to discuss the actual design.
Now, I know Ms. Mayer has an MS in computer science and was a software engineer, but as far as I know, she never had any design training or professional experience, other than playing with various shades of blue at Google. She fails to see why the new logo is so insipid and does nothing to inspire the feeling of “whimsical, yet sophisticated; modern and fresh” that she portends in her post. She explains the playfulness of the big “O,” fine — but any professional designer sees that there is no balance to the spacing between the letters. The kerning between the “Y” and the “a” is downright horrible. Close up that space! And then the spacing between the “o’s” is too tight. The exclamation point doesn’t look right either — it’s too wimpy and looks like it should be pulled down a bit. The whole thing just looks disjointed and unbalanced — which in the right hands could work — but here, just looks like something that a CEO with no design experience and a summer intern helped create.
Other companies have had similar branding fails in recent history, one of the biggest being the GAP logo fiasco. What has happened to branding? Why is it now treated so lightly that people just toss around junk in such a trivial, jovial manner, with all those contest-driven and crowdsourced activities that come with it? Logo design is not a beauty competition, but in the end, it is the professional designers and design agencies that will make it beautiful! And relevant. And on target. And effective.
For my money, rebranding a business, let alone a $10 billion dollar global corporation deserves more. What say you?
And if you need a logo or rebranding for your own business, contact me and let’s discuss how we’ll get it done the right way.
There are as many ways to develop good creative as there are people in this world. When it comes to getting good work done under the pressures of business, budgets and ever-tighter deadlines, however, it’s good to know how to get the most from your design investment.
After working professionally in the creative field for almost 30 years now, I’ve found what works and what doesn’t, at least from a designer’s perspective. Assuming that most of you work on the other side, I thought this list would be helpful.
Let me know what you think in the comments and please don’t hesitate to elaborate on any nuances I may have left out. Business can be complicated, and I am sure that much more can be said!
1. Hire someone goodObvious, I know. But hiring a good designer or creative agency is truly the single most important decision you will make. If you don’t know any designers or agencies, recommendations from other people you trust is always a good bet. Review their experience, portfolio and clients. Social proof is another great gauge — social media provides a great way to see firsthand how people interact, follow through on their commitments and how trustworthy they are.
2. Define objectives/determine strategyToo often companies and clients like to jump right into the “fun stuff” without doing the due diligence required upfront to set the roadmap for everything else that will follow. Design is not about just making something look pretty — creativity directed towards business goals is serious work, and it will only be effective if time is spent defining what actually needs to be accomplished first. I’ve even seen big marketing departments miss this crucial step, as ancillary interests come into play and take on a life of their own, or the pressure of just “getting it done” takes precedence.
Bear in mind, your design investment will only be as good as what fed the design in the first place.
3. CommunicateBe clear on all requirements and needs upfront. Of course, not every single thing can be foreseen, but the basics should be established: budget, schedule/timing/deadlines, context, size, any other potential broader uses or repurposing, and any other special considerations that come to mind.
4. Trust your designerIf you adhered to number one on this list, this step should be easy and is why that first point is so important. Once you hire a person or agency whose work, experience and reputation you like — let them do their jobs. You know your business like no one else, and they know theirs. It’s incumbent upon both parties to partner on nailing down the specifics and then getting to it — establishing the processes that will result in the best work with the most efficient execution for your design investment.
5. Don’t ask what other people think of the designWhat is that, you say? I knew this one would get your attention, but… engaging in this all-too-common behavior reduces design to nothing more than a beauty competition which flies directly in the face of what branding design, marketing design and communications design is all about.
Soliciting a million opinions from people who weren’t privy to the project objectives, don’t know the backstory on the market, data, strategy, budget, timeframe or anything else that needs to be accomplished, will only confuse and obfuscate the process, often derailing it. If you think an entirely unscientific survey has value and simply can’t resist asking people what they think, tread carefully and take the feedback with a grain of salt. Only then may it have some value, but everybody brings their own biases to a subjective question about what they like, including you — the person asking the question. So even if there is a definite consensus after taking such a poll, the exercise is largely misleading and therefore, also largely useless.
Another thing to keep in mind is that there is no “one way” of doing something. There are often several different, equally legitimate and viable solutions to any visual communications challenge. Go with the person’s opinion whom you hired to trust. (See why hiring the right person is so important to your design investment?)
6. Bring all decision-makers into the process at the earliest phasesIt really doesn’t make too much sense if the people who will ultimately make the final calls aren’t present when the marching orders are decided for all the work that will follow. No matter how much authority you may have in the decision-making process, everybody needs to be on board for an efficient process and a successful outcome, devoid of any late inning surprises. Nobody likes redoing weeks or even months of work and the associated costs, not to mention the stress and pressure of a deadline that suddenly became yesterday.
7. Provide timely input/feedbackAll those project schedules that are drawn up will have forever sliding timelines if prompt feedback isn’t given as things progress. Creative projects, even the “smaller” ones, are made up of a series of phases that require input along the way. Designers don’t leave the first meeting and then work in a vacuum only to resurface at the end with work that magically satisfies every desire. The process is more of a collaboration between designer and client — and each has their own responsibilities to see that the process is a successful one. Good designers will seek the answers they need.
8. Show you careReturn emails, pick up the phone, respond to voicemails — the designer and/or creative agency are doing their best to do the work you asked to be done by a certain date. Oftentimes, questions arise that need to be answered before the designer can proceed. Ignoring messages and communications from your creative person sends the signal that the work is not that important — not good when you want others to give their best and get the most for your design investment.
9. Be respectful of the expertise they bring to the tableCreative professionals not only have talent but the training and experience to apply it. Provide input, but don’t dictate design — big difference!
Now, this is not to say that designers are infallible. Of course, they aren’t. And good designers are good listeners, especially when it comes to client opinions and input. Everyone has opinions — but isn’t your best bet to trust the expert who studies, practices, eats, sleeps and breathes this stuff? They also may bring a certain amount of business objectivity which can be really helpful, so they are in a strong position to know what works and what is best from an “outsider’s” point-of-view as well.
10. Provide content and feedback in organized chunksSending separate emails for every little change is highly inefficient and error-prone. This places the client’s own project management responsibilities upon the designer, which will likely lead to missed items, endless back and forth follow-ups, and friction on both sides — possibly even costly mistakes. Instead, gather changes and organize content in a way that will be clear to the person you are sending them too. This is less time-consuming in the long run and better for you, better for your creative partner, and better for the project and design investment as a whole.
11. Be decisiveChanging your mind once in awhile is one thing — we all do it and we’re all human — but when it becomes a habit then it can become a major issue. Constantly shifting input can cause serious problems for the client/designer relationship and ambush the process, turning an otherwise successful project into a time-consuming, expensive nightmare. Not a good design investment.
12. Navigate political hierarchiesBringing the ultimate decision-makers into the process early is important, but so is knowing who needs to know what and when, or what sensitivities need to be addressed. But be careful, because raising too many unnecessary questions can also lead to project paralysis as competing opinions lead to more questions and so on. The best clients get the input they need but take charge, and know how to shepherd the project through the multiple layers of approval necessary to get the job done, and get it done well.
And here’s a bonus tip: refer your designer to others. Most designers rely on referrals as a way to get new business. So, if you like the results your agency provided and refer others to them — you’ll be helping out your colleagues get the most from their own design investment, and your designer will likely treat you “extra special” on that next big job!
I hope this post is helpful for maximizing your investment in good design and leads to many more creative successes! Perhaps it also helped you recollect some of your own experiences. What’s worked for you when working with a designer or creative agency?
Share your tips below because we can all learn from each other and how design can be a major catalyst in helping your branding, marketing communications and social engagement ROI. If you’re a fellow creative person, what did I miss? (And if anyone has any nightmare scenarios they’d like to share, let us have those too!)And of course, please don’t hesitate to contact me for that next great project so we can get the most for your design investment!
We’re human. We get tired, sometimes burnt out.
What does that mean for our creativity? Not good. If you’re like me, we do our best and most creative work when we are alert, energized and better yet, passionate about what we are doing.
We all know that vacations and breaks from our usual activities give us renewed vigor when we return to our more ordinary, daily routines. But do you also know that “micro-breaks” can be just as important? And I don’t just mean those little breaks everyone recommends we give ourselves to rest our eyes, bodies, and spirit — I mean really little breaks — going to a different room or stepping outside for a moment, then returning to look at our work in a fresh light.
I often find that when I just give myself the chance to see something different and experience a different environment, even if only for a few minutes, I get the objectivity I need to see possibilities in something I may not have seen before. Sometimes these insights are quite minor but just what the project required; other times, it could mean seeing everything in a completely new light and turning it all upside down — again providing just the answers I need to take something to the next level.In a way, these breaks provide the objectivity and point of view from another person who isn’t actually there — extra beneficial if you’re a solopreneur, like me.Try it. I’ve come to rely on this tactic so much that I always try to build extra time into my projects that will allow the luxury of “time away” so crucial to taking my projects to places they would not have otherwise gone (while staying on deadline, of course!).
There’s been a lot of research in this area as well — this Wall Street Journal article has a lot of studies cited and goes deeper into this phenomenon.
Try it. Your projects will like it!
Featured image courtesy of stock.xchng
The return to the visual was inevitable, really. Modern media demands it.
Communication as pictograms means we have come full circle — a return to a day when images provide the best way to satisfy the insatiable “need to know” while on the fly. We don’t catch our info while fleeing from woolly mammoths anymore. Instead, our big, hairy, audacious stressor is modern culture itself.
Words are important, but pictures say so much more when skimming the social streams and checking in with the myriad of digital devices at our fingertips. Coupled with the need to “tell a story” in order to engage and capture the imagination of our audiences, you can see why the visual has risen to such prominence in today’s business communications, digital platforms and overall marketing efforts.
“90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000X faster in the brain than text.” ~ Source: 3M
More than ever, communications need to be crisp and clear — quickly and effectively repurposing themselves across an almost infinite array of media and digital devices, all with different screen sizes and technical requirements — changing on an almost daily basis. Even getting just a few words working in all these different contexts can be a challenge, but a simple visual or icon will work for them all.
Restroom symbols are what they are because "ya gotta go when ya gotta go” and nothing will get you where you gotta go quicker. Same with modern media.
Yet, with all this simplification of ideas down to visuals, are we compromising depth of understanding for practical convenience? Are we forever stuck in a type of Plato's cave where all we ever see are shadows rather than true meaning? Can we stop for just a second and contemplate this notion? Please?
Thoughts as visuals. Every social media redesign makes the pictures bigger. Every logo redesign seems to bring us closer to the purity of a basic circle, square or triangle. It is part of the natural progression from complexity to simplicity. Our modern culture demands it, our overloaded brains require it, and science proves it.
You can choose to resist this reality or accept it, but you can’t deny that our world has changed and our communications have changed with it. We interact with content differently now. Or is it really just a return to the way things used to be?
If you don’t adapt and move your communications strategy towards the visual, you run the real risk of going unnoticed and unheard. You and your business will basically be rendered invisible.
The choice is yours. Fight or flight.
Photo of cave drawing from the Lascauex Cave, France.
Businesses and solopreneurs sometimes have difficulty justifying the expense of hiring a professional branding and design pro. In other words, “What am I going to get for my money that I can’t get done on the cheap somewhere else?”
These types of questions are often asked by people either new to marketing, or those debating whether other priorities should take precedence in their spending budget. Even if they are the ones proactively seeking out these specific types of services, many still require convincing that a smart branding, design and communications program is worth the dollars they’ll be spending — and that it is an investment with countless dividends.
When prospective clients ask me what they’ll be getting for their investment in professional branding and design, I can answer in many different ways, but sometimes I think it best to tell them what they WON’T be getting:
1. A website that hurts the eyes, the brain and your business
People like to fly when they’re online — they zip from one page to the next, from news to entertainment, from Facebook to Twitter, around the world and back. When they land on your site, they will not be intrigued by a mess reminiscent of what two year olds leave on their bibs. Not only won’t they bother navigating past the home page, which is likely to be a masochistic exercise in search for something that will only leave them frustrated, but your crowded, ugly, chaotic website will convince people to make another one of those split-second clicks — to your competitor’s website.
2. A media kit that bursts at the seams with odd-sized materials that don’t match
Fitting that body into jeans three sizes too small may work in certain parts of town, but not when you are trying to convince somebody to do business with you. My son comes home from school with a book bag that looks like a sack full of dirty laundry, but he’s not going on client meetings with it. Not yet, anyway. And if he does, we’ll have to have a talk.
3. A logo that is a diagram, a mission statement, and ten years of strategy all rolled into one
A logo that tries to “say it all” and put every little thing into that one little graphic is never going to say anything. What it will say is that you have no idea what you’re doing, and no business wants to communicate that. Leave the laundry list of services and detailed illustrations to your brochure — you know, the one that doesn’t look like the one in #4.
4. A brochure that confuses, obscures and begs for the trash bin
People’s offices already have a lot of clutter. Your brochure comprised of all your best Word docs set in eight different fonts with fuzzy screen captures for graphic blandishment may get YOU excited, but everyone else will have a different reaction. Trust me on this.
5. A social media page that screams “DISENGAGE FROM ME” rather than engage with me
You see them everywhere — even from those you think should know better, which baffles me. I’m not even talking about the eggs and empty profile silhouettes — I mean the blurry little portraits, logos that look like they’ve been photocopied twenty times and bios full of hashtags and exclamations that make you cringe. That stuff just sends people for the hills. And those busy, confusing, garish visuals used for backgrounds and header images that would make Times Square laugh at you? Oh my.
6. A web banner that looks like one of those crass supermarket ads
Unfortunately, these tend to be the norm rather than the exception. Yelling “BUY ME NOW!” was supposed to have gone out a few years ago. Too bad so many businesses persist with this worn out tactic of trying to attract eyeballs and clicks. I tend to look the other way, how about you?
7. A newsletter that is tossed as soon as it is seen
This goes for about 95% of the newsletters out there: a flimsy page or two, crammed with small text, blurry photos and tired clip art. You may be enamored with your content and that you figured out how to create it “all by yourself” in Word or PowerPoint, but nobody else gives a rat’s ass what you learned on a rainy Saturday afternoon. You saved a few bucks, but your business will pay the price because the only thing you are influencing is a poor reflection on your business.
8. A business card that never leaves the dark recesses of somebody’s pocket, unless to dispose of a piece of gum
When I’m handed a business card on thin, crappy stock with an irrelevant stock image and ugly type, guess what I think of them and their business? “Oh, this is a person with weak skills, bad taste and not much respect for themselves or their business.” Be honest, you know you do it too.
9. An email campaign that doesn’t make it past my ever-increasingly quick-scrolling preview pane
Most people already sigh a giant “UGH!” at the amount of emails they receive every day. Throw in yet another overly promotional, ugly looking email with lots of big fonts and sparkly, futuristic 3-D images that look like they’re from some low-brow sci-fi movie from the ’70s and… well, good luck with that.
10. A PowerPoint that goes on, and on, and on, and on, and… *snore*
Not sure if you’ve seen many of these because you were probably fast asleep, but… you have certainly suffered through them. Repeating every word you are saying and putting up every piece of data you can for “graphic interest” kind of defeats your reason for being there in the first place, doesn’t it? Redundancy and boring your audience to tears is not an effective marketing strategy.
11. A web landing page that makes you sorry for landing there
Long, tedious forms with lots of asterisks that require you to give a lot of personal information are deal breakers. Your intention to capture prospects just turned into the opposite — they will leave and may never click on one of your links ever again.
12. An e-book that looks like that lame school paper you once whipped out the day it was due
This isn’t school anymore — this is business — and crunching to crank out something mediocre just because you can is supposed to be ancient history now. So why do so many e-books look like they were created under the same duress and lack of enthusiasm you had for that boring sociology class you once had? This is your business we’re talking about and doesn’t it deserve a little more care and professionalism? Of course it does!
Remember what your mother once told you: “You only have one chance to make a good first impression.” Usually all it takes is some clean underwear, brushing your teeth, flashing a winning smile and you’re golden. Sometimes it takes a little more.
And oh yeah, even if you have the skills to create some of these things yourself, you need to be a cut above the rest if you really want to make an impression in this hyper-competitive world. Hiring a pro is well worth the investment, and could very well be the difference between success and failure.
So… what terrible, awful, dreadful things will you not be giving your clients? And if you are the client, I hope you appreciate what you won’t be getting from re:DESIGN.
This interview first appeared on Rebel Brown’s Rebelations blog at RebelBrown.com
Integrated media is one of the hot new buzzwords in everything from marketing websites to sales presentations to customer engagement. There's no doubt that media is changing the face of communications in B2B and B2C markets alike. That's a great thing for our buyers and vendors alike. Why? Because our human brains grasp and remember visual information much better than we do textual content. How do we best take advantage of this Big Change? I chatted with Paul Biederman, design expert and social media friend about his take on visual and our content strategies.
Paul shares his expertise in his interview and in the Slideshare he prepared to add even more value to his comments. 1) Research has proven that people remember far more from images than words. How does that play into today's media-focused marketing?
If you look across the web and especially on the social platforms, you will see that people love sharing pictures and meme-style images! More and more, the platforms are catering to this and the way people like to engage. Platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram are built around visuals, but Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and even LinkedIn are also becoming increasingly more visual! It would be wise for companies to pay attention to this and develop a visual content strategy
that capitalizes on it. 2) If a picture tells a thousand words — how does that impact storytelling today?
Telling your brand story, whether you are a company or an independent professional, is key to capturing the hearts and minds of your market, your audience and your online communities. It is a busy, distracted world and people are spending less and less time reading lengthy explanations — they’d rather skim. So if you want to tell your story with impact, you better be using strong visuals! Videos play a part too, of course, but I still think that still visuals together with a powerful, well-designed brand work even better in this world where no one seems to have any time to spare anymore. Videos take time — pictures are a quick grab and there is endless power in a story told through a strong, consistent brand image that is pervasive through all communications and media touchpoints. 3) What is the biggest misconception about design you encounter in the business world?
I still come across people who seem to think that design is merely a decorative add-on or unnecessary fluff. Nothing could be further from the truth — in fact, I would say that design is the critical component missing from many businesses. Good design is that which serves a business purpose. It clarifies, communicates, unifies, engages and influences to name a few examples. Of course, doing these things well improves the bottom line
, but good designers also save money by streamlining communications and processes, as well as preventing unnecessary waste. This is why design should also be considered at the very earliest stages of a project and by the highest levels. From a well-designed brand strategy that communicates clearly and succinctly everything that a business is about to a cohesive marketing program that powerfully accomplishes its business objectives to visual content that helps a business stand out and stimulate engagement on the social web — good design and a strong visual strategy have never been more important. 4) What are the greatest challenges companies need to overcome in order to adopt successful creative strategies that achieve their business goals?
Too many times, a potentially sound business strategy isn’t supported by an equally good creative strategy, allowing the plan to die on the vine. And if a business recognizes how critical the role of good design is to execute the strategy and enable its success, the budget dollars need to be placed there as well, not relegated to another day as something “nice to have” once other expenditures are made. 5) We all know buyers are distracted and overwhelmed with too much information and too many interruptions. How can we use visuals to rise above the noise?
Well-designed communications in this day and age need to get to the meat of the message really quickly. Messaging must be distilled down into “sound-bytes” that even skimmers will catch the meaning of. Visuals transport those messages and drive them through the noise out so they stand apart from the busy streams, enabling the messages to be seen. It amazes me how few companies seem to understand this and do it well — but that presents amazing opportunities for the smart companies that “get it.” 6) What’s the best balance between content and visuals in today's world?
Visuals are also content, but if you mean text, less is more. Just as the most nicely crafted ads have always achieved a fine balance and interplay between text and visual, the same holds true now. Since we are increasingly becoming a visually-oriented society as things constantly zip by us in today’s media from all directions, coming up with strategies that allow the visual to dominate would be prudent. Once someone is hooked, they can then be directed somewhere else where the broader story can be told — but they need to be hooked first. 7) What do you think are the perfect elements of an engaging story?
I like to keep it simple, since again, a complex story will only cause befuddlement and people will move on. At best, you want your single main message to get across. I encourage people not to rush this part of the process — it means introspection and not settling on the obvious. Everyone else is doing the obvious — you or your company needs to set itself apart
. A simple example: If you’re a dry cleaner, do you only clean clothes or do you keep people looking great so they can go out into the world and be the best they can be? Or perhaps, a dry cleaner simply makes people’s lives easier, giving them more time to do the things they love. Or maybe they use safe chemicals for a better, healthier, greener environment. Those are all better stories than just cleaning clothes. Marry a simple, compelling story to a strong visual campaign
and you’re golden!
Getting the most from your investment in good design requires a clear understanding of the roles of both the client and that of the designer or creative agency. Everyone has the same goal of doing what is best for the project at hand, but things can go awry when there is confusion and unclear expectations about each other’s roles.
Contrary to common belief, design is not as subjective as one may think. While everyone may have an opinion and even experts often disagree (don’t they always?), there IS such a thing as good and bad design. There are also rights and wrongs for how to best move the creative process forward.
Good design can be measured against several different benchmarks: how well it solves the marketing problem, how well it communicates the message, how well it functions, clarifies, and sells, not to mention the fundamental aesthetic value of the completed design — and how well the designer uses all the components in their creative toolbox: concept, shape, form, color, texture, scale, and typography all play a part.
Designers don't leave anything to chance. The way the right side of a paragraph looks (rag), the space between lines of text (leading), as well as the spaces between letters (kerning) is deliberated over — always looking for a pleasing look and balance between positive and negative space. Maybe you can see why I cringe when a client says I can just "dump in the text." Designers never just "dump" in anything, even something as basic as body text in a document.
Along with all the other considerations designers make during the creative process, the art of design takes time, resulting in an end result that looks and functions as well as it does. A good designer never leaves anything to chance, and will always be able to explain the rationale behind a particular design decision when necessary or if challenged — both aesthetically and businesswise.
The designer anomaly
True design pros are a mix of many different skill sets — they are smart communicators with a keen understanding of marketing strategy, psychology, client relations, technology, project management and the ability to stay focused on the overall goals without getting sidetracked by the many distractions and inevitable hiccups along the way. Successful outcomes are a testament to how well these factors are juggled — and making it all come out on time and
Designers make order out of chaos. Like chewing gum, rubbing your tummy and walking all at the same time, and still somehow making it all look beautiful, this is no easy feat.
On top of this, good design is often design that goes unnoticed — too much adornment or obtrusive design would get in the way of the communication or functionality. No wonder there is so much confusion about what design is and what designers bring to the table! But let it be known that if something looks simple, fluid and easy, you can be sure it wasn’t easy getting it that way. In the same way that a ballet dancer jumps and moves with incredible beauty and grace on stage, misleading one into thinking it is in someway “easy,” we know it only takes a few seconds of trying it yourself to know that is certainly not the case. Today’s software and endless tools may make it appear that design can be done by anybody, but the results usually speak for themselves
.Is there a design quotient?
Just as people have certain aptitudes for anything — I do think there is such a thing as a DQ, or design quotient — similar to an IQ or an EQ (emotional intelligence). Yet I don’t believe possessing a high DQ is necessary to benefit from good design or to work successfully with designers.
Good designers, through talent, training, practice, experience and instinct, know how to make things communicate better, sell better, work better, conserve better, and yes, look better too. The end result, however, is effective without anyone really needing to know why. The best designers and creative pros have dedicated their lives to mastering visual rhetoric.
While personal tastes will be taken into account when relevant, such as a personal branding project, designers do not need a lot of creative input. Clients do not need to conceive what they want — they don’t need to develop rough sketches and they certainly don’t need to supply the designer with ideas or preconceived notions. In fact, this is where the designer/client relationship can sometimes get strained, because as important as the client role is in successful outcomes, they sometimes unwittingly overstep their bounds during the creative process into areas for which they do not have an "aptitude." My younger son may like a certain meal after it is served but can't stand the sight of it being made — if he had his way and changed six of the eight ingredients, he wouldn't like the end result and neither would anyone else.The critical role of the client
What a designer requires from the client, and indeed, what the project needs
to be successful — is the client focusing on fulfilling their very important role in the client/designer relationship. These things are crucial if the project is going to meet its goals and justify the investment. The most important things a client needs to provide their creative agency in order for them to do their jobs effectively are:
1) Defining what needs to be accomplished from a strategic perspective (marketing/communications goals, audience, objectives, etc.)
2) Outlining any specific project requirements and parameters (including who will be involved, what the timeframe is, the budget, etc.)
3) Supplying timely input and feedback throughout the process in order to keep the project on track.
Please note that a client’s favorite color is not
one of these top priorities. Let the designer you chose to trust with your work do their thing — they will select the colors and other things that best solve the problem at hand. Again, color choice is not purely subjective, and the color you recently used to repaint your kitchen may not necessarily be the best choice for your branding/marketing/communications project. If it is a personal branding project or the like, a client’s personal preferences should always be accounted for. But for most other projects, it is the target market that needs to be appealed to and influenced, not the client.The client/designer partnership
The client/designer relationship is a partnership with clearly defined roles, working together throughout the development process. Both roles are necessary to arrive at a successful solution — and the better this partnership, the better the result for both parties. One without the other won’t get the job done, at least not as effectively as it could be done.
Mutual respect for each other’s roles always leads to the best collaborations. In fact, out of all the creative success I’ve had and awards I have won, I have always seen the client as an integral component of those outcomes:
A) They hired me in the first place
B) They provided me the input I needed to do my job
C) They trusted me and ultimately approved the work, letting good work flourish
I couldn’t have done any of this without a good client.
Yet the basic client responsibilities I outlined are often overlooked while other extraneous things are brought into the equation instead, which can lead to less than desirable results — or at least the project won’t be what it could have been. Everyone wants the same thing — a healthy process that achieves the desired goals, yet a lack of understanding of who is responsible for what so often derails the process, sabotaging the result that everyone is seeking.
Again, clients should not feel pressured to solve the problem for the designer — in fact, that is exactly what is NOT needed. “Make it bigger,” “make the font bolder,” and “make it red” are also examples of clients dictating the solution rather than establishing the communications problem that needs solving. In these examples, the issue is really that something needs to be highlighted in some way — let the designer use their talent, training, experience and intuition to come up with the best answer. Give the professional who was hired the space to create and do their thing. They are the experts.
Client feedback is welcomed and always taken into consideration. Likewise, good ideas can come from anywhere. But preconceived notions and demands are impositions that prevent a healthy creative process.
Designers have their fingers on the pulse and are in the best position to know what will most likely get the reaction you are looking for, and then convert it into that pesky little ROI
everyone is looking to achieve. Pigeonholing your designer and dictating design won’t get you there.It’s a trust thing
The most important thing that clients can do is hire a designer
or agency they trust. Based on their previous work, recommendations and familiarity with the people being hired — designers need to be trusted with delivering the results desired. The work they do may not look like what they have done for other clients — that would be defeating the entire purpose of hiring an agency to deliver a custom solution in the first place. Remember: in today’s competitive business climate, companies need to stand out, not blend in with the rest. So it stands to reason that a successful visual presence should not look like what everybody else is doing.
For this reason, the best creative work can make clients feel uncomfortable, because it may be different from what they have seen before. But trust and good communication will create the climate in which breakout creative can flourish — and there’s a good chance it will do the same for your
business.Looking to maximize your own investment in design?
If you think good design could make a difference in your next project, please contact me
— I’d love to speak with you and see how we may partner together and get the most bang for your
Twitter doesn’t want to be left in the dust with all the Facebook and Google+ updates so they have rolled out their own new fancy profile update. This new Twitter “Header” image will be made live for everyone in November but we’re sure you can’t wait so, you can activate it now.
You or your agency
will need to prepare cover art that is 1252px wide and 626px high. This new profile is optimized for iPad and mobile Twitter users as well. More customization creates better branding
and overall imaging throughout your social media platforms.Setting up the new Twitter Header
To add the new Twitter header, go to the right edit profile cog and select “Settings” in the dropdown. Then on the left, choose “Design.” Now you will see “Customize your own.” Here you can update:
The new “Header” with minimum dimensions of 1252px by 626px, maximum file 5MB2.
Background (position left, center or right)3.
Overlay in black or white (this is the transparent panel behind your tweets)6.
Save changes when finished
To view your handiwork, click the new “Me” item in the top navigation menu and this will bring you to your new profile with the fancy new Header.
Hidden in this rollout is a new drop down called “Twitter Ads.” You can find this in the edit profile drop down menu. I guess they didn’t want to update with just the ad message. Imagine that, Twitter really is following in Facebook’s footsteps.
Here’s a step-by-step video: How to Change Your Twitter Header Image
For the help of a professional, please contact us.What do you think? Do you like the new Facebook… oops, I mean Twitter Header design? Will you change now or wait until November?