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.
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 on budget.
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.
We believe a big key to winning in today’s business world is a smart, integrated approach to marketing and communications. In order to make an impression in these busy, distracted times, design can be the differentiator. Sure, your image will be leaps ahead of the others — but your messages will also be fine-tuned and cohesive; your communications will be clear and user-friendly; but most importantly, they will be powerfully integrated together!
re:DESIGN is excited to share a few exciting projects that we believe do just that, as well as earning us three awards in a national design competition, The American Graphic Design Awards sponsored by Graphic Design USA.
What is re:DESIGN?
re:DESIGN is a boutique agency that specializes in strategic design, branding, social media, and communications — bringing standout design to our clients so their businesses rise above the competition.
We excel at helping companies and professionals achieve special things through smart strategies and sharp, award-winning design that gets noticed while delivering a clear, convincing message. From custom logos to comprehensive branding and cohesive communications strategies, re:DESIGN reenergizes businesses by creating integrated programs throughout all of today’s media touchpoints: from digital to print to experiential.
What are the American Graphic Design Awards?
The American Graphic Design Awards is the biggest and broadest of the three national design competitions sponsored by Graphic Design USA for nearly five decades. It honors outstanding creative work of all kinds and across all media, and is open to advertising agencies, graphic design firms, corporations, institutions, publishers and more. There were more than 8,000 entries and of these, only a highly selective 15% are recognized as winners with an Awards Certificate of Excellence.
We are proud to share a little peak into these three unique award-winning projects, representing three completely different types of projects and media: logo/branding design, website/mobile design and an exquisitely designed print brochure.
Logo/Branding — My Book Club
This is a classic example of a logo that is deceptively simple yet complex in its execution. The witty design effectively sums up the brand at a quick glance, conveying its personality — and all through the use of type. It was designed to work as well online as it does offline, and even at the smallest of sizes.
“Your logo symbolizes all that is your company, product, service or event. It is also the ‘handshake’ for when you can’t be there in person, so it is vital for a business to get the logo right from the very beginning.” ~ Paul Biedermann
, 12 Most Essential Ingredients for an Exceptional Logo
Website/Mobile — The Dorsey Group
A comprehensive redesign of a corporate web and mobile presence that was also bound up with a brand refresh that infused energy and new life into this company. With smart, strategic design and focused attention to detail, the site is engaging and easy to navigate while the custom mobile landing pages offer easy access while on-the-go.
QR codes were also utilized, linking print communications to these other digital communications, creating a cohesive, integrated brand experience no matter the touch point: viewing a website at work, checking a mobile device at a conference, or reading a print piece at home.
Print — McGraw-Hill Construction Outlook
This is a flagship publication for this business and the most highly respected economic forecast in the construction industry which includes detailed analysis, market research and industry trends. This exquisitely designed and printed communication is a valued resource that analysts and industry professionals depend on for timely information every year, culminating in an annual conference in Washington D.C.
Distilling complex information down into engaging, user-friendly experiences that communicate clearly and powerfully is something we excel at. re:DESIGN is proud to have consistently won awards for this report’s design and communications excellence, year after year for over a decade.Looking ahead
While it is an honor to receive such accolades, we are not ones to rest on our laurels — it’s literally back to the virtual drawing board as we continue looking forward. These are exciting times, but we believe the key is not to focus only on digital, social media, or any other flavor of the month — but rather to bring them all together in a powerful, integrated way that surrounds your particular market at every touch point, including print.
To our online community as well as our families and friends: thank you for the support — you are appreciated. We are excited for the future and all that it brings for re:DESIGN! What can we do for you?Read the Press Release Like us on Facebook!
Take a look at more of the logos we’ve designed
And here are more of our branding and websites
All images copyright © 2012 Paul Biedermann, re:DESIGN.
Your logo symbolizes all that is your company, product, service or event. It is also the “handshake” for when you can’t be there in person, so it is vital for a business to get the logo right from the very beginning. Conversely, if done incorrectly, it will be a poor reflection on you and your business for a long time to come.
Take advantage of this exciting opportunity to breathe life and energy into your business, providing something tangible for people to rally behind. And for Pete’s sake, don’t let your niece or nephew “do your logo” unless they have the proper training and professional background. Countless brand identities have been compromised and otherwise good businesses relegated to the lowly rank of amateur status, simply because their logos looked like Sally or Joey whipped them up in five minutes on their iPod Touches.
I hope the following list helps you understand all the things that need to be considered when designing a logo. It is much better to be prepared from the outset, rather than caught off-guard later in the game, with deadlines looming and business opportunities hanging in the balance.
Simple is anything but simple to do. Taking a complex set of business objectives and distilling them down into one simple symbol or logotype that encapsulates everything a particular business is about, while still accomplishing the eleven things that follow, is anything but simple.2. Unique and memorable
We have all heard there are no new ideas, just a re-hashing of the old ones. However, a first-rate designer will find a way to give your logo a new twist that makes it compelling, triggering a positive association with your business every time it is seen.3. Don’t be trendy
It is important for logos to be current, but that doesn’t mean trendy. Things that follow the latest gimmicks and hottest trends get old really quick. Shoot for quality design that will stand the test of time — I am sure your business plans to be around for awhile, so your business image should follow suit!4. On target
No matter how attractive or memorable a logo is, it won’t mean much if it doesn’t satisfy the business and brand objectives determined at the outset (you did take the time to do this before beginning number 1, didn’t you?). As your business identity continually reinforces your brand, it should also be emphasizing the right things.5. Work cross-media
Logos need to work both online and in print. Experienced designers account for this in the earliest stages and design accordingly. This needs to be addressed when producing final art files, as well. Depending on the particular circumstances, it may also need to work for things such as embroidery, engraving, etching, embossing, etc. These may even require alternate logo versions to be created but not all logos are that easily adaptable.6. Hold up at all sizes
Logos need to look good when scaled up to the largest billboard or when reduced to fit the slimmest of pens. There is nothing worse than a logo that reveals its imperfections when giant or looks like a squished bug when small. And here’s one little tip: be sure your logo is designed in vector format (if you don’t know what this is, skip immediately to number 12!).7. Effective in full-color and one-color
There will be occasions when a logo still needs to look great when there isn’t the luxury of using multiple colors and costly inks. From low cost promotional items to fancier items such as crystal awards, metal plaques, and embossing on special papers, one-color art is required that will exploit these special manufacturing processes to the fullest.8. Ease of use
A logo that even a professional designer has trouble using is not a good logo. Nor does it help if the usage guidelines are complex and difficult to understand. In fact, it practically guarantees that the logo will appear incorrectly more often than not, thereby fragmenting the brand.9. Mass appeal
While I believe strongly that there is good design and bad design, logos can be very subjective and what appeals to one person may not appeal to someone else. In fact, many people seem to enjoy shooting down logos as some new kind of blood sport.
A quality logo, charged with functioning effectively in the world of commerce, should appeal to more people than not, leaving a positive impression that drives business.10. Fit the big picture
A logo, no matter how good, is only one component of any comprehensive branding program. It should fit seamlessly with the overall design strategy, ideally forming the foundation of a cohesive program that speaks with one, powerful voice. In the best of situations, the logo provides the visual impetus from which everything else is derived.11. On budget
Whether you are a fledgling startup or a huge mega-brand, there is a designer or agency that fits your needs. An expert designer will partner with clients to arrive at the best solution, while working within the available resources determined at the outset.12. Hire a professional
To ensure that the 11 steps articulated above are taken into full consideration, work with a professional designer or agency. A professional will partner with you to create the right logo for you and your business. It will save time, headaches and money in the long run, and be one of the most important investments your business can make. Designers and branding experts enjoy seeing their clients succeed as much as the clients themselves — pick one you trust and see the results for yourself!
If accomplishing all this in one logo seems a bit like standing on your head, chewing gum and rubbing your tummy all at the same time, it is. Only more difficult.
Logos are widely misunderstood and their simplicity can deceive one into thinking they are easy to do. But if you look at the list above, I think you will see that a good logo which may look simple on the outside, is anything but simple on the inside. In fact, most designers consider logos to be among the most difficult of assignments.
So, what has your experience been with logos? Are you happy with yours and has it been effective for your business? Is there anything you would have done differently?
This post first appeared on the best list site on the web, 12 Most.
Featured image courtesy of Paul Biedermann, re:DESIGN.
When Gap recently announced their new logo on Facebook, they were caught off-guard by the strong public backlash. The logo was really bad and bowing to the criticism, Gap quickly abandoned the idea (see links at bottom for a full recap).
The company then proceeded to make an even bigger mistake, smugly announcing a contest to design a replacement logo that anyone could enter. This is called crowdsourcing, and when a company does it, it demonstrates a total lack of understanding and callous disregard for what design brings to business. When a major corporation does it, it’s beyond comprehension. Presumably attempting to garner goodwill by “listening” to its customers, this raised the ire of the professional design community and even angrier mobs rose up and chanted things like “Shameful!”, “Abuse of power!”, and “Idiots”!
Through crowdsourcing, design is reduced to an amateur beauty competition, where thousands of designs are submitted and a committee votes on which one will be designated the winner. There is no reasoned process of analysis, research, and design development, let alone a holistic branding strategy. There is also little, if any, compensation for the designer. The crowds spoke
The overwhelming negative consensus (not to mention, a $247 million dollar stock loss the day after the original announcement) shamed the company into dropping its amateurish approach to logo design and its manipulative attempt at making its audience think a feel-good logo contest was their original intent. Ultimately, the crowd spoke and got what it wanted from the company, not the other way around.
During this debacle, the company received thousands of free opinions on their logo, their brand, their process, and what they should do about it. So in a way, crowdsourcing worked, just not in the way Gap intended. The AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) played a critical role by engaging in constructive dialogue and “educating the client”. To their credit, Gap admitted their missteps and issued a mea culpa, promising to do a better job if and when they ever decide to redesign their logo again (don’t hold your breath!).
I’m sure the company was embarrassed by all this, as it became clear in a very public way that they really did not have a handle on how to execute an important branding initiative. Even worse, they seemingly had no clue about who they are and what their brand has meant to consumers over the years.
With friends like this…
Some say that any PR is good PR, but when thousands flock to “Like” your Facebook page only to tell you how much they don’t like you, I beg to differ. When you are mocked on Twitter by design and branding professionals, when accounts are set up with the sole purpose to ridicule, when apps are developed so you can create your own “Gapified” logo and negative blogs flood the blogosphere, I really don’t think the company is benefiting from all the publicity.
Yes, Gap is being talked about, but the brand that once stood for hip, simple design has now shown they are anything but.
Gap Introduces New Logo, Mass Criticism EnsuesGap Speaks Out: Yes, the Logo Is RealDear Gap, I have your new logo An open letter to our neighbors at Gap
AIGA post and letter to Gap: How do businesses balance crowd participation and design? Statement from Marka Hansen, President of Gap Brand, North America