Design is a significant element of showcasing your brand’s soul. Capturing that brand essence means staying mindful when approaching a design project, instead of only incorporating elements that are trendy or that you personally prefer. Colors, images, shapes and styles may work for one organization, but not necessarily for another with a different personality.
As Inspire’s Art Director, I work with a variety of clients with varying personalities and preferences. Here are five ways that I try to stay mindful when approaching each project.
1. Understanding Target Audience
This is, of course, a basic principle of marketing strategy. Yet in the rush to get in on the latest trend, sometimes designers overlook who they’re trying to reach in favor of trying to make something new to standout. If I’m designing for a target audience of c-suite executives in the 45-60 years old range, I’m not using a TikTok-inspired vibe. That’s simply based on TikTok’s reported demographics, with 80 percent of users between the ages of 16-34.
Conversely, if my target audience is Gen Z, I’m not going to make references to Knight Rider or the A-Team. Market segmentation is just as important to graphic design as they are for channel or outlet selection, editorial guidelines and every other marketing initiative. I recently worked with a client who previously had audiences in the tech and healthcare fields, but this time around, our target was people in the fleet management industry. What worked for that client in the past won’t work for them this time around.
This goes for visuals, music, and voice. Be mindful of who the audience is and what kind of reaction you want to get from them, and use that information to guide your creativity.
2. Emotional Reaction and Voice
Speaking of reactions, always keep in mind the emotion you want to evoke through your design, and that just because it’s a negative emotion doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing.
For example, fear is effective, especially in tech. You’re trying to strike a nerve and have your audience think about a potential issue they weren’t aware of, or remind them they’re worried about an issue. Other times you want your audience to feel welcome and secure. That would lead to a whole different color scheme, image selection and voice.
Having the voice nailed down before you begin designing can help, too. You can design from scratch, but if you already have that direction, it’s going to help your design decision. Are you going for verbose expertise, or quippy and cute, funny or serious. That elicits a reaction even internally as a designer. Use those reactions to help with your design decisions.
3. Have a Rationale For Your Choices, and Understand the Client’s Rationale
Everyone can be creative. As designers, we have to allow space for other people’s creativity and feedback, even if they’re not trained in design. It’d be different if we were brain surgeons—no one would say, “Hmm, could you do your incision over here instead?”
That’s why I always try to explain the rationale behind my decision choices to our clients, so that they understand where I’m coming from, and when they have feedback, they’re also spurred to provide the rationale behind their thinking.
If there are any critiques of a draft or requested changes, I like to understand where the client is coming from, whether it’s strictly aesthetic, or related to a business issue they’ve previously dealt with. It could be a technical issue that drives their feedback, or maybe they tried something similar in the past and it wasn’t received well. That’s useful information and helpful for me as a designer as I iterate.
4. How The Design Will Be Used and Viewed
How will people see your work? That’s not a question about emotional perception, but a literal question of physical consumption of the design. Is it going to be on the web, in print, in a video, solely on social media, or all of the above? Even if the work will solely be used digitally, will it be on a big screen, on a mobile device, viewed horizontally or vertically? Do you have to factor in the environment in which people will see the design? What’s the lighting? Where will it be placed—at eye-level or hanging high in a space?
In the many pull-up banners I’ve designed, stakeholders always want everything on the upper part of the banner, because if you’re at an event, you’re only going to be able to see what’s above people’s heads. Of course, not everything can be fit up top, and that’s where hierarchy of information comes into play. If you have a recognizable logo, that’s all you need. Take Apple, for instance. People don’t need the messaging, they’re already looking for the Apple logo. If you don’t have a well-known logo, messaging above and branding beneath is probably a smarter choice. That’s just one example of how the environment and how the work is seen matters in design.
5. Budgets and Resources
Lastly, you always want to keep a client’s budget and timing in mind. If there are limited resources, time or budget, that’s a good time to be resourceful yourself. Not everything can be 100 percent custom made or hand drawn, so you rely on stock illustrations and images to keep costs under control and turn around requests quickly.
Also, don’t throw out past drafts for other clients that were ultimately rejected. You can pull up past designs that weren’t used but might be a good fit for something you’re current working on. A few tweaks can customize them for your current client, and the hard part, that upfront legwork of designing from scratch, is already done.