In the first post in this series, we talked about the challenge of assembling your team for a content-first approach. In the second post, we described how your team should work to maximize the efficiency with which it functions.
Now it’s time to talk about the results of your content-first Dream Team’s efficient work: quality and originality. It’s what we wanted from the start. It’s why we assembled the team and did all that communicating and deadline setting and working, working, working. So . . . how do we know we got what we wanted and worked for?
Quality of Design
You hired and vetted your design team to ensure quality of design. You set deadlines and you provided feedback to hone the ideas into the pixels and vectors and code that will carry your message to your intended audiences.
There are three additional things that can get in the way of quality design which we haven’t covered, however.
Suiting the Design to the Wrong Platform
We have already covered how designing for the wrong audience or without specific audiences in mind can get you trouble. The other pitfall is designing without regard for the platform – the way your design will be experienced by target audiences.
“A camel is a horse designed by a committee” as the saying goes. That’s not really fair to camels and their incredible ability to survive in environments that would take horses down. However, if we focus on the team’s wishes over the environment in which the design has to survive, we can see messy results in the final product. You may end up creating a horse for a dessert or a camel for a pony show. In either situation, finding a good concept that is suited to its environment is a much better bet.
Trying to Have it All, Design-wise
If you have multiple good ideas and you merge them into one giant design, you may end up diluting the impact of each. Your audience may be confused or overwhelmed. You may even underwhelm them since a lack of focus on commitment can be off-putting. If your concept is tough to explain or contains multiple unrelated parts, strip it down or start again.
Budgets that are either overly restrictive OR expansive
Having an overly restrictive budget can keep a design from being fully realized. It can prevent you from hiring the right person or from pursuing the right number of revisions to complete the design. As much as we want to avoid additional costs like extra revisions or an expensive stock image, sometimes they’re necessary to make the design work.
What many people do not realize is that having a budget that stretches for any desired revision or for every possible expense can be a stumbling block too. Don’t try everything and provide blanket approval for expenditures if it encourages the team to grow the scope, fail to commit to a design, or spend more budget for dubious gains. It’s probably not typical for a designer to say this, but sometimes the free stock image works just fine. Sometimes you don’t need another revision. Perhaps (GASP) the design is done and the extra work will have vanishing or no utility at all. Say no and get that thing to press, so to speak.
In my experience, though, the quality of the design is less of an issue than the delivery.
Quality of Delivery
If you’re making a design that will be printed, you have to choose your printer wisely. The quality of their paper, inks, presses, and crops, as well as how well they pack it to be delivered or shipped to you will make a difference in how the design looks in person. Your designer will likely be able to recommend
If the design will be digitally delivered, the format matters just as much. Mobile devices are a huge segment of web traffic now. According to a report on Statistica, in 2017, 75% of people in the US browse the web at least some of the time on a mobile device. Depending on your target audiences, that could be a large segment of your own potential clients who are browsing on a device to your site at least some of the time. If your website doesn’t work on mobile, you could frustrate them or turn them off entirely to using your site, purchasing your product, or referring others to you.
Quality of Experience
No matter the design, be sure to put the end user of that messaging front and center in all your decisions – from copy to image choice to layout. It might sound harsh but if you make it beautiful but not legible, you failed. Is it creative but not comprehensible? You failed. What about if it’s unique but not informative? Yeah, you probably failed too, unless your goal was to just look cool. In which case, congratulations on having a business model that lets you do that! The rest of us have to put understandable content first and sexy brand mystique second.
One more note on experience: remember that your user might be different than you or your design team in many ways. Those differences might be mean that they see or interpret your design in a way you never anticipated.
Let’s say your product is for seniors. You can assume only seniors will look at a postcard you mail describing your product, but that’s probably not true. Perhaps their son or daughter will take a look. Maybe their grandchildren will spot it. A caregiver or local municipal worker might see it instead. Some users may be able to read small type with low-contrast over background images. Many users could find that challenging or impossible. Getting a picture for who might want to understand your message and what will make it easier for them to understand will help the experience immensely. Failing to think of them will make one of the only associations they might have with your brand a negative one. Choose wisely!
At last! The whole reason you hired a professional instead of repurposing a Microsoft Publisher Flyer design with clip art – ORIGINALITY.
The trouble is that if you scratch the surface on any design and you will see influences. Musicians, painters, sculptors, crafters, film directors, cinematographers, animators, as well as graphic designers, web designers and other new-media specialists all learn from and play off one another. We also work with tropes – such as a particular navigation style or a typical configuration of information because we know people understand it well. Try figuring out the phone number on a website that’s trying to be cute about it and you’ll know why we stick with conventions for laying things out.
Originality: A Moving Target
Your team may find that another group is doing quite similar work to yours. In the business world, you want to stand out from your competition but you also want to appear to be on par with them. Sometimes that might mean picking stock imagery that looks similar or a style that seems to fit the whole field. Most law offices don’t go with a cartoony illustrated style of stock images on their website. Does that mean that their design teams aren’t being original enough?
I like the following perspective, provided by an artist who was working on a side project and started receiving feedback on the preliminary artistic pieces:
I was putting far too much stock into the concept of originality. I thought the artwork was only successful due to its unique and distinctive look. As soon as I saw that not only had it been done before, but it had been done many times over, I wondered whether there was any point in continuing.
But of course, that was a very naive and somewhat arrogant perspective. Originality plays a part in creating any artwork, but if the success of my entire work hinged on the fact that it had never been done before, then it would be doomed from the start. The same can be said for most creative projects.
So what does it mean to get originality from your design team? My answer is to focus on authenticity OVER originality.
Authenticity: Better than a Bolt from the Blue
Authenticity in branding is more important than originality. It makes the design about you and your clients and not about external validation or overall “cool factor.” It’s also a way to prioritise your goals in a marketing environment that is busy and under-resourced. Getting originality right but authenticity wrong could end up hurting your brand. You could end up dumping advertising money into reaching clients that won’t find you. You might not want to get authenticity right and originality wrong, but you can continue refining what your ideas knowing that you design is only weakly showing who you are. Keep trying to improve that aspect and you will make progress. The first mistake is likely to be costlier than the second.
Don’t aim for a bolt from the blue – a brand-new idea. Instead, aim for a design with a strong connection to your mission, vision, and/or values. Your team will appreciate the direction. Your clients and partners will appreciate the cohesiveness. And you’ll appreciate the results.