The “Art” of Good Design
There is an art to achieving good design in direct marketing (and in this case, we’re talking specifically about direct mail). However, that doesn’t mean that good direct mail is also a piece of art. The Mona Lisa is art. Van Goh’s Starry Night is art. Michallangelo’s statue of King David is art.
Your next postcard is not.
The distinction is critical, and too often overlooked, and it’s something that many designers, myself included, can certainly struggle with.
As a designer, my job is to make things look beautiful, right? No. At least, not entirely. As much as I would like the liberty to create things that look absolutely stunning, that’s really not my purpose. Nor is it to utilize the most creative imagery or to design the slickest typographical treatments.
These are all things I do, but when designing direct mail, my real purpose and ultimate goal is to frame a message from a business to a customer or prospect. Everything else needs to be influenced and controlled by that singular idea. If it’s not, then chances are the design will not be as effective as it could have been.
Let’s consider an example: suppose that I am working on a brochure for an eye-sight clinic. Personally, I’m a big fan of minimalism combined with small type. Using these techniques, I could create a beautiful design for the front of the brochure:
Beautiful? I like to think so (though it was put together somewhat quickly, and strictly for the purposes of this article). The right design? Not at all.
Think of the target audience. The eye-sight clinic is obviously targeting their message toward people with sight problems. Making the text small simply does not cater to the target audience. Therefore, it’s not the right design for the project.
Okay, the example may be obvious, but it still demonstrates my point. The sample design above was create more from an artistic perspective than from a good design perspective – it was based entirely upon its aesthetic appeal, rather than on conveying a message to a particular audience. A better design might have compromised the aesthetic a bit and used a larger typeface. More likely, it might have used a different approach altogether.
So what am I saying? That designers should sacrifice beauty in favour of form? Not at all! Creating beautiful designs is still part of our jobs. I’m constantly being handed advertising copy in basic Word format with instruction to make it look “pretty”. I do my best to comply.
What I am saying, however, is that the most visually stunning composition is not always the same thing as the most effective design.
Ask yourself some questions:
- What is the message I need to convey?
- What is the most important part of that message?
- Is that part prominently displayed?
- Who is the target audience?
- Would any part of my design prevent the message from being conveyed as clearly as possible to that audience?
- Do the graphics support or hinder the main message?
If you ask these questions and answer them honestly, you should be well on your way towards to mastering the “art” of good design, which is to deliver a message in the strongest and most effective way possible.