Too often, design is an afterthought – the prettification of comms in a restricted and restrictive time frame. Unfortunately, if you don’t rate this creative skill, your message is unlikely to have any effect.
What makes you pick up a magazine or stick with a website? As a writer, I’m tempted to say great content is what it’s all about. But we all know that words alone just aren’t as compelling without visual cues to attract the eye and draw you in.
Take this page of AQ. What really made you stop when you clicked ‘next’?
It might be the headline – if I’ve dreamed up one that’s clever enough – but it’s more likely to be visual content and the way it’s presented. If it’s done well, you should already have a good idea about what the message of this article is.
But as with all first impressions, you don’t have much time. Research by Google showed that it takes about 50 milliseconds for users to form an opinion about a website and whether they like it or not. They also found that low visual complexity and high familiarity made a site more appealing. People are less likely to stay with unconventional or complicated layouts.Good, clear, design will emphasise the message you hope to convey and evoke a response in your reader.
The trouble is, with all the publishing programmes available, almost everyone thinks they can ‘design’ a piece of communication, whether it’s an overloaded, animated PowerPoint, a newsletter, magazine or website.
Let me shock you – design is not about using funky fonts or making your pictures bigger. It’s a skill that’s learned over many years and can have a huge impact on how your message is delivered and, importantly, received. A truly seamless design will convey the purpose of your message without diluting it, competing with it, or burying it.
Many people fail to appreciate how psychologically compelling design is. Where does a viewer’s eye fall on a page? What emotions do the photographs, colours and layouts evoke? Does the most important takeaway stand out above everything else?
The better the information is laid out and organised, the better white space is used, the easier it will be for readers to take away what you want. Great design is one of the best ways to improve engagement metrics, and it also taps into the psychology and science of how people learn best.
Yet in many cases design is merely seen as the icing on the communicator’s cake. Content is discussed, created, approved by those on high and then handed to the designer for ‘prettying up’ – usually in an unrealistic time frame. But how can the designer enhance a concept without being in the room from the start?
Design starts with understanding the problem and helping to set the strategy. In his article ‘The Value of Good Design’ Gary Rose puts it in a nutshell: “Good design comes from having a clear brief with realistic time schedules and a creative design team working to an adequate budget.”
And the process should be a collaborative one, with content creators and designers both involved in taking the brief, developing the concept and coming up with a solution that works for a particular message or medium.
Debbie Forrester, Editorial Manager, Sequel Group