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Expert Opinion: The importance of good design

Written by Louisa Davison, Secret Agent Marketing on .

Louisa DavisonLouisa DavisonDesign is important. Scratch that. Design is vital. It is as vital as cashflow and knowing your customers.

And yet so many organisations and companies think it a luxury or a cost they can’t afford.

To start ups or businesses and not-for-profits feeling the pinch in these recent economic times, paying a professional to design a website or publicity material seems a price they can ill afford. We’ve got Photoshop and InDesign, right? Or (dare I say it) Publisher? What’s wrong with slapping an image with words onto a leaflet and printing it out on the photocopier? All people want is to know who, where, what, when.

But ask yourself - is this all you would want to know? Or do you want to be convinced of a useful/exciting/productive use of your time, money and energy?

Okay so I’m exaggerating about photocopying (maybe). But whether it’s for a art auction or mortgage adviser, quality appropriate design is important.

Even people for whom clothes are something that keeps them from being prosecuted for indecency, magnolia is a perfectly acceptable wall colour and dance is something to avoid at weddings, will still have a gut reaction to the public face of your organisation.

So here are my my top tips for good design:-

  • Have a well-thought through brief. A brief is your design plan. I never, ever talk to a designer until I have a brief. A brief tells the designer what the design needs to achieve and to whom the design is aimed (NOT everyone - think specific customer). For leaflets and brochures write copy for each page. For a website: list the content. Give an idea of images - and commission photography if necessary. Look at what other people are doing and direct the designer to the best examples.
  • Find a designer. There are tons out there. Look at their portfolios (most are online) and see whose style you like and would fit where you want your company to go.
  • Choose a designer. If it’s a really important job (e.g. brochure, website, rebrand) then ask three designers to pitch according to your brief. It’s poor form to ask people to come up with a new concept for free - offer a reasonable fee, then the two who don’t get the job will have been paid for their time. If it’s a smaller job - a good way of testing out new designers - ask them for a quote according to your brief, and accept that if they don’t come up with anything you like, you’ll have to pay them and start again.
  • Don’t dictate. It’s really tempting to tell the designer what colours to use or that your logo needs to be REALLY big. Yes, you do need to furnish them with details of your corporate font and colours but that is all. If you dictate you may as well go back to doing it yourself. You need to let the designer have their head.
  • Don’t be frightened to speak your mind. The designer is not a four year old who’s shown you their latest masterpiece and you don’t know which way up it goes. They are professionals who (should) want your feedback. If they are any good at all, they will want to get it right, and create design that you are happy with and does what you need it to. So when you see your first proof (the initial design), if you don’t like it please don’t tell them it’s rubbish, but do say if it doesn’t do the job.
  • Learn to give feedback. So you’re telling the designer that you don’t think it’s right. Resist the urge to ask them to make the logo bigger or to make it a different shade of pink. If you’re being that specific, you’re wasting your money and their skills (see above). Instead say: I don’t think it’s obvious enough that it’s us; that pink is frivolous and we want to be taken seriously. And it’s okay to give a gut reaction. I’ve given feedback like: that’s boring. That colour looks like poo. Really? You could do much better - you knocked this up on the train over, didn’t you? The look is awesome but the navigation is confusing. There are probably designers out there that have taken a hit out on me but, by the time we finished, we had some original designs that looked great. Any creative process that’s worth anything has moments of pain.
  • Check all the details. I’ve found that clients are great at agonising over hyphens but then miss an incorrect date or web address typo. Check the essential details before checking the rest of the copy. This is especially important for design that is not easily changed or recalled, such as print or email. The last thing you want is customers ringing your number as advertised, only to find themselves talking to an old lady with a yapping dog. When that design goes to print the responsibility of it is yours, not your designers.
  • What makes a good designer, aside from making it look pretty? Top of the list is delivering the work on time, especially if it is for an event or current issue so there is a definite deadline. Accuracy - reading the brief properly, including all the elements, not adding in mistakes. Giving their professional opinion but being flexible; rethinking a design that doesn’t quite work rather than tinkering around the edges.
  • Remember it takes time. For a simple A5 leaflet with a designer you know you may be able to turn something around in a week. Starting from scratch with a brochure or website, at least two months.

And of course, something else that really helps is someone who knows how to talk the language of the client and the designer. Like me.

Louisa Davison is an experienced marketer who is good with words and pictures. For more, take a look at www.secretagentmarketing.com