Selecting and Working with a Graphic Designer

Brochure for a University Arboretum. Design by Communication Results

Brochure for a University Arboretum. By Communication Results

Lots of great offline feedback to my last post, Why Design Matters. Designers and writers can be great partners for improving communication effectiveness and meeting business goals. Following these tips can improve your communication tools and your business results:

Focus on audience and outcome. What do you want someone to do as a result of your piece? This is where you should start when determining how to approach any tool you need to put together. First ask, “Is this the appropriate vehicle or venue to reach decision makers?” Then, “What do I want the reader to feel or do as a result?”

Hire a designer who understands business communications. Your designer should understand that the role of business communications is to influence behavior and achieve business objectives. Err on the side of a designer with a communication degree rather than (or in addition to) an art degree. You need someone who will read and even challenge your copy and grasp your intent. If you are using an outside design firm, make sure they clearly understand the culture of your organization and have a sense of your current visual identity. Many designers come with their own “look.” What you need is designer who can create or work within YOUR look.

Newsletter design for a law firm. Designed by Communication Results.

Newsletter design for a law firm. By Communication Results.

Leave time in the production schedule for design. Since design is a close-to-last stop, designers are often asked to make up lost time in the production schedule. Leave time for your designer to read copy and develop clarity around the goals of the piece. It is helpful if the content owner or client has been thinking visually and has secured available photos or at least cleared the path for the designer to set up photography or art.

Simplify your message and your visual presentation. Remember two important facts: Most people live in a constant state of information overload. Because of this, people skim—they don’t read. The writer should ruthlessly pare down the copy before it gets to the design phase. Some designers can help you simplify your message. My personal design goal is this: if no one reads a word of your body copy, are they still getting your message through the pictures, heads/subheads and captions? These are pieces that I am usually developing or honing for my client.

Design also needs to be simplified. Today I see frequent examples in which design is more about “maxing out” technology/fonts than it is about focusing on the needs of the reader.

Learn the Language. The writer or project manager should learn how to communicate with a designer. Remember that design possibilities are infinite. Have an idea about what you want. “I’ll know it when I see it,” is not clear direction. Even sharing sample of things you like and don’t like is a great help to your designer.

Understanding the value added by graphic design will help you to forge a better partnership with your designer, which will ultimately improve message delivery and lead to better business results.

© 2009 Jocelyn Canfield, ABC

This article originally appeared in IABC’s Communication World Bulletin


Why Design Matters


Engaging design helped to draw employees in to learn more about their company's product – a sealing adhesive with an elastomer that provides the cohesion needed to keep ice cream cold. Huh? (Design by Communication Results)

Design influences everything, from your decision to purchase a $4.25 cup of coffee at that appealing new café to which direct mail offers you bother to open and the articles you choose to read in your favorite magazine.

As a business communicator, my job is to influence opinion or change behavior in order to achieve business objectives. To accomplish this, people need to interact with my client’s message. A page of 10-point Times New Roman text is seldom compelling, so what you are left with to persuade people to read a publication or advertisement or to engage in a website, is design.

Color, photos, illustrations, and engaging feature copy are what entice viewers to care enough to consider the message. Design and copy hold equal importance in the communication process, but companies are more likely to have a staff writer than a staff designer. I do both writing and design, so I  understand the need for balance.

Why does design matter?

Design differentiates. Design creates and clarifies an organization’s identity. Design should fit the culture of your firm and should convey a genuine sense of who you are. Beware the designer who campaigns for a trendy new looks. Develop an identity and stick to it. You’ll tire of it long before your customers do. That Nike swoosh has been around for a long time. The Coke and Pepsi logos haven’t changed much since I was a child.

Design organizes and gives meaning. Without design, your favorite magazine would be gray text with no indication of where one article stops and the next one begins. Design should clarify the message of your article and invite the skimmer to spend more time. Good design will make things easy to find on your website.

Design solves problems. Say you have three major points to convey in 1,200 words. The reader may never invest four minutes to read your copy. Consider cutting the story back to 400 words to free up space for a strong headline, photos or illustrations and captions that can get your point across in 10 seconds and perhaps entice the customer to read every one of those 400 words. Consider making the visual elements and captions tell the full story on their own. The narrative should expand on the visuals for those willing to invest the time. This applies to publications, websites and even advertisements.

Design conjures emotion. To win customers and create brand loyalty, you need to make an emotional connection. Consumers are willing to pay $4.25 for a cup of coffee that they could brew at home for eight cents because the interior design supports an experience that makes them feel good and invites them to linger. People feel more emotionally connected (brand loyal) to an organization that uses good design practices. I have been a passionate Apple computer user for more than 20 years because their products are exceptionally well designed, they support the way that I think and they make my life easier.

It is important for writers and marketers to interact effectively with designers and to engage in a give and take that supports better communication.

© 2009 Jocelyn Canfield, ABC

This article originally appeared in IABC’s Communication World Bulletin