Designers are the unsung heroes of communications

brush with colors

Good designers are one part artist and one part marketer.

I’ve been working on a white paper for one of my clients, and this past week I got to see how the designer turned my copy into a fresh, reader-friendly piece that really pops. I was truly amazed by the transformation of the text, and it reminded me once again how important good design is to public relations and marketing.

I often think designers are the unsung heroes of communications. Their work has a huge impact on how well our collateral, ads or websites are received. Good design is indispensable to reaching audiences.

Over the years, I’ve worked with good designers and bad designers. The bad ones may have a lot of talent, but they focus too much on their design and not enough on the client’s needs. Their artwork doesn’t support the text or the project’s goals. It overshadows and dominates. I guess you might call it art for art’s sake. Just as bad are those designers unwilling to take a chance. Their artwork is merely decorative, more of an ornament or embellishment of the text.

Good designers aren’t just creative; they go beyond their art to come up with design solutions that meet the client’s business objectives and support its brand identity. In a well-designed piece, you don’t really notice where text and graphics begin and end. Words and images combine to create something that is greater than the parts. It’s holistic. It has impact. And it gets results.

I’ve always obsessed over design, even as a word person. When I became the editor of the Chesapeake Post at the ripe age of 24, I spent hours poring over its pages, trying to figure out ways to streamline and modernize the layout of a tiny, sleepy weekly newspaper that hadn’t had a makeover in years.

My interest in design has continued throughout my career in public relations. For this latest white paper, my job was to research and write the piece. Still, I couldn’t help but create text boxes for sidebars and place subheads and pull quotes in the text where I thought it was appropriate.

I was tickled to see that the designer picked up on some of my ideas. But more importantly, the designer created graphics that went far beyond what I had envisioned. It was the difference between me drawing a stick figure and Leonardo da Vinci painting the Mona Lisa.

You may think that you aren’t in a position to influence design. Perhaps you do media relations, plan events or write content. But even writers and planners can make design suggestions. And if it’s your project, you have no excuse for not taking an active interest in how it looks.

So what do you look for in a good designer, or what can you do to make sure the designer you already have is producing designs to your satisfaction?

Here are a couple of thoughts:

  • In addition to demonstrating artistic ability, designers need to possess a good working knowledge of production techniques. If it’s a printed piece, do they understand the printing process? How to prepare files? How to select inks? The different types of presses? If it’s a digital design, are they up on the latest technology and creative tools? Do they understand how their designs will change on mobile formats?
  • Take the time to explain the purpose of your piece and its intended audience. This is key. The designer must understand your marketing and business strategy and be able to produce a product that meets your needs. Lisa Nalewik, writing for the blog Savvytalk, suggests that in addition to being talented, designers must have an:
    • Excellent understanding of business and marketing fundamentals, particularly how to leverage business and marketing knowledge to create end products that meet or exceed a client’s goals and expectations.
    • Ability to visualize and experience end products you’re creating through the eyes of the target audience (and sometimes, multiple target audiences)…Another popular way of saying the same thing is “Being able to walk in someone else’s shoes.” In this case, the shoes of your target audience.

These last two criteria are what separate mediocre designers from truly good designers. The designers who can work magic are the ones who understand that the real measure of success is not whether a design looks pretty but whether it achieves the client’s business goals.

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