I have never used InDesign in my life.
The closest I’ve even gotten to Photoshop is using a Snapchat filter.
In fact, if you asked me to mock up a quick gate fold from a piece of paper, the folds would be crooked, and the doodles would be hastily done stick figures surrounded by horrible kerning of chicken-scratch words.
Basic design for me is akin to me writing freehand with my left hand. I’ll do my best; you’ll get the gist; but you’ll want someone else to do the real thing.
However, I have been writing copy long enough and been around enough designers with a variety of strengths and weaknesses to be a conscious observer and honest judge of which designs have been the most successful in the eyes of our clients.
Regardless of if it is a junior design intern in their brainstorming session or a grizzled veteran who cut their teeth doing direct mailers, there is one universal trait that has always shown itself to go parallel with good design — the simple act of showing up and explaining your design choices.
The ability to concisely explain the design to your client goes further than anything else.
It’s strategy over tactic. When a design checks all the boxes for a client, and designers have the ability to explain what choices they made and why that benefits the product, message, etc., then the client is more times than not able to put personal preference aside and see how the design is effective.
It’s like I tell my students in my messaging classes — if you can sell the why behind what you do before you share the creative, then most of the buy-in is done before revealing your work.
This is crucial in an industry where “I’ll know it when I see it” is a prevalent explanation for what the expectations are on a project. When a design is visualized and explained, that’s a one-two punch that can eliminate redesigns.
So, when it comes to design, think beyond just the design aesthetics, and put thought into the rationale.
“A nice design may be eye catching, but is it effectively doing what the creative piece is supposed to?”
That’s the one question I’ve found designers ask themselves as they design. They usually land somewhere between aesthetically pleasing and functional.
In my portfolio, I have a piece that I wrote and helped give creative direction on. It wasn’t the most sexy piece; it wasn’t going to win any awards; but it was highly effective because of the layout and the content. It toed the line between too much copy and too little design, but the designer used just the right layout and balanced out the information and imagery in such a way that it looked good, read well and the target audience could use it as it was intended.
The design won where it counted most — in the eyes of the client.
That one design ended up leading to a million-dollar account in a little over one year.
There is no denying it; rejection is part of the job.
Great designs are torn down to the studs in the same way copy is completely redlined and revised.
Frustrating? Yes. Part of the job? Oh, yeah.
However, sometimes there are things out of our control that dictate a perfectly executed design has to be redesigned.
When this new information arrives and it is literally back to the drawing board on the project, I’ve seen designs improve from the original. Believe it or not; it’s true.
I like to believe that those initial designs were just scratching the surface of what the creative can be; so when the redesign comes, we are more comfortable with the brand, have a feel for the client’s more descriptive behavior and a better definition for expectations.
These redesigns show better comprehension and the ability to be flexible in our workload, efforts and abilities.
As a writer, I compare this to a heavy edit on a rough draft. I mean, how many times has something gone public on the first draft? It never happens — and the same could be said about a design.
Designers have such an eye for art. It’s embedded in their talents and art — in one form or another — is probably what led them in this line of work and having the title they have.
Showing off that artistic eye in a way that feels organic to the client ask is the perfect balance between good design and personal satisfaction. What I mean by that is designers who look at assignments as a way to satisfy their creative itch are the ones who are happiest in what they produce — and clients can typically see the extra effort.
The best designs come from a design process where the designer doesn’t just see a picture on a page — but sees the client work as a puzzle worth solving.
I love seeing extra effort being put in a simple layout because it reflects well on the agency. A simple ask done strategically lets clients see we’re dedicated to their brand and elevating their communication efforts.
At times, designs can feel repetitive. The best designs challenge against complacency to reveal a smarter option for the client.
Final Thoughts on Design Challenges.
Clients come to us because they are stuck and need us to come up with a solution. That solution comes to fruition largely because of the designers. They reanimate half-baked ideas and make impossible deadlines possible through dedication, motivation and talent — it’s something that is never truly understood or respected until you’re shoulder to shoulder seeing them in action.
Design challenges are intriguing. Too little information and a design could struggle, too much information a design could be pigeonholed into a layout that is ineffective.
I challenge everyone in the creative process — from the client to the proofers — who can have input on a job to find that sweet spot of detail. The best designs come from strong details, smart copy and sound strategy so that when it’s time for layout, designers can go all out.