Five Things You Need to Know About Design

Years ago, while working in publishing, I had the opportunity to design my first book. I remember devouring various books ABOUT design, flicking through books that I thought WERE well designed, and reading magazines that would point me in the right direction. I even spoke with experienced designers and asked their advice. Those were the days when we needed a business case to get a PC on our desks, so access to the fledgling internet was beyond question. And even if there WAS internet access, we certainly didn’t have the volume and quality of content that is available now.

In the following years I designed a dozen or so books, edited them and sometimes even laid them out. Most of the time they were legal tomes, but from time to time there’d be something more interesting. Something that required a little more creativity to get the point across.

What I learned by designing books has been used in every job that I have had since my early 20s. No matter whether I was driving business innovation in large businesses, marketing services and solutions or running global web teams for FMCG clients, these design skills came in handy. So I thought maybe I’d share my five things with you:

  1. Pretty with punch: I’m all for pretty pictures (remember also that sex sells) – but you need more than that. Make sure that your pretty pictures pack a punch, that they have not just an emotional core but also a solid connection to your objectives. If you are designing a book, make sure you are creating context for comprehension within the overall flow of the content. Same with websites. Same with marketing. Your job is to bring it all together.
  2. Let it breath: Don’t overcrowd your pages with too much “stuff”. Give your headings, your keywords, your callouts and your images enough space to breath.
  3. Orchestrate your story across space: Sure you might have only a few moments to capture the attention of your readers, but also play to their intelligence. Tell your story across space – share the visual cues generously and intelligently in a way that flows.
  4. Ease of use drives consumption: This applies to anything and everything that you do. Make it easy to consume (ie read) some email marketing  and click through for more information and people will do it. Design a website that is easy to use and people will use it. Create a book with tabs, visual cues, callouts and so on and readers will love it. Design with a focus on BEHAVIOUR and you’ll be amazed at the results.
  5. Feed your imagination: It is too easy to forget how important it is to get out from behind your screen. When I ran an interactive team, I took the entire studio on a ferry ride across the harbour to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art (I think they liked the ferry more than the art). But they came back to work inspired. But if you can’t do that, go for a walk. Go ride a bike. Take a moment out of the day to feed your imagination.

Of course, if you need to get support for good design – say from your CEO, drop this presentation by Jason Putorti on your boss’ desk (thanks for the link to the presentation go to Mark Pollard). Good design, after all, is about SOLVING a BUSINESS problem. And that’s the secret number six of my list of five. Maybe, just maybe, the thing you really need to know is that you need to deliver results back to the business. Hope this helps!