A Scenic Tour of the Online World

How Visual Design Works

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Clients ask us about our design process all the time. They want to know why we ask them to fill out our Creative Brief Questionnaire, why we prefer to present initial designs in person, and mostly, why we ask so many questions.

Questions, Questions, Questions
We do ask a lot of questions. Some clients feel that’s a bother. Seems they feel that good design comes out of thin air. And that we shouldn’t be bothering them with all our questions -they hired us to think about this stuff so they wouldn’t have to.

But design isn’t created in a vacuum. We need good input to create good outcomes. The romantic notion that art is created in a vacuum – inspiration striking The Artist while he’s enjoying a bubble bath and a glass of red wine – is less correct than most people think. But it doesn’t even matter. What we’re creating isn’t art, and it isn’t about divine inspiration. It’s design. And while art and design both must have a message to be successful, design’s message is meant to serve a vastly different purpose. It’s goal is to push attention away from itself and onto the business, product, or service being marketed.

To succeed, we need to learn all we can to achieve that goal. So we ask a lot of questions, starting with who has a say in approving the design, what the goals are for the project, and how the project fits with branding overall.

We’ll ask about the audience and their expectations, the market and your place in it, your competitors and how you stack up against them.

We’ll remind you that we’re not decorating your bedroom, so whether or not you like red – or green or blue – doesn’t really matter – unless the color choice has an impact on branding and how the site will work alongside your other marketing materials.

We ask questions because we want to help even those folks who may not be fluent in the language of design to express themselves about design. (Plus, “I’ll know it when I see it” is a hard thing to fit into a schedule – or a budget.)

We may even ask you to think in terms of other brands – compare your brand to well-known brands in various industries – Volvo vs. BMW vs. Ferrari or Levi’s vs. Ralph Lauren vs. Lanvin or even cities – anything with strongly identified brands or personalities that can help frame the conversation.

Ideas, Ideas, Ideas
After asking all those questions we develop ideas we know will serve the marketing and communications purposes of the site. We’ll generate anywhere from 2 to 10 concepts for you.

And we’ll give you our opinion. That’s why we prefer to present initial ideas in person. We’re going to recommend one, and we’re going to tell you what works about it and ask you to evaluate it in those terms rather than personal preferences.

  • Why do you like it?
  • What message does it convey about your brand and your product?
  • How does it fit with existing marketing materials and design guidelines?

You might have a very adventurous sense of design but if you work for in an industry where the audience expectation is for solidity and reliability, what you like not only shouldn’t be a factor, it might be a detriment to good design.

Solutions and Success
The process, including the questions, is designed to move us from ideas to solutions. It’s not just about the colors on the page. It’s about how the “look and feel” can help shape attitudes towards your company, and how you are perceived by your audience.

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