Your job description may not mention design, but if you are a sales or marketing professional, there will be times when you need to put your best foot forward with a well designed piece. Whether it’s a PowerPoint presentation, printed proposal or promotional email, good design is necessary to communicate your professionalism and the quality of your product or service. A bad layout can make information hard to find or understand, giving your competition a leg up. If you can’t hire a graphic designer to assist you, use these tricks of the trade to make an impact.
Embrace White Space
The term white space is often misunderstood. First of all, white space isn’t white. When designers use this term, they are referring to open areas in your project—the places where there are no additional images and no text. In the white space you see only the background color, background photo, or background texture.
White space is the wide-open expanse that directs your eye to any object featured within it. It’s like the Wyoming Plains, beautiful in its emptiness, and it makes a lone farmhouse a thing worthy of contemplation. This 1964 Volkswagen Beetle ad is a classic example of effective white space in advertising. Take a look, and pay attention to which object you notice first.
Know Where the Eye Will Go
Eye-tracking studies show that people follow a pattern when they read. For advertising, it’s often a “Z” pattern. The eye enters the page in the top left corner, runs across the top of the page to the right corner then runs diagonally across the page to the bottom left corner and ends at the bottom right corner. The Z pattern is the reason many ads have a headline starting in the top left area and a logo in the bottom right corner.
You can easily understand the effectiveness of this layout trick if you think of a presentation. Like a live speech, you want to start strong and end strong; people might not pay attention to the details in the middle. It’s best to put your most important information in the bottom right corner, where it will be the takeaway piece of your marketing message.
There are other reading patterns for web design and text heavy materials. If you would like to learn more, here is a great blog on the topic by Steven Bradley.
Effective Photography is Really about the Viewer
Photography that resonates with viewers reflects their inner state of being. How they view themselves; what their hopes, goals, and motivations are; and what they need to feel safe in the world. The stock photo company Corbis hires cultural anthropologists to study societal trends in order to produce photos that resonate. They periodically release their findings in reports you can download for free on their Trends In Sight page.
From my experience, I think the photos that resonate often reflect the emotional temperature of the country, as described in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. For example, before 2007, consumers were focused on the upper tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy: esteem and self-actualization. Advertising images reflected that with glitzy, bold images of successful people. Since Leman Brother’s collapse and the economic turmoil that has followed, consumers are more concerned with the lower tiers, especially safety. Maslow described this tier as “security of: body, employment, resources, morality, the family, health, and property.” Sound familiar? If you pay attention and study the ads you see, I think you’ll notice a trend toward images of families and friends, calming colors, and soft lighting—images that make you feel safe.
You already know that you need to understand your target audience to market effectively. Use what you know to select photos that will reflect the needs of your target audience as well.
It Takes Time
How I wish the myth that designers have creative super powers were true. Unfortunately, it takes time to come up with that deceivingly simple ad or logo (sometimes it takes weeks or even months). Don’t expect miracles from yourself or anyone else. Realize it’s going to take time and plan appropriately.
Before you start, think about your marketing problem. Think about how people in other industries have solved the problem. Think about crazy ideas you know won’t work. Think about the ads, logos, brochures, and billboards that stick out in your head. Think about why you still remember them. Now, go back and think about your marketing problem. With any luck, a few ideas will start to germinate along the way that will lead you to a great promotional piece.
Take Your Ideas and Play with Them
I once worked with a designer, who shocked me by having more than 20 pages of comps in the InDesign file for an ad she was working on. I believe she is the best designer I have ever worked with. Her file convinced me that it is not so much creative brilliance that determines a project’s success but hard work and a commitment to find the best possible solution. Don’t accept your first layout. Keep trying until it’s the best it can be.