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Design isn’t just what it looks like, it’s how it works

As I work in pictures, here’s a visual analogy. I used to know someone who would throw themself into every new hobby or venture with gusto. They were once asked if they fancied a game of tennis and then that lunchtime scurried off to the nearest sports shop to purchase the very best rackets, shoes, sweat bands and white shorts and shirt that money could buy. I’m convinced that as they walked out onto the slightly battered, litter strewn concrete court in the local park they firmly believed they were stepping out onto Centre Court at Wimbledon. Now, this is fine, but it only works if you can play the game. As it happened, this person couldn’t and I’m sure there’s a little box in their loft with their tennis outfit neatly folded up and sitting alongside paraphernalia from many other failed hobbies.

Anyway, a bit like the tennis analogy, the same thing applies to design. Every designer believes that they can produce the best design ever. They’ll spend ages deciding whether it should be 35 Helvetica Neue Thin or 45 Helvetica Neue Light. If perhaps it’s better 8 point on 12 or if it looks better slightly larger with more leading. Pantone 234 or 235? Blah, blah, blah. These things are important to us lot, but having said that, a beautifully designed piece of advertising is nothing if there’s no concept behind it - if it doesn’t actually do the job. Whatever it is, we need the person it’s aimed at to ‘get it’. They need to want to buy the product or apply for the job or do whatever the objective was.

So with that in mind, THE most important job is to come up with the concept first. NOT the design. Come up with an idea that doesn’t matter how it’s visualised or executed because it’s just right - it answers the brief; it fits a purpose; it works. Years ago, I worked in an agency that had the best name: The Idea Works - the place where ideas were created and that the solution was the right one. Brilliant.

You see, it really doesn’t matter what colour is used. What font. What image. What point size. What spacing. Whether it’s A4, A5 or written down the side of a bus. These are subjective things - things that can be debated and argued. Regardless of all this, it just has to work.

I saw an ad some years ago that was created to highlight the problems of able-bodied people parking in disabled parking spaces. The ad was a shot from above of an empty disabled parking bay and the line simply read: ‘Is this the only time you put yourself in their place?’. That ad could have been photographed beautifully or really badly. It really wouldn’t have mattered. The thing that did matter was the concept and that line. I must point out that I don’t park in disabled spaces, but whenever I see an empty disabled space, without a word of a lie, I think of that ad.

So, is it important that advertising looks beautiful? Of course. But not as important as it doing the job. Get the best tennis gear money can buy, but don’t expect to make a living on the professional tennis circuit if you can’t actually play.

In categories: Business thoughts , Design
Author: Chris Bennett
Date published: 07.08.2015


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