While at a commercial design awards event a couple of months ago, I discovered that the submitted work was judged strictly on aesthetics. In fact, the “Judges’ Choice Award” went to a design that was rejected by the client because the design solved the problem in a way that was ineffective for the target audience. was not used because the artwork involved couldn’t be cleared by the copyright holders.
“Art for art’s sake” doesn’t belong in the business world. Commercial design (logos, websites, brochure, direct mail, etc.) is not an exercise in aesthetics, it’s an exercise in effectiveness.
While aesthetics plays a large role in what makes a design successful, it’s more important for a design to speak to its intended audience and evoke the intended response than it is for the design to look nice to everybody. In fact there are some instances where a business or organization doesn’t want to look super polished, for fear of alienating its market.
As a business marketer it is very important for you to work closely with your designer and make sure your intended audience is known. Sit down with your designer and management team and answer these questions:
- What is the purpose of this project? (What action or response do we expect?)
- Who is the intended audience?
- How will this audience be most effectively reached? (i.e., if it’s an elderly crowd, I might not run an email campaign)
- When should the audience take action? (Is this something they should immediately do, or are you trying to build awareness over time?)
- What will make this project successful? (Giving the company a certain look, converting 1,000 more sales, receiving 5,000 email signups, etc.)
Finally, you need to know who is going to manage the campaign. Often my most successful designs are not the ones that are the most beautiful, but the ones that are the most functional for my clients. For example, If you are going to be maintaining your new website, make sure the site is built so you can manipulate everything you would possibly ever want to change. Otherwise you’ll have to go back to the designer, pay the hourly rate, and wait 2 weeks for something you should have been able to accomplish in 20 minutes.
At the end of the project, review the five questions above, perhaps with a member of your target audience. This review process is critical to ensuring that you actually achieved the desired results.
I love great design as art, and I will always enjoy looking at it and learning new techniques from it. But designers learn (and sometimes forget) early on in their design training that “form follows function.” In commercial design, aesthetic follows effectiveness.