Wednesday, January 19, 2011

7 Lessons from Designers

PSU Creative Team at Play/Work (Team Building)

7 Lessons from Designers
 For the past 10 years, I worked as part as a creative in-house marketing team. As a writer, my role was to advocate for those pesky words that get in the way of the designers' graphics. As a project manager, my role was to make sure we delivered what we promised, when we promised it. It was a fun and frustrating job.

It is fascinating to see what happens when you put people from different disciplines together on projects.  Everyone learns from each other. Some of my favorite lessons come from the designers that I worked with. I apply these lessons to design and copy writing.

Hopefully you can use these lessons in your own creative process and to strengthen your relationship with designers you may work with.

1. More is less.
"When you think you are done, look at your work again and take one thing away." One of my designers got this advice from her college art instructor. It is a good sanity check. If you aren't careful your fonts and colors can take center stage instead of what you are trying to communicate.

I find this advice invaluable for my blog design. Over time, I add things that look cool individually, but viewed as a whole they break the design cohesion. Every once in a while, I stop adding features and look at deleting. The tip also works with words. I tend to add stories or a cute phrase to my posts that have nothing to do with the main idea. Brutal as it may seem, I have to delete them.

2. One idea isn't good enough.
My former creative director, Herbert, challenges his design team to move beyond their first idea. Too often, designers come up with a good idea and start to flesh that idea out. The problem is that they missed a great idea by settling for a good one. Herbert advises designers to trade their computers for notebooks when generating ideas. Do LOTS of quick thumbnails before you settle on a winning idea.

3. Collages don't communicate.
I'm not talking about artistic collages where the sum of the parts creates something powerfully expressive. I'm talking about using a collage as a cop-out so you don't have to make a decision about which photo to use. This happens often with brochures or magazine covers. One big, great photo says far more than five small ones. Be brave and pick one.

4. I'm not a designer, but I play one on TV.
If you give a designer a very detailed sketch of EXACTLY what you want, you will get a finished product that is EXACTLY what you asked for, devoid of the designer's expertise. Didn't you hire them for that expertise? Set the expectation, communicate the deadlines, and get out of the way.

5. Be honest about your deadline.
If a project is due in in two weeks, but you want to see something in a week, SAY SO. Designers aren't mind readers. If they aren't given any more details than the final due date, they will work right up to the deadline and you won't have any time for input.

6. Images and words must have a happy marriage.
The best designers understand that images and words must marry. If an image looks cool, but doesn't "say" the same thing as the text, you can't use it. You also can't shrink the copy down to the size of legal print. On the flip side, a good copywriter understands that you need to give the designer visual space to work with. You can't get greedy and fill up every inch with words. No one will read cramped copy.

7. Design is a problem-solving discipline.
Some people think designers just "pretty things up." Design is a problem-solving discipline. If you help your team understand your business challenge, you will get something far more powerful than a pretty picture. I find the same is true for writers. The more data you can give me, the more on-target my text will be.

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