Maybe it’s because I’m a writer as well as a designer, but in my work the design is always secondary to the message.
Why? Well, did you ever watch a funny or particularly memorable TV commercial, but later, for the life of you, couldn’t remember what the product was? That’s an epic fail. Despite being memorable, the ad simply did not fulfill its function, and a lot of money and creative energy were spent to no purpose.
Talented, innovative designers can fail the same way. For example, a beautiful invitation to your grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary goes out to all of their friends, but the otherwise spry octogenarians can’t read the 8-point type, so in the trash it goes. A less attractive invitation that they could actually read would have been far more successful.
First, it creates a visual hierarchy, drawing the eye to the most important information. It should then nudge the viewer to continue reading. Poor hierarchy and visual clutter overstimulate and cause people to turn away.
Tradeshow displays are good examples of this, because they must grab the attention of people passing through an environment with extreme levels of visual clutter. If you treat your display as a bulletin board on which you pin as much data as possible, no one will look at it. No one will stop, even if you have cookies and free bottle openers. But, if you grab their attention with a bold, distinctive graphic element that excites their interest and guides them toward increasingly more complex nuggets of information, you draw them in (at which time you may offer them cookies, bottle openers, and business cards).
Second, good design evokes an emotional response. There have been numerous studies on the psychology of color. Is the goal to evoke nostalgia? Then maybe this week’s trendiest font is a poor choice. Are you marketing to teens? Then pastoral photos with soft lens effects may not be the wisest option. What gut reaction can your design stimulate in your intended audience? We know consumers make emotionally-motivated choices. The best designs tap into that.
Finally, good designers support the message by remembering that they are creating a product for their customer, not a showpiece for their own portfolios. Portfoliobility (yes, I just made that up) is a secondary benefit to a job well done. There are times when I really want to experiment with a particular style or palette, but if it’s not the best way to support my client’s message, my creative desires must take the back burner. After all, the message is paramount.