As a graphic designer, there are times you shouldn’t take marketers’ feedback literally, but rather use your own better judgment.
Good marketing design requires the design and marketing teams to work together in order for the visuals to be aligned with the marketing strategy and goals.
While graphic design necessarily involves a degree of subjectivity and personal taste, graphic designers are professionals trained to spot and explain why a piece of design works or doesn’t work. And this is something that isn’t always clear to a marketing professional.
Here’s why sometimes marketing designers should go with their own gut feeling, rather than take feedback from marketers for granted.
Disregarding basic design principles
As a non-designer, this is a lesson I had to learn the hard way. While it might seem clear for me that sometimes a graphic looks good or doesn’t, I don’t necessarily have the understanding of why that is.
The answer to the why is usually a basic knowledge of design theory.
For example, I might notice that a certain design element is the first thing I see, but I won’t necessarily know why that is or how to change it. A professional designer will know that the use of principles like contrast, hierarchy, rhythm and balance bring order to the design and help it fulfill its intended purpose.
Oftentimes, marketers ask designers to emphasize something (“Make it bigger/brighter”), but they don’t understand that such changes will affect the overall design. If this is the case, the designers should either stick with their own ideas or implement the requested changes, whilst making sure to change other elements as well in order to have a well-balanced design.
Here’s a useful example of bad design. Whether it’s their own fault or a case of following marketers’ instructions to the letter, this packaging design completely misses the mark not because it’s ugly, but because the organization of the design elements is wrong.
A good designer has to know what information should be prioritized (in this case probably what the supplements are for), and which ought to be placed elsewhere (how you take your supplements, or that they are chewable).
Lack of user-friendliness
When non-designers think about graphics the first thing they consider is the visual appeal. However, an integral part of any good design is its usability. Arguably, this is what distinguishes graphic design from art: graphic design always has a specific purpose.
The term user-friendliness is most commonly associated with web and app design, however, it’s also an integral component of any design project.
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A graphic designer has a deep understanding of what makes for a good user experience; why people prefer some images and layouts over another, or why they behave the way they do when presented with a certain design.
If a designer believes that the marketers’ ideas are going to create a poor user experience, a good way to convince them is to test out a few different design ideas and see which performs better.
Choosing trends over consistency
Being up-to-date with the current trends is very important in marketing, especially digital marketing which is the prevalent form today. However, this doesn’t mean that you have to follow every single trend that emerges.
Marketers can usually decide which trends are worth following on the basis of what aligns with the brand’s mission and vision. But when it comes to design, they sometimes miss the big picture.
Here’s a good example to learn from. It’s well known that sans-serif typography is favored in modern logo design due to its minimalist, crisp look. Gradients are also another trendy thing, used by modern industry leaders such as Instagram and iTunes.
But trends aren’t equally applicable across all industries. Gap, a famous clothing brand decided to switch to a more modern sans-serif typeface ahead of the Christmas period in 2010 and added a gradient version of their blue square to the logo. The result was of course a surge of disappointment since the company offered no “warning” about the change in the logo that served them for more than 20 years.
Just six days after the launch, they ditched the new logo and went back to their iconic serif wordmark.
Lack of direction
Junior designers are often reluctant to give their own ideas and fall into the pitfall of taking feedback for granted.
If you hear your team or client say: “I’ll know what I want when I see it”, it’s time to take initiative. Rather than providing them with hundreds of different designs that, spoiler alert, might all miss the mark, take time to help them identify clearly what is the goal of a particular design.
The focus of a marketing designer is sometimes to provide what is needed rather than what people say they want. Henry Ford famously said that if he “had asked people what they want, they would have said faster horses”.
This is a lesson many designers learned in the course of product development. People would often ask for features that would later be proven to be useless or even provide a bad user experience. Use metrics found on Google Analytics to determine how people interact with your site or ads, or dive into qualitative data when it comes to your products. If people get to the point of payment and then turn away, perhaps there’s no problem in design, rather your pricing points are too high, or people don’t see the value of your product.
A good design brief necessarily includes some sort of inspiration or examples to help the designer get to the final result quicker. But marketers and clients often like an existing design so much that they end up requesting the design team to simply copy it.
This is problematic for several reasons. The first and most obvious one is that it can get your into legal and financial trouble. If you use someone else’s logo or visual assets with only very slight modifications, they might figure it out and pursue the legal course of action.
Secondly, it will hurt the brand. A skilled designer will be able to take a given idea and translate it into a design suitable for a specific industry, product or service and target audience.
Here’s a good example. The logo on the right belongs to a Korean coffee company called Starpreya. The similarities between their logo and that of Starbucks are obvious, so, naturally, Starbucks sought legal action. Although they lost the dispute, you can see how Starpreya didn’t really do its brand any favors - it’s simply going to be remembered as a Starbucks knockoff, which doesn’t exactly speak highly of it or help create brand loyalty.
Of course, if it’s something like a simple graph or table, it’s perfectly fine to simply redesign it using your own brand colors.
But more complex marketing materials should be created to be unique and perfectly suited for a specific purpose.
Again, what designers can do in this situation is to analyze, one design element at a time, what the marketing team likes about the given design and explain how this ought to be modified (or not).
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Starting design without the copy
Marketers are notorious for thinking that the design process is much simpler than it really is. When creating assets for a marketing campaign designers are often told to start creating before the copy for the graphics has been finalized.
To a marketer, it might just seem like an extra line of text or simply a different word used, but for a design, and especially something like a social media post or banner ad, this can make a world of difference. A change in copy might mean that everything else needs to become bigger, smaller or differently aligned which disrupts the balance of the design or draws attention away from the most important part of the design (e.g. the CTA).
It can also mean that in different variations (e.g. thumbnails) some of the text might not cut off. Of course, a designer can come up with something, but ultimately this will mean doubling their work once all the changes with the final copy need to be implemented.
If a marketer or copywriter absolutely cannot settle on a copy yet, the designer should ask them to at least provide a rough draft and try to stick to that word count. Don’t go with a simple “Text goes here” either.
No matter how basic or unoriginal the first copy idea is (and from my experience they usually are), it’s a much better choice to give the designer a solid idea of how much text needs to be incorporated into the design.
Individual vs big picture
As a designer in a marketing agency or design studio, you probably don’t have direct contact with individual clients. The marketing team, on the other hand, has access to every and any customer complaint or angry tweet. And sometimes, this can cloud their judgment when it comes to design.
It’s sometimes called the “rule of the silent majority” and yes, applies to marketing as well. One study shows that only 5-10% of people write reviews of products and services. So, one review definitely does not a red flag make.
In an attempt to increase customer satisfaction marketers sometimes jump to conclusions and want to make quick changes to the design (again, oftentimes because they don’t appreciate what a long and complex process design is).
It should be noted though, that customer reviews play a big part in convincing other people to buy and building trust in a brand. So, a marketer’s job is to respond to negative feedback and discover what exactly is the root of the problem and perhaps help a dissatisfied customer resolve their issues. Only if the problem keeps coming up, and ideally if it’s something you can check with metrics (e.g. lack of sign-ups because of the CTA button design), should the designer step in and make the changes.