Why be boring when you can be exciting? Effective design should be a means to creatively stand out from the crowd.
Do you often wonder why everyone has to drive basically the same mass-produced car and wear the same mass-produced clothes? Cars, for instance, have become so blazae, with everyone driving basically the same milk-toast 4-door sedan. Even luxury vehicle manufacturers copy each other and offer little variation from the competition. It’s too bad that we don’t have more stylish models like the big finned cars of the 1950s or the sleek muscle cars of the 1960s. Let’s face it, there are fewer and fewer choices today. Indeed, it seems that nearly every time I discover a unique product it is not there when I return to the store. Unusual and slow-moving products end up in the marketing graveyard. In short, there is little room for anomalies and variety.
Let’s face it, there are only basically two brands of cell phones, a few phone carriers, one major corner coffee barista, one major pharmacy and a few banks, and nothing more. Choice is becoming a sacred commodity. Today at a local major retailer, I saw how the shampoo aisle has started to shrink. There are now a lot fewer brands but higher prices. I guess that I’m not surprised.
To cater to the masses, design has also become somewhat stale. This may be due to the fact that there are fewer magazines and high-quality print publications with special effects. Obviously a lot is due to cost and a drop in readership.
At my design and marketing firm, we take several steps to avoid milk toast marketing:
1) We think outside the box. We develop a traditional approach as well as a “far out” approach for a every job. This offers the client disparate options from which to choose.
2) We provide several design solutions to a marketing challenge. We never just provide one approach. It is too limiting and the client feels boxed in with nowhere to go.
3) We observe current trends in design and advertising. All around us we can see design trends—on TV, in magazines, on billboards, on the Internet, in fashion, on packaging and in printed marketing materials. We look for current trends in the use of type, color, layout, photo styling and special effects.
4) We maintain a library of well over a thousand reference samples. For years, we have been collecting samples that we have received in the mail or picked up at restaurants or spotted in magazines. I often tear out design samples while waiting at a doctor’s office. As well, I gather samples that I see on the Internet, samples of websites, logos, e-blasts, banner ads. These samples provide great reference material and sources for inspiration.
5) We view each project with a fresh perspective even if it is the same continuous newsletter. Each issue has a unique color scheme, unique content and unique design elements. It deserves a unique perspective and your full attention rather than just a templated approach.
6) We invent new ways of approaching each design challenge. It’s like telling a new story every time we tackle an assignment. We ask, “How can we do this differently?” and “How can we make a difference in terms of creativity and functionality?”
7) We add an element of customization. Most design or marketing firms don’t provide this level of catering. We add differentiation to every marketing piece to help better brand the client and to set them apart from the competition.
8) We view each design as an extension of the client’s brand not just a quick slap and go desktop published page layout. Brand is so important to making sure the promotion is recognizable and memorable. If branded, the promotion or publication will have it the unique “stamp” of the company that will distinguish it from the competition. This branded look will also set it apart from other real estate on the page of a newspaper or an ocean of billboards and retail signs along a busy intersection.
9) We help our clients to jump out from the pack. They need to be a notch above the fray. Ratcheting up the look with a clean design, an unusual color scheme, innovative graphical treatment, a luxurious paper and/or a special printing effect can really set one apart.
10) We encourage our clients not to “settle” for anything less than the best. One of the best ways to not to settle is to avoid design by committee. Designs seem to be more successful when there is a decisive project manager who can persuasively convince his/her superiors of value of an artistic solution. Too many “cooks in the kitchen” will surely derail the design thereby resulting in a final graphic that is stale, lacking in energy and creative ingenuity. The creative process requires ingenuity and invention rather than suffocation. Never settle for mediocre design.
So next time you eat breakfast add some chunky orange marmalade to your toast. Spice it up. Live life on the edge. Milk toast is for people who settle for the ordinary. As well, don’t settle for just the average with any of your marketing efforts. You’ll be throwing away your money. Strive for the best. It will pay off nicely.
Harlan West is the author of successfulcorporatecommunications.com and has been working as a creative director and design professional for more than 25 years and has designed and art directed hundred of publications for both print and online purposes.