Using images to support description

Selecting the right kind of imagery for your promotional literature is just as important as choosing the right words. This was brought home to me when I visited a client recently who was very keen not to have the same kinds of pictures as her competitors, so that her publicity stuck out from the crowd. Her choice searched more into describing how her company would help her customers, not blagging on about her profession and the features they had on offer. These pictures’ poignancy sparked off a series of unconscience thought that stimulated her customers’ reaction and encouraged them to realise they needed her services. Very clever, especially as this concept had already proven its success!

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Desktop publishing versus graphic design

What is Desktop Publishing?

Desktop Publishing (DTP) is the placing and positioning of text and graphics on the page to produce paper publications such as newsletters, magazines, brochures, books, etc.  It can be adapted to create other paper publicity such as leaflets, flyers, postcards, networking material, business stationery, adverts, cards, posters, signs and other visual communication.

How is it different from graphic design?

Graphic design uses art and creative forces to combine shapes, colours, text, pictures, imagination, fashion and other images to produce new graphics and art, such as graphics, logos, illustration, concepts and design. It conjures up something new specifically for the client. The design is then used to create paper or web marketing material.

Whereas DTP takes the designed graphics, logos, illustrations and concepts to combine it with text, layout and other materials onto the page.  Desktop publishers excel in arranging the material available in the most efficient, effective and attractive method ready for the printing process.  It is mainly paper based, but other media can be used and explored, such as plastics, clothing or whatever.

So in a nutshell, graphic design creates design, desktop publishing takes that design and puts it into a paper format!

Can packaging turn your customers off?

The Friday business profile in the Reading Evening Post is an excellent opportunity for small businesses to get some free PR. This week a couple who sell special fruit juices have taken the slot. Everything sounds wonderful (and probably tastes that way too) until I looked at their packaging.

I honestly couldn’t tell these cartons contained fruit juice – they looked more like men’s toiletries (shower gel and shaving cream) or – worse – something out of the back room of Ann Summers. The majority sported black backgrounds (with a couple of white ones) with a swirly motif that is reminiscent to the patterns made by swinging those fluorescent rings around that you buy at Guy Fawkes night.

How do these designs relate to fruit? OK, they probably wanted something that stood out from the rest of the fruit drinks, so a design with large images of the fruit in question wouldn’t have caught any customer’s eye. But a black background does not suggest something edible (or drinkable), unless you want to smear it all over your body…

Another look does reveal a description of the flavours on the front, which is the only saving grace it has to suggest it’s a drink. I may not be a brandist, but attractive, edible colours adapted from large, mouth-watering images or using a clever twist with the font from the descriptive words and the fruit colour in question would be much more conducive to achieving a sale.

The moral? Don’t disguise your product, or dress it up so it’s unrecognisable. Blatant, in-your-face designs which say exactly what’s on the tin have always succeeded in the past, with good reason. And keep them clear, concise and uncluttered – overuse of fancy designs can easily obscure your message.

Clear logos – fashionable versus concise

Logos are difficult things to create. Yeah, anyone can make a logo, but is it effective? Does it send the correct message? Do your customers ‘get’ it? Does it truly reflect your corporate image? What is its target audience?

And above all, is it clear? Logos in the past were fussy, old fashioned things, following tradition and spawned off coats of arms, etc. Now they have to be instantly recognisable, snazzy, fashionable, easy to produce, look good in black and white, powerful yet unassuming. That’s why logos are difficult things to create.

Everyone’s talking about the new London Olympics logo. And above all, how much it cost. Does it do anything for you? It certainly has benefited from the ‘yuk’ factor, as bad press can create good publicity. But is that a good thing? Is it sending us the right message? Do you ‘get’ it? Is it clear, concise and uncluttered?

Take a good look at your logo and put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Consider if it could be made clearer, more recognisable, simpler even. Are the colours right? Is the font fashionable? Does it consist of meaningless initials, or would an image be more appropriate? And, for photocopying purposes, does it still look good in monochrome?

And then all logos should be accompanied with a catchy strapline, but then that’s a subject for another blog…

Backgrounds – how can they be made clearer?

During half term my parents treated my family to a London activity, which issued specially designed tickets for entry. While enjoying a cream bun in the café, we examined these tickets within a graphics point of view.

The first thing which struck us was that it wasn’t easy to read. OK, the wording was reduced in size to fit the ticket’s dimensions, but the combination of the black background and white writing decreased the legibility factor, especially for the more mature audience whose eyesite isn’t as good as it once was. This trait seems quite popular at the moment, as I can think of one programme of events that is totally black with white text – I suppose it’s considered trendy (especially amongst male designers) and is designed to make the pictures stand out more.

Background colours should be carefully chosen so not to swamp any wording (for example a pale grey background and white writing) or make other colours ‘jump’ (put red and green together and see what happens). White is certainly safe, but it can also be boring, and sometimes a nice neutral colour will highlight the contents or design. Also be careful with some colours on a white background, red or yellow for example, as they can make words illegible.

Background images shouldn’t be stronger than the foreground or main content, therefore diverting the reader from the purpose of the publication. Logos or pictures can be ‘greyed out’ or made more faded, with a strongly coloured and catchy title ‘pinging’ out in front. Be careful of intricate backgrounds that distract or confuse the eye, especially with a frequently repeated pattern.

And moving backgrounds (as in websites) are a complete no-no!

Spacing – can this be cluttered?

Another concept of ‘clear, concise and uncluttered graphic design’ is the subject of spacing.

But I would like you to consider whether a piece of designed work is ‘cluttered’ or not by taking a look at the amount of ‘white space’ in it.

There are mainly two kinds of design to consider: those who don’t have enough, and those who use too much!

OK, perhaps there is a lot of material that needs to be crammed onto a small sized page. Sort out what are the most important areas that need to be highlighted to grab the reader’s attention (like headlines and dates), either through colour, shapes or banners, and and slot the corresponding material beneath. Using columns can create white space and a format to force the eye to go in the right direction, as shorter lines enable quicker reading, like as in a ‘newsletter’ scenario. Pictures, although extremely useful, must not overlap, obscure or fall behind the text, and a fancy background accompanying a lot of information, especially if it needs to be absorbed, can be distracting.

Now white space also is important between lines in the text and before and after headings. Neither should be too close to each other, and it takes an ‘eye’ to visualise how much is needed. A great tip I was told was to hold the page in front of you and screw up your eyes. This will show what merges together as a grey (or coloured) haze. If there is too much, then everything is too close.

Some designs have masses of white space, absolutely blinding you on the page. But then where is your content? Is it presented in a tiny font, ‘cleverly’ positioned in a corner somewhere, either with a huge or equally tiny picture or image, and you have to hunt to find the information you crave? If a reader has to ‘work’ to receive the message, then you’ve lost them.

Design should make it easy for the recipient to understand exactly what you’re trying to say in a legible and easily readable format, eye catching and instantly recognisable. Never mind about fancy imagery, leave that to those who have more money than sense.

Another subject I will write on later is the use of colour. Watch this space.

Alice