7 Items in Your Graphic Design Wardrobe: Staple or Trend?

By Joy Gendusa

In graphic design, as in fashion, there are certain techniques and best practices that are staples of your design wardrobe and others that are merely seasonal garnishes. The problem with a lot of the designs I see (specifically when it comes to advertising) is that the designer fails to understand which techniques fall into which category.


I started out in business as a graphic designer, and I have been actively involved in designing direct mail postcards and print ads for the last 15 years, so I have been able to see the results of my designs up close. I’ve gotten pretty darn good at knowing what works and what doesn’t.


Based on this, I have come up with a guide to help marketers and designers “organize their wardrobe” and optimize the effect of their advertising. Once you understand what the rock solid design fundamentals are (and which are just aesthetics of the moment), you can begin to design (or approve) better marketing pieces and make more money off of them. Isn’t that what we all want, anyway?


Before I get to the list, let me just say that there is nothing wrong with trendy graphic design elements. If used correctly, they enhance the effect of your piece, which gets attention. You just need to make sure they don’t overtake the really important things in the design — those elements that convince folks to ACT!


Here are 7 aspects of graphic design that are in every artist’s wardrobe and whether they are a staple (good year round, year after year) or a trend (living with an expiration date):


1. Headlines


Headlines are of the utmost importance to your design. A good headline will get the rest of your marketing piece read. A lousy one will get it thrown out ASAP. There is plenty of great free copywriting advice you can find online. I recommend you check out Copyblogger’s FREE copywriting materials at http://www.copyblogger.com/copywriting-101. There is REALLY great content there.


Without a headline that grips your audience and entices them to read more or act in some way, even the best visual designs fall flat. I can’t teach you everything there is to know in this short article but these two points are most critical in writing your headline: clarity and desirability.


First, your prospect must be able to immediately understand what the ad is about and how it relates to them. If they have to think about it, even for a moment, it’s over — they’re gone.


Second, once they understand what the ad is about, they need to be compelled to find out more.


2. Graphics


This may seem obvious. Of course graphics are a staple of graphic design. What I am referring to, however, is how you choose those graphics.


I once read an article on a website that was really good. It had amazing content that was interesting and actionable for me. I loved it. But throughout the text of this article there were the most random graphics I had ever seen! It was an article about optimizing copy for search engines, and there were images of businessmen riding bicycles, a slice of pizza and a close up of a man’s face. They had nothing to do with the content!


The point is that your graphics need to complement your headline. That’s the staple. If they don’t, you will only confuse your reader and they will disregard your ad rather than put the pieces together. On the flip-side, a perfectly matched headline and graphic is a beautiful (and profitable) thing!


3. Clever Copywriting


As much as we all love a witty, well-written advertisement, it is nothing more than a trend. It comes and goes in advertising. Of course it can be effective and it can even bolster the production of an ad, but at the end of the day, you can make an ad that is just as productive without the cleverness. It might not be as fun to read, but if it is clear and the product/service is desirable, it will pull well. Never ever sacrifice clarity for cleverness.


4. Fonts



All designers have strong affection/distaste for particular fonts. However, the truth is that they aren’t going to make or break a design. Can they help it read more easily? Absolutely — and that’s important. There are very interesting studies that show that certain fonts perform better on a computer screen versus the same font in a print advertisement. Knowing this is very important, and you should if you are a graphic designer. Still, font-choice is largely a trendy aspect of design and should not be treated as a staple.


A couple of staples: Don’t use too many different fonts in one ad — two is a good amount. And use a font with serifs for paragraphs and fonts without serifs for headlines. A serif is that little hangy thing on the end of the letter instead of it just ending. Times New Roman is a serif font. Arial is a sans serif font (no serif).


5. Offer


After drawing in your audience with a killer headline and apt graphic, the next staple is an offer they can’t refuse. It is a staple of all great advertising designs because offers flat out work.


For example, think about that great advertising campaign for Old Spice that won all those awards, “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”. After that campaign ran, Old Spice sales went through the roof. However, that campaign ran in conjunction with special sales on the product. When the discount promotion ended, sales came back down to earth. When they started again, sales spiked again.


I mention this to illustrate the fact that no matter how ingenious and clever an ad is, offers still work better — and they always will.


6. Color Schemes


This one pains me to say, because color schemes are very important to me. I hate seeing ads with ugly color schemes. But the truth is the truth, and I have learned that it is nothing more than a trend. I have one client who has been running the same hideous design for years, and it continues to work.

Now, with that said, there are definitely colors that make people feel a certain way, thus raising their rapport for the product. One example would be an ad for a spa — you want soft blues and greens and tans in the ad — these colors are relaxing and that’s what we want at a spa. Of course, that is the trend right now — colors schemes change all the time. Just know your market and what they like. Choose your colors accordingly to raise the trust of the viewer. The more the viewer trusts you the easier it is to close them.


7. Call-to-Action


The last thing you need to always have stocked in your design wardrobe is a concise, clear call-to-action. What is it you want the reader to do? Call? Go online for more info? Buy now? Whatever it is, you need to TELL THEM TO DO IT.


Unfortunately, subtlety rarely pays in advertising. If you want someone to call you for more information about your new product, you need to have a call to action on the ad that says, “Call us for more information on our new product.” Then, you need to have easily identifiable contact information available right after the call-to-action. It needs to be foolproof.


So that’s a look into what you should have in your graphic design wardrobe. Some things are staples, others are trends, but they are all good to have. Think about it this way. Headlines are pants; fonts are scarves. One is essential and the other is decorative. Make sure you have the staples covered, and then see if you can jazz up your ad’s outfit with the trendy items. There is a good chance that you can.


Just don’t let it leave your office without pants.
Joy Gendusa is the owner and CEO of the direct mail marketing firm PostcardMania (www.postcardmania.com). PostcardMania offers its clients services such as website and landing page design and development, email marketing and full marketing evaluations — all while continuing to educate clients with free marketing advice.

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