What makes design appropriate?
When medium and message are unified by design. When the audience and organization are connected by design. When the style and brand image are working together through design. That is what makes design appropriate. Having all the factors working together as one.
This is no small task. A well-trained designer understands that she doesn't start the design process until she understands the client, their message, who they want to target, what they want to achieve, and how they want to distribute the final product.
When understanding the client, the designer needs to know who the client is, who they serve, and why they exist. This information can come from secondary sources, but the best source is from the client themselves. Understanding this will help make the final design and medium appropriate to the client's persona and ethos.
Next, a good designer wants to understand what the client's primary message is. Does it fit their persona? Is it the message they are really asking for? How would the medium of choice affect the message? Answering these questions will give the designer a good idea of how to plan a design approach that will effectively communicate the intended message. (A good copywriter can help greatly too.)
Third, the designer would apply the client's identity and message in a language the intended audience would understand and be moved by. This can mean a literal linguistic adjustment. But more often than not this means translating, visually, what the client wants to say into final materials the intended audience would understand and appreciate. What colors communicate the tone and voice of the intended message to this audience? Does the written text speak to this audience in a way they can receive it? How would the design approach enhance or take away from the power of well-written text? To answer these questions the designer needs to know something about the intended audience.
Fourth, once the right mix of emotion and comprehension the audience should have for the client's message is understood, then the designer needs to create a way for the audience to respond in a predictable manner. That can be anything from getting the audience to call for more information, visit the client's website, order something, or send back a response card through the mail or email.
Last, a beautiful design remains ineffective if the audience has no real way to come in contact with the final product. This seems like a no-brainer, but it isn't. A client can pay several thousand dollars to advertise in Wired or Car and Driver magazine. But they probably won't reach many seniors, if that is their target market. The process of understanding how to reach an audience is critical to not only where to reach them, but how. Would electronic delivery work better for seniors than direct mail, or vice-versa? Would multimedia be more appropriate for teen boys than a static brochure? All this depends on the audience, the message, and the persona of the messenger.
When the designer puts all these factors together, the final design can go from a merely pretty piece to an emotionally moving message; from a nice marketing piece to a well-planned, functional, marketing tool; from a piece of communication to a mutually beneficial conversation.
Now, that's good design.
This is the 11th out of 11 articles discussing, in detail, each point in my philosophy of design. My philosophy is discussed in my previous post.