Thursday, June 25, 2009

That's Easy for You to Say

Image courtesy jdurham of
There is language I and many of my fellow designers tend to use. They are words that describe hard to describe concepts. They can be jargon to the average Joe non-designer. But to us, they capture an elusive justification for our design choices.

The problem with this is that certain non-designers like corporate CEO And CFO's don't respect those justifications — unless they are design savvy themselves. And another problem is that these terms are often vague.

Think about what you've read in design magazines, or when you try to explain to a client why you used a certain image, font, or color. We tend to say things like, "This color really adds 'pop' to the piece." Or, "That little do-hickey adds 'visual interest.' " These terms are not bad, they are just not explanatory enough for audiences who don't care about your aesthetic tastes. In fact, to some, your justifications sound like excuses for your extravagant decorating choices.

Therefore I have a tactical strategy whenever I explain design decisions to my clients. Let me know if these are a help to you as well.

  1. Start with a creative design brief.

    This helps both the client and designer know what to shoot for in the design, and what the design needs to accomplish. Without this, designers have no choice but to speak in generalities about their decisions, and these decisions will seem subjective to the client.
  2. Avoid vague terminology by planning ahead of time.

    A good strategy to use is to make a list of vague words to avoid. Then when you are tempted to use a term, ask yourself, "What do I mean by this?" And, "How does this satisfy the creative design brief objectives?" This will help drill down to what is important to communicate to a client, and will help the client understand your thought process. A side benefit is that your client will appreciate the thought you put into his project. And eventually, this will bring the visual design field into higher esteem.
  3. And last but not least — Practice, practice, practice.

    Let's face it. We use vague terms because we are in the habit of doing so. And quite frankly, when designers are around each other, we share a camaraderie around those terms. Most designers know what you mean when you say "pop." In fact, we can see what you mean. But we should never forget that many of clients don't understand, and cannot readily see it.
So, for the sake of our clients and our industry, let's practice a way of communicating that raises the stature of design in everyone's mind.

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