March 23, 2010 Off

Where Writing Meets Design

By in Advertising, Design

In an industry like advertising, design is so commonplace, so readily available that it’s easy to forget what makes it good. To cut through the clutter, as they say, is no easy task. We’ve all seen the results of an ad agency trying a little too hard to cut through. We see commercials that are so hilarious and offhand that the audience loves it, but can’t even remember which company the ad was for. We see commercials that are too outlandish and far removed from the product benefits. We see commercials that do not speak to the consumer in a fashion that is genuine or believable. These ads were so busy cutting that they lost sight of the true goal. With both ads and design, it is not just about standing out. It is not just about zigging while everyone else is zagging. 

The problem with trying to stand out is that in the meantime, you’re still busy watching what everyone else is doing. A good design must be seen as a piece of art. Artists don’t stop photographing people because that’s been “done to death” and they don’t stop painting forests or sunsets, no matter how many of those paintings are lying around. What good design must do, just like good art, is stand on its own with a few good principles.

These principles do not just apply to design, but to all art – whether it’s photography, writing, fashion or architecture:

1) The design must help instead of hinder the message. During my copywriting program we were taught that good writing has nothing extra left behind. Every word must work for you, and every word must be chosen for a purpose. The same can be said for design. There must be a reason you have chosen Helvetica instead of Gothic Light. There must be a reason you picked the colour red. When there is a rhyme and reason to your artistic choices, the message comes across much more clearly.

2) There must be some sort of contrast. In writing great contrast comes from creating tension, whether the tension is between the visual and copy of an ad or having a protagonist in a story face their greatest fear. There must be some push and pull to keep things interesting. In design, that tension and contrast can come from combining unlikely elements in colour, shapes or textures. On top of creating a piece that is visually interesting, it will add more variety to your work.

3) Simplicity is key. The Smashing Pumpkins could have sang “Even though I scream and cry with anger, all this is futile because I still feel trapped in my confining circumstances.” Instead they sang “despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage.” The message is the same, but one of them sounds a hell of a lot better. With both writing and design, less is more. Keep things simple. Your audience won’t have to look for a point of interest. The point of interest will find them.

About: Ian:
Hi, I'm Ian T. I'm a York grad and a copywriter for Eden Advertising. I'm the master of procrastinating. I like to use parentheses (sometimes). I love the LCBO because wine makes me happy. I don't blog, I capture moments in time.

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