Sunday, March 2

The Good Word - Discussion #6

Writing is a topic of conversation usually left out when talking about graphic design. We use typography, letterforms, quotation marks, commas and such, but we rarely talk about the words beyond kerning and point size. What do the words really mean?

A great deal actually. Words provide the content which leads to the design, connotation, choice of imagery, choice of color, choice of typeface and size... it leads to everything. The words contained within a design are often times more important than the design. It's the reason why the design exists in the first place—to communicate what the written word has to say. Therefore, and it's a big therefore, we need to read the text we've been given in order to properly understand how to design for it. *gasp* Show of hands... how many of you have read and understand ALL of the text you're using for your current project? Have many of you went forward with your designs without having read everything (and I do mean down the the last sentence)? I thought so.

Reading your copy is important to figuring what the design should even look like. It's the subtle nuance of how something is worded, the bullets points which show how the product works and the intro paragraph with it's flowery boast of how wonderful something is. In this information is clues as to what the design should look like. Do you think a designer working on a Stephen King novel cover or Nike's next ad campaign isn't going to spend the time to read the text given to them? Understanding that link between what something looks like and what something says is key. And this is called? Anyone? Bueller? Beuller?

Visual verbal synergy.

Oh yes, a term you've heard used time and time again. The more support the visual has for the copy and the copy has for the visual the more successful the design will be. A no-brainer you say? Not always. Not all copy a client gives you will be clear as far as imagery/design is concerned. Sometimes you'll need to communicate an abstract concept or communicate for subject matter you're not very familiar with and possibly don't even understand. You have a few choices at that point.
1. Trudge forward with the design and try to come up with something that looks cool. This will only hold water with the client if you are a true master of B.S. and can convince them to use the design.
2. Speak with the client and ask pertinent questions about the material you've been given. Maybe they can shed some light on the subject. This has a 50-50 percent chance of working. Half of the time the client will speak to you in lay mans' terms and be able to simplify the abstract nature of the business. Half of the time they'll tell you what you've already read not clarifying anything.
3. Do your own research on the matter. Do a search for what it is you don't understand and learn about it. Expand your mind. The more you know about your client and the service/product they provide, the better insight you have into what kind of design they need. Please notice I said need, not want. They may want something fluffy and pretty but may need something a little more functional. It's your job to help determine what's best for their needs.

Understanding a client's needs is exactly what you should do to develop a good relationship with them. In turn, a good relationship with a client means more work, more money and more stability for your career.

Aside from the information a client gives you, what else can you do to better understand your client and their needs? How can you get inside their heads and determine what kind of design is appropriate for them? What can you do to build a better relationship with someone you could potentially spend years working with?


AndrewW_DB_GDII said...

I went to see designer Joe Duffy, in Lancaster last semester... at his firm they had a great way of getting into the mind of their client. (Also Go Welsh design near lancaster, does this I'm pretty sure) They will not start a concept or thumbnail or anything, until they have a creative brain storm with the client. Basically they complete giant collages very much like the mood boards we had to complete for graphics 1. The client is to look through magazine, websites, or bring in pictures that they feel represents the business or service or what have you... When they look through the pictures or clippings they are searching for color schemes, patterns, design elements and everything under the sun to be inspired by.
After completing the boards. They regroup with the client and designers, and work through the mood boards or idea collages. The client explains why they like certain things, and between them and the designer, they rule out or exclude items till they have a tight definitive visual explanation/exploration of the concept. Then the design can get to work on his/her part.
They say this method works 90% of the time. Reason being, the client picked all the design elements, so it ends up pretty close to what they want. Sure sometimes theres a rogue client who can't agree with their own chosen path for the design, but they say in most other cases it works out.

This is also a fantastic way to have a better relationship with the client. For one, it gets them involved in the process. Its not like they say they want something, you kick them out the door and a few weeks later they have to give you money for whatever comes out the door. The fact that they are involved with the design process I think goes a long way. Since they are involved and get to see everything from the start it also encourages them to want to come back for more business as opposed to another designer who will take the info and spit a design back them a few weeks later.

Anonymous said...

I agree that it is very important for the designer to read the copy that they are designing for. When reading a magazine the first things that stick out to me are the pictures and headlines. In good layouts the combination of images and headline draw me in and make me curious about the subject which leads me to read the article. To understand a client's needs thoroughly I would suggest:
-emerge yourself in the culture of your audience
(if you are working on a literary magazine go to a poetry reading and take pictures there)
-do additional research on the topic
(look at other people's design solutions for similar projects)
-read and re-read the material provided, make word webs and write down ideas

You can never do too much research!


Anonymous said...

I think the client/designer relationship is a huge factor contributing to whether or not a client sticks with a certain firm or freelance person. When i was dealing with my senior pictures my photographer let me know what was going on every step of the way. He invited my friend and i with our families over to the studio to view our pictures pick out and set up our own personal packages right there.. It was just very personal and didn't make me feel just like another pay check for the photographer. I Think that's how all designers should treat their clients. To me that's a bit of a no brainer.
Plus that's also better for us as designers, the better we know what our clients want and like the more efficient we can be. I wonder what the coolest thing anyone has ever done to connect with their clients on a more personal level?


Anonymous said...

I think what I would do to better understand my client would be to ask them questions about what they really want.. I want to know every little detail about what they do like and what they dont like.. whether it would be to use examples I have done with them before or whether it was someone elses work that was done for them.. I would look up what they had designed for them before I came to work with them.. See what they liked about what was done and what they think they could improve. Try and catch a style and maybe work with that..Have them show me what interests them whether it would be other work that other people had done or pictures, sculptures, drawing techniques.. anything!! I think that would give me a good understand as well...To build a better relationship I think of any normal relationship.. I would definetly show that I am interested in making them happy, and concerned about getting their message and Ideas across...Maybe I would stalk their families, and maybe take them out to lunch every week, follow them around town.. IM JUST KIDDING. I would take them out to lunch though.. But bottom line I think its important to get them involved and ask other things besides just the work..I figure thats how I would get to know my client.. ask them questions about themselves, their company, its history its location.. everything.. and you bet your --- I will have a nice little notepad or when i am rich a blackberry.. to jot everything down.


Anonymous said...

Copy is a very important part of the design. When I read magazines, the main thing that draws my attention are the pull quotes, because for some strange reason, I read magazines backwards, and I see the headlines last as I page through an article (it runs in the family), so I depend on the design to determine whether or not a actually read the article. And choosing a good or engaging line of copy or quote is very important for backwards people like me.

Of course, it is extremely important to know your audience, otherwise you're shooting in the dark. So do your research, and lots of it and that means looking at other sources that cater to the same audience, don't steal the same ideas, but use them for creative inspiration, a color here, a graphic element there, mix it up and make it new and fresh.

Also have open communication with the client, working with a stuffy client who makes a trip to the dentist more enjoyable than a review of work in progress isn't something that we want, so try to keep the conversation flowing. Getting to know who you are working with, and their interests, not just the companies, makes for a better work environment, and everyone is happy in the end.


Anonymous said...

I too tend to read pull quotes first and if they aren't enough i don't read the rest of the article. Hence its definitely important to read all your body copy. I know I haven't quite spent enough time on my magazines body copy because I only read about half the article and skimmed the endings. But in the end I know the only reason some of my designs started to come out more serious looking is all because of the feel of the body copy. The wording isn't playful enough to go in that direction. As for client project relationships my only comment there is cut out the middle man. Through the experience i have had working at PrintConcepts thats one thing i hated. Majority of the time i had to go through so many other people to try and get an idea of what i was suppose to be designing for the client. As for freelancing I am completely all about sitting down for a good lunch to talk about what ideas the client would have for the project. I love food and i think it tends to make people more comfortable.


Anonymous said...

I think the over all, greatest way to learn more about what you are essentially selling, is personal experience. If it is at all possible, go use the product yourself, whether is edible or useable, go try it. Find out who else uses this product and what kind of person they are. This helps build a better idea of what the client needs.

As mentioned in the previous posts, reread everything. Don't be afriad to further research online. There are websites and blogs on everything these days, from the most pointless thing to the most complex things.

Meet with the client more then once, or atleast stay in contact with them. Email them, or leave them a voicmail, just to learn a little bit more of how they feel towards their product or service. Not only will it show them that you really care, but it will let you learn more about everything and gain the extra edge that will sell you idea.


Anonymous said...

Designing around the content of something someone wrote is one of the most difficult things for me to do. If I'm creating everything from the start it's not too bad.

You really have to make sure that you fully understand the content and what it means.

Meeting with the clients multiple times is also a great idea if it's possible.


Anonymous said...

I feel that for myself to better understand what a companies about, would be to go there and experience it for myself. There is no better way to get in the head of someone then to spend time with them at their place of business and really see how they interact with their own job. For me a feeling always leads me in the right direction with my designs and if I could get a feeling of what the job was about I could design for it.

Anonymous said...

The most important thing to think about is how you would feel if you were in you clients shoes. You'd want somebody to explain things and take you through the process. I'd want somebody that tells me why they think their ideas are better than mine even though I'm stuborn, because I'm the one paying for the project.

On a similiar note, I'm a lefty and always flip through a magazine backwards. If I find something interesting, I go back and flip through it western style.


Anonymous said...

Personally, when I read an article in a magazine I start visualizing the content in my head automatically. It is extremely helpful when there is a strong visual to really bring out the content. It creates a stronger concept of the idea and makes the visuals that much more important.
It is disappointing when you see a great heading to an article and some really interesting images but then the article is really not what you expected... you wind up thinking afterwards you just wasted 7 minutes of you life reading this.
What you as a designer want to do is create an intriguing setting for the content. You want to engage the reader with the important concepts within the article and leave them satisfied and wanting more.


Anonymous said...

In order to have a better relationship with your clients, you need to be a sponge from the very beginning of your project together. That means that you need to absorb everything you can to serve your striving curiosities. As soon as your confused or going "Hmmm?" about something, ASK lots of questions during your meetings with your client. This will show them that your are fully dedicated to the project and appear very "interested". Research is one of the keys to every pre-design work. No designer starts designing something with a blind eye. It is pure laziness and can end up badly backfiring. It is also a good idea to extend further upon what the client gives you. That means that you are not just stuck with what you are given. It never hurts to research a little further than the norm. Researching all you can and asking lots of questions only insures a great relationship between you and your client. When you show someone fulll dedication and compassion towards a project, it means a lot to them. This attitude can also further your designer/client relationship to have a future together working on more projects. Also, this attutude builds a good bond of trust.


Anonymous said...

Getting an exact idea on how your client thinks is impossible. In my opinion, if a designer wants to achieve the closest image to what the client wants is to meet with them constantly.

While I'm sure that a designer could easily take any idea given to them and simply run with it, I'd rather suffer through meetings and make the cliet happy in the long run instead of just going on what the client initially gives me and making something they don't like.


Anonymous said...

Obviously to make a design work it has to relate to the subject matter--whether it supports it in similarity or by contrast. So, obviously, you have to know the material. And, again obivously, if you don't understand it, you have to either A) ask questions or B) do your own research. The asking of questions is ideal because even if it's a complicated subject, you can still get an idea of feeling from a person that you may not necessarily catch from your own research.


Anonymous said...

i'd say to know your client better you should really try to befriend them. in my experience i always felt better speaking with my client more informally rather than as customer to designer. visiting their house, going out to lunch, going to a game, whatever their flavor, will say alot about the person and what kind of style they may be interested in. yes , this may sound more like dating your client but hey, the same techniques work quite well with wooing over a customer. these things plus client involvement are big. getting a client to show you things that they feel they want plus things that you feel they need and then coming to a combination will usually work out. after that its just a matter of getting the customer to take more your side with some bs, but of course, that will take time after you get to know them better.


Anonymous said...

I always catch myself skimming through copy and then thinking I really understood what it said but in reality I have no idea. I think its important to understand the type or copy to get your message across in the design. I got to speak with a woman over the summer who runs a small ad firm and she had told me that it's very important to have a good grip on writing as a designer and that she likes to hire people who have taken a few writing/english classes instead of the required basic course. She recommended I take a creative writing class just to be a step ahead and brush up on my writing skills while still being creative.
Obviously client/designer relationships are needed to get the full extent of the idea out there. Constant communication with your clients should be top priority. They pay and foresee what they want and it's your job to create it around that using your talent and knowledge. Taking criticism from them might be tough but eventually it's going to get you where you need to be and where they want the design to be. I think you can always suggest something to them if you think what they say is wrong and sometimes they might change their mind. Just being involved and friendly with your clients on a professional level will always turn out to be rewarding.


Anonymous said...

I know this is going to sound kinda out there but just go with me for a minute. If I needed to get to know the client (or anyone for that matter), I would take them to play blackjack. When you are playing you can see how they react to something they like such as getting 21, or something that they are not happy about like getting dealt a 3 when the dealer is showing a face card. This will also let you know if they have any "tells" like a certain expression when they don't like something. And the best way to tell about the person is if they are more of a risk taker or a more conservative person. You know if they continue to hit on 15 or 16 when the dealer isn't even showing a face card that they like to take big risks and might be up for a riskier design style, where if they stay more often then you know they aren't very comfortable going out on a limb. Further more you can bond a little with the client and have a conversation in a much more casual exchange with the person while you are playing.

I realize this wouldn't work in all cases but it sure is something you can try if the opportunity arises. Plus you can write off your loses as a business expense.


Anonymous said...

I do not see why a designer would not bother to read an article that they are trying to design with. All literature can't exactly be defined in only one idea. Meaning that you can't judge a book by its cover. Sure as a designer you can create an idea of how the project is going to look, but you can't always fully relate the design to the article on a particular page without knowing what exactly the text is talking about next to your design. When dealing with articles and design, the article is actually the most important aspect of the page. The design is what is supposed to follow the concept of the article. When this is done it makes the story much more comprehensive and easier to read.
So, read your text, and design off of that.
Also sometimes the text may not even be enough. When the text or story relates to a company or business of sorts you may need to fully research them and find out what they are all about. Check out their past designs and image of the company to add their own touch to the work. Finding research and filling your brain with everything possible about the topic, idea, or work makes life a lot easier when actually getting into the design.


Anonymous said...

This particular post made me think of my advanced typography class a quite bit while reading it. Although hard at times, as Clarie says 'you are only learning when you are struggling', I have taken much from this class and dealt with things that were touched upon in this discussin. Starting with the first project, I had no idea about stem cell research. I did much background research on my own to figure out how in the world I was going to portray this topic in a successful design. It took me a long time to understand enough about the topic to create visual ideas on paper. I not only did research online but asked friends and family what their take was on the subject, which in the end actually helped me more than the physical research I had found. I agree with doing your own research and asking the client for more insight, but there is the chance that they will only re-summarize what you already know, which leaves you back at square one.

Reading what you are to design is something I have always done, except for in this magazine project. I admit, I have not read the articles I am including in my magazine, mainly because they were just too long! (I copied and pasted about 8 pages on each article!) However, after reading this, I believe it would have helped me to be a little more creative with the design of my pages and how they would directly relate to the words of the articles.

I feel that seeing what your client has had published in the past for their design work will help you to see what kind of style they enjoy for their company/product. If possible, I also believe that the more communication between client and designer is better. As designers we are constantly talking to one another and asking for advice or opinions, and what better person to converse with but the actual people you are working for!


Anonymous said...

I've been currently reading How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul by Adrian Shaughnessy and I highly recommend the book. It throws out all sorts of insight on things like how to find a job, what sort of environment you might consider working in, and how to deal with clients.

In particular he threw out the concept that you gain trust initially from a client by talking about their project, their needs, and the style they are after (as opposed to talking all about yourself and what you would do). Although that may sound obvious, the client will normally allow you to have more freedom if they feel like you fully understand what they desire. You need to demonstrate a willingness to change and adapt then the client will also bend accordingly. (pg.108) He states that you need to treat them like you would treat your friends, but still maintain that professional atmosphere.

After an initial meeting I think you should be able to give the client a recap, a summary statement to make sure you are both on the same page; if you say something that disagrees with what the client wants then you can begin clarification on the uncertainties that you having. I think you need to be frank and honest but also have some tact.

Going off on the subject of writing, I believe a solid understand of writing and exposure to different venues of writing can only improve your graphic design skills. I have taken two creative writing classes so far in college, and specifically poetry has given me a lot of insight into the rhythm, mood, structure and balance of words. By constantly working with words, their arrangements, sounds, and feelings they portray, you begin to create a bond with the alphabet which can help in creating catchy slogans, headlines, etc.


Anonymous said...

Ask your clients questions, and lots of them. If that isn't being Mr. Captain Obvious, then I don't know what is. But seriously, questions really do help. The more you know about what your client wants / likes / hates / loves, the better your design will be in the long run.