If I had my way, there would be disclaimers for every sentence in this article.
The design process is not prescriptive. Still, it’s also not the Wild West. You have to work with set constraints and boundaries. Before you can even think about putting pen to paper (note: not hand to mouse), you must delve into the assignment and figure out where the electric fence is lurking. It’s only when you know where the boundaries are that you can decide if you want to break through them.
I start by asking myself these five questions. By answering them, I’ll have a pretty good direction as to where I’m going.
Q1: How is this going to be used?
When people see the work, will they be driving, browsing the web, or hanging at home, leisurely flipping through a magazine? If they are driving, then I have to think about font size and text amount. Any design that is too wordy and small is going to be lost on your audience. The message needs to be digestible for the media type you are using.
Q2: What is the context?
Knowing your environment is vital, if it’s going to be displayed in a magazine, what type of magazine is it? Is it cluttered with ads for similar products, or is it clean with a variety of ads? If it is a billboard, check out the location to see if it’s surrounded with trees. If it is, you may want to consider using bright colors so it stands out. Even the best ad can be ruined by not taking its surrounding environment into account.
Q3: Who is my target audience?
Am I trying to resonate with an older gentleman—who most likely has bad eyesight? If so, then I’ll use larger fonts and trust-invoking colors. Or, is it a young 20-something who’s seeking quick and concise information? Then I’ll make sure it is straightforward and clean.
The way your target communicates will have a huge influence on the design path you take.
Q4: What’s the budget?
Dye cut and embossing would definitely make the print piece stand out, but is it in the budget? Use this constraint to your advantage and get the brain cells firing.
Q5: What do I want my audience to feel?
After I’ve answered the previous questions, I think about the emotion I want to invoke. What adjective would describe it? A “sophisticated” piece is going to look a whole lot different than a “lively” one. You can provoke these emotions with different colors, fonts and images. How items and images are layered will change how the piece resonates with your audience.
Okay, let’s recap.
Just remember, the hardest part of any project is getting started. Once you’ve finally found the keys to the car and stuck them in the ignition, your brain will be ready to set fingertips in motion.