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Targeted Design Directions to Help Guide the Graphic Design Process

By: Sheri L. Koetting
Posted: February 21, 2014, from the March 2014 issue of GCI Magazine.

From the outside, working with a designer or design team on a creative assignment—be it a logo, packaging or a campaign—is often seen as a daunting, mysterious process. And unfortunately, often it is uncertainty during the design process that is the cause of much frustration. In MSLK’s experience, some clients have very clear ideas of the end result they want but just don’t know how to translate this to their designers, while other clients may be lost in a sea of endless possibilities.

Various stakeholders on the decision-making side can have differing senses and ideas of what a design should or could be. And while these concerns are all valid, they are not the only ones to be considered. It is important to look at market data, insights from salespeople and retailers, and production considerations when developing a design, as all of these factors may influence the direction a design should follow.

Become Goal-Oriented

Whether you are a large or small brand, the key to any successful design assignment is having a set of clearly defined goals. Without a goal to reach, a design is meaningless, no matter how beautiful it is. Simply liking or disliking a design provides no constructive framework for evaluating its potential success.

So what do you want your design to achieve? Telling consumers about the brand’s green initiatives? Luring them in with enticing copy? Selling them on a series of products? Know what you want to achieve before you start.

Be Brief

Every design project needs to begin with a succinct creative brief—a document created as a result of analysis, research and conversations. The brief allows all team members to agree on the objectives before any creative project begins, and it also provides a consistent guide to measure the results.

A creative brief should be furnished either by the marketing team or created by the design team. At its minimum, it should identify:

Typically, creative briefs end here, leaving out any actionable steps. However, MSLK also includes a distinct set of prescriptive steps we call “targeted design directions.” We like to think of these as the result of a healthy conversation with all stakeholders in the project, gaining and demonstrating an understanding of the brand, the assignment and the retail landscape—as well as providing a clear recommended approach toward creative exploration.

Setting Targets

Targeted design directions define what attributes will be explored through design. These attributes could be visual—displayed through imagery, color or typography—or the traits could be conveyed literally through language and overall tone.

Having a designer set these targets before the actual design phase begins will help the decision-making team envision the overall assignment and establish well-defined expectations. Why is this important? Because no one likes surprises.

Setting Expectations

Targeted design directions are not only helpful for the decision-makers but for the designers as well.

We have seen designers who do not operate in this manner, opting instead for an unfocused, buckshot approach. This does not give the decision-makers any sense of what to expect next. Those designers tend to become lost in a world of endless variations, resulting in overly complex and unfocused presentations. This approach never leads the project toward a clear solution. If expectations were never set, how can anyone clearly evaluate what is being shown?

Sometimes teams may get lucky without following any process, creating something that goes on to become wildly successful. But chances of this are slim. The reality is that design should not exist in a vacuum, nor should it be subject to designers’ arbitrary expressions of what they “feel” a design should be. Design is not a form of magic; it is a service that answers real objectives. Clear communication is necessary throughout the entire process.