Thursday, August 20, 2009

There's Always Time for Graphics

I recently surveyed business and design professionals about their biggest graphic challenges. The number one answer to my survey was … time. Either we lack time to make graphics or we spend too much time on tweaks, changes, and false starts. So to help my fellow overworked professionals, I have compiled four tried and true best practices to streamline the graphic process and save your most valuable commodity—time.
  1. Evolve the concept before rendering the final graphic. Rendering a graphic on a computer is too time consuming. Instead, make a rough sketch of your concept first. You do not need to be Michelangelo to communicate your ideas with a basic picture. Boxes, circles, stick figures, lines, arrows, and labels sufficiently communicate anything. (Look at how much is communicated by this simple pen drawing below.) Get a colleague to review your sketch. Ask them to explain it to you. Did they understand what you wanted your graphic to communicate? If not, make edits and ask again. Repeat this process until your reviewers agree that your graphic communicates the intended message. It is much easier (and takes far less time) to erase a few lines or scratch out a box or do a total redesign of a rough sketch than create a final computer rendering for each change.

  2. Leverage existing graphics. Create a library of graphics commonly used in your company’s presentations, proposals, and marketing materials. These graphics are your foundation for new projects. It’s much easier to start with an older, successful graphic and tailor it, than start with a blank piece of paper. If nothing else, your library of graphics will get you thinking graphically. You will be amazed how fast ideas come when you flood your brain with visuals. You can find graphic ideas in my online Business Graphics Library or browse the collections at BizGraphics On Demand.
  3. Make your graphics customer focused. Most graphics are trashed because they fail to connect with the audience. Give your future customers a reason to care. When looking at your graphic ask, “So what?” If your graphic can answer that question, you are on the right track. Highlight any features, benefits, and discriminators that will appeal to your audience. If you don’t know what they care about, you want to find out. Go to their website, ask someone who knows them, do your homework. Not knowing what your audience cares about means wasted time and certain failure.
  4. Use a template. Reduce the need for last-minute formatting passes by creating a template. Agree to and use a template that defines all variables of the graphics and layout at the beginning of the project: line style, font size, colors, etc.

For more articles like this one, check out the APMP NCA Executive Summary Newsletter where this information was featured in my "Ask the Graphics Guru" column.

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