Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Want Clients to Choose You? Keep It Simple.

Whenever I'm working with a client, I always stress that they keep their designs as easy to understand as possible. You want potential customers to comprehend your solution immediately and how it will help them. If they have to weigh through too much complex information (and choices), they may become frustrated and not purchase your product or service. People have limited time and many distractions in their lives, they don't need one more complicated decision added to their hectic schedule.

Recently, Smashing Magazine blogged about Barry Schwartz's book The Paradox of Choice. In it, Schwartz reveals an interesting conclusion:

People choose not on the basis of what’s most important, but on what’s easiest to evaluate.

Our audience doesn't always have the chance to thoroughly research and evaluate each and every decision they have to make. So it makes sense that they will gravitate to those websites, ads, brochures, storefronts, etc., that speak simply and succinctly to their needs.

Consider the simple design of Apple stores. Not to mention the easy-to-navigate Mac interface, which was so much easier than the PC's operating system when it first entered the market.

We're doing the same thing for Billion Dollar Graphics and our BizGraphics On Demand websites. We've learned our lessons from our years of experience in simplifying graphics for clients that we're redoing both sites to make it easier for our customers to navigate and find what they need (based on their input). Look for our redesigned websites to be launched in early 2012.

I suggest you read the Easier Is Better Than Better article at Smashing Magazine. Maybe even print it out as ammunition next time a boss or client asks you to cram a ton of information in a small space, citing "more is better."

According to research, less is what the customer wants. And, after all, the customer is always right.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Inspiring Hand Turkey

With Thanksgiving on its way, I started remembering art projects my teachers made us do each year to celebrate the upcoming holidays. One in particular stuck out to me. The ole' make-a- turkey-out-of-an-outline-of-your-hand art project the teacher trotted out each year to be displayed on refrigerators across the country to accompany the cranberry sauce and stuffing during Thanksgiving meal. It looks something like this:

It's so simple, yet what amazes me is that someone looked at their hand and thought, "Huh, that sort of looks like a turkey. If I color my fingers to match a turkey's feathers. And then add an eye and a beak where my thumb is. VoilĂ ! My hand now resembles a turkey."

Who came up with the idea of a "hand turkey"? They need a special prize. A special recognition. Because the more I consider it, the more interesting the idea becomes.

And the more I wish we could all come up with our own "hand turkeys."

Well, I don't want the graphics world populated with "hand turkeys," but this art project illustrates a point I challenge my students to do.

Think visually.

When creating graphics for your company, your audience, your students, think about various ways your service, product, or idea can be presented in a compelling, unique, and memorable way that represent your topic. Consider these suggestions:
  • If you are creating a piechart for an article about Thanksgiving, how about making the piechart out of a pie—a pumpkin pie?
  • Your company sells lumber and you need a barchart for a quarterly report. Maybe you can make the bars out of lumber?
  • You want customers to know that banking with you will insure their cash grows and give their financial goals a step up. A stair graphic made from incremental piles of cash would be a memorable visual.
  • A silhouette of your product can be used as a segmented graphic to show percentages of growth and sales. In fact, Coke uses this technique with their campaigns, since their bottles have become icons synonymous with their product.
Write lists of items related to your business that could be used as your graphic. Then sketch ideas related to the items on the list. (Make sure they are relevant to your topic.) Don't be afraid to let your imagination go, like you did as a child. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if a child invented the "hand turkey."

I challenge you to invent your own "hand turkey" this season.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

7 Practices to Getting the Most Out of Your Graphics

Graphics can make the difference between winning and losing clients. Graphics can increase idea creation and innovation. Graphics can validate your solution (according to independent research). Unfortunately, many small companies and consultants have little money and time to design good graphics. Some are lucky to have any graphics at all (even clipart) to include in their presentations, brochures, and websites. So, how do you fix this problem?

Reuse by recycling graphics.

But beware. Reuse works well when done right. There are pros and cons to reusing graphics.

Reuse Pros:
  1. It kick starts a marketing/proposal team or gets the team "unstuck." Starting with nothing is challenging. I call it “blank page syndrome” (BPS). But having a graphic from which to draw ideas, even one used in a previous presentation or proposal, is easier than starting from scratch.
  2. It saves time and money when done right.
  3. It leverages earlier efforts and institutional knowledge.

Reuse Cons:
  1. Your company can get lazy (it is easy to say “good enough”) or trapped (keeping too much of the old/boilerplate content vs. using it as a starting point).
  2. Reuse can result in rewrites and late nights, if the old content misses the mark or doesn’t relate to the current project and causes confusion in the team.
  3. Your organization may not evolve and your marketing and proposal projects could lose their competitive edge. Excessive reuse results in no innovation and having no fresh ways to show your ideas and concepts, which can lead to others seeing your company as uninspired.
Reuse is a double-edged sword that is sometimes needed in our resource-starved industry. To determine whether reuse is right for you, answer the following questions:

When reuse is needed, use the following seven best practices:
  1. Employ a knowledgeable, well-organized director (art director, proposal manager, marketing manager, etc.) to shepherd the team/department/company through the process of reusing graphics. They determine what graphics can be reused, manages a database of graphics, and sets the standards for reuse (e.g., templates, graphic styles, and approved software packages)
  2. Use Pareto’s Principal or the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of your project is custom content and twenty percent reused and tailored content. Of course, every rule is made to be broken. If your projects are quick-turn and similar in size and scope, I recommend greater reuse.
  3. Implement a system to catalogue, search, and retrieve content—often referred to as a digital asset management (DAM) system. Most large companies use tools that can be customized for this purpose. For graphics, I recommend a solution with the ability to apply metadata (searchable keywords) like Extensis Portfolio.You can group graphics by theme to make it easier to find: organization charts, bar charts, stacked graphics, etc.
  4. Design for reuse. Develop graphics in a software package used by those on your team. Create layers within your files labeled for text, photos, boxes, lines, arrows, graphic elements, etc. Highlight the elements that require customization. Create a template indicating approved colors, logos, fonts, and any other design elements to keep design styles consistent and provide a starting point for designing graphics.
  5. Develop a good quality control process. For example, assign one or two other teammates to proof each piece before it is printed or uploaded online. The person designing the graphic should not be the one proofing it.
  6. Review and refresh your content often. As mentioned earlier, excessive reuse results in no innovation—and your audience may feel your company lacks innovation if they keep seeing the same graphics again and again in your materials. Whenever new graphics are created for a project, make sure they are labeled and copied into your database. If you find a certain graphic or style is being reused too much, remove it from the database or the company server or place it in a “retired graphics” folder.
  7. Reevaluate your need for reuse annually by using the reuse checklist and reviewing graphics needs with your team.
In my experience, reuse is a necessary approach in our fast-turn business environments. The key to success depends upon a measured approach with everyone on your team working together.