You like the design — but do your customers? Art and design are subjective, but it's still possible to analyze them objectively. Even if you think the design for your company's marketing initiatives looks great, take a moment to check if it’s on target. Is this something that will look great to your customers? Here are five things to consider.
1. Understand your audience.
Think from their perspective instead of your own. Even if periwinkle is your absolute favorite color and you want to see it on everything, that doesn’t automatically make it the best choice — especially if your audience is made up of mega-manly men. Refer to your buyer personas and determine who this particular project is targeting.
You should be able to identify:
- How old are they?
- What's their gender?
- What's their job?
- What's their income?
- What are their interests?
- What do they worry about?
- What do they need?
If your buyer personas are thorough, then you have this information already. If not, try to expand and be as specific as possible in creating your typical and ideal customers. (If you need help, check out our tips for building personas.) Once this image of your audience is complete, you'll need to put yourself in their shoes and see the design from their point of view. (Don't forget to note where in the buyer's journey they are, too!)
2. Know the market.
Neither your business nor your customers exist in a void. Pay attention to your surroundings and stay on top of what’s happening in the field. This includes things such as:
- What your competitors are doing. What do their designs look like? Who are they targeting, and are they successful?
- Happenings and advancements. Is there anything new in the field or industry that relates to your products or services? Recalls and current events can affect your audience's perspective. Changes in technology or culture alter needs and interests. Stay up-to-date with what’s happening not just in your business, but also in the world around your market and customers. Online conversations can help give you a sense of public opinion, if needed.
- Review past performance. How effective were previous designs? Which was most successful? Use those experiences to learn what works for your company — as well as what doesn't.
- Know your company. Don't just know the market, but also understand where your business fits into it. What makes you different and unique? Where do you stand compared to the competition? What are your company's strengths? Weaknesses?
By now, you should know 1) who you are targeting and 2) your position in the market ... so what do we do next with this information?
3. Communicate the right message.
When creating a message for a single piece of marketing collateral, it’s a good idea to break it down to the basics. I prefer to get perspective from three primary areas: needs, concerns and interests. Is your product or service 1) fulfilling a need, 2) solving a concern, or 3) meeting an interest? (Ideally, your company should already have an answer for each.)
Every design project needs a goal message to communicate, and this goal should answer at least one of those areas for the audience. Let’s consider these key questions:
- What about your product or service fulfills a need? Presumably your product or service is already doing this, so it should be easy to identify. Essentially, what problem are you solving?
- How do you answer their concerns? Your audience has worries. Not just about the previously determined need(s), but also about your business’ ability to fulfill it. What are those worries? How do you alleviate them? How will you communicate that answer and give peace of mind?
- Why should they choose you? Why does it appeal to the market on a personal level? (Related to your persona's hobby, a professional desire, it’s “cool”, convenient, etc.) Interests are the benefits that are appealing to the individuals making up your target audience. While needs and concerns are weighed more heavily than interests, it’s still crucial to appeal on an individual level. If your market is heavily saturated, giving special attention to your niche becomes even more important to winning people over. Consider interests as additional benefits or advantages that appeal specifically to your buyer personas.
Answering these questions, while keeping in mind your buyer personas, will give you a better understanding of how to approach the design, as well as clearer intentions for its execution. Combine the design project's original purpose with your buyer persona's perspective — what area(s) about the purpose you choose to address — and you'll have a baseline to judge the design's effectiveness.
4. Design simple and strong.
Any English teacher will tell you that concise writing is better. The same is true with design: Simple is stronger.
This means your marketing design doesn't have to fulfill all the primary areas all of the time. With ads or CTAs in particular, trying to do too much may overwhelm and muddle the design. Instead, your design’s intended purpose should be filtered through the appropriate perspective (need, concern, or interest). The less content you're working with, the more focused your design should be.
Highlighting needs and concerns can be great for building credibility, whereas occasionally advertising to interests can help expand your audience. The latter works best when credibility and trust is already established. If the design project is a booklet, pamphlet or website — something with more room to feature each aspect and more content to work with — then it’s appropriate to fulfill all three areas. For everything else, it’s best to stay focused.
5. Check it off.
Creating style guidelines is encouraged not just for consistency, but also to give yourself things to look for when checking your marketing design.
Don’t only look at the design as a whole. Check each part individually first.
- Text check. Is it concise? Is it easy to understand? Using language your audience understands and would use themselves? Addressing their needs, concerns or interests?
- For each image. What is it communicating? What impressions does it give? Will this resonate with your market? Does it appeal to their needs, concerns or interests? Why or why not?
- Look at all the images together. Does the communicated message or impressions change?
- Color: What do people typically think of with those colors? What’s the tone? Is it appropriate for appealing to the audience’s interests, worries, or needs?
- Consider the color with the images. Together, do they reinforce the message or contradict it?
- Fonts: What impression does the font give? What is its tone? Is it appropriate?
- Consider the font with the colors and images. Combined, is the message still being reinforced?
Critiquing is both a process and a skill, and can be improved with thoughtful practice. Training your mind for what to look for plays a big part. Don't worry if you can't remember everything; click the image below for a free checklist to help you out!
Use this list as a guideline; don't let yourself feel "boxed in." Not every box has to be checked to make it a great design, and you can really benefit from creative innovation. But if your design can nail the basics, you're already off to a good start. If you need more help for having productive design critiques, this article from Fast Co.Design has nine great rules.