Pick up the pen
Viewing design as a language and as a way to communicate with people entails great responsibility. Design has the capability of being one of the coolest and most emotional systems for dialogue. If you spend your time just making things look pretty, the language is pointless. You must make sure that you’re not just decorating; there has to be a reason behind your design.
The solution is storytelling. It doesn’t have to be writing in a traditional sense, but defining the design’s message is very important. When you start to think of your design as a story rather than just a creative execution, you’ll find it much easier to recognize and discard gratuitous design. Every element in your composition should add something to the story, or it has to go. This doesn’t mean that you should strive to create dry and unemotional design. On the contrary, the real power of design is the ability to make a message emotional. The trick is to understand how your design affects people. There are so many ways to communicate today and you have a very powerful toolbox; you can simultaneously design posters, websites, video blogs and short films*mdash;all from a single computer. But you can only excel in delivering your message when you understand how to put people in a particular mind-set, which comes from knowing how to capture their attention.
Start with the script
A good way to get started is to put together a creative statement about your project. Do it as if you were ready to present your design to the client, and write a script. What’s the idea and philosophy of the approach? Why is it different and new? Why will people care about it? Actually, why should they pick your idea? (It’s definitely not going to be because you know how to use a computer with Illustrator and Photoshop and can copy trendy graphic styles.)
Coming up with the creative statement can be really challenging. Even though it won’t capture any of the design’s details, it’s about figuring out the essence of your approach—or you won’t have one at all.
You’ll revise it many times as you get additional ideas and insights, but you should get it going right away. When my design firm, Trollbäck + Co., was faced with the task of re-branding the CBS network, the first branding the CBS network, the first thing we did—before any designing started—was flesh out a creative statement. In it, we jotted down all our thoughts on and mapped out our intentions for the project.
The question that had originally surfaced when we were presented with the project was whether we should market the network itself or focus on its shows. But as we worked through the statement, we could see that the decision was only hard if we insisted that a choice between the two had to be made. Instead, we were able to realize that although the shows are the network’s lifeblood and must be heavily promoted, it’s crucial to market CBS along with them. We believed that only by building equity in CBS as a brand could we expect a positive predisposition toward the programming as a whole.
The next part is to take that strategy and determine the project’s motivation—what purpose is at the heart of the story, what’s your story’s happily ever after? Think about it this way: If you raise a child, telling them, "I’m confident that whatever you set your mind to, you’ll succeed in," there’s going to be a greater likelihood that they’ll grow up believing that and proceed to actualize it. Believing in a product and a project’s success is much the same. Look at HBO: They claimed, "It’s not TV, it’s HBO," at a time when the channel was falling short. But the projection—the end they had in mind, their motivation—worked. It’s ultimately about cause and effect.
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