Recently, my colleague Michelle Pittman wrote in a JCPR blog post (link expired) that design adds sizzle to a website’s content. She warned, however, that “if the design is brilliant, but doesn’t meet your business needs, you’ve just spent a lot of money on something that will never be quite right.”
As she noted, design, no matter how brilliant, can’t rescue a poorly conceived business concept. But what if you’ve identified your goals and audience, and your content is appropriate and targeted? How do you optimize its presentation in print, online or, more likely, both? How do you ensure that your design will capture and express this content to meet your business needs?
“Pretty is as pretty does” is an important lesson for right living, but looks do matter when it comes to corporate messaging. If you want to get a message across to your audience, you need to consider how to design the message for maximum impact across diverse formats.
Design, in this understanding, is more than a skim coating of graphic flourishes. It is a highly intuitive interface that enhances rather than detracts from the user’s understanding of your product or message. Design is vital because before your content can touch the minds, much less the hearts, of your audience, it has to successfully cross the threshold of their interest. And that’s where bad design will leave even the best content out in the cold.
As content platforms become increasingly complex and integrated, design can only be successful when it is introduce in the planning process as early as possible. Most business content today, regardless of its intent, still gets communicated through words either on a page or on a screen, so the reading experience is central to good business design. Whether it’s in a published article, an email, a financial report or an industry analysis, business content is relatively text heavy and thus, a big part of its design is figuring out how to help people read.
Tomes have been written about the best practices for designing text, especially in the digital age, but the most important elements include:
- Create concise text blocks – Nothing is more daunting to the eye than a wall of words. Break text up into bite-sized chunks. This needn’t turn your content into sound bites; it just makes it more accessible to the reader.
- Keep it clean – Use lots of white space as breathing room. Choose a limited number of typefaces, styles and graphic elements to avoid cluttering up the page and confusing the reader.
- Make judicious use of hyperlinks – On the one hand, links can add depth and credibility to content. On the other, they can lead an audience away from your messaging. If you want people to stay focused, use links as footnotes rather than as primary content. However, links play an important role in SEO, so mind that too.
- Build a logical hierarchy – People need to know where they are in the stream of words, so create a clear hierarchy of headlines, subheads, and secondary content to guide them through the process. Bullets and lists help highlight your main points.
- Use images and captions – Infographics present complex information quickly and clearly. They may be too informal for some business uses, but captioned charts and graphs can illustrate data that would otherwise be unwieldy in words.
These have always been the tenets of good graphic design, but they’ve become much more important in the digital age. The distractions are simply too numerous, the alternatives too enticing. Corporate messaging needs substance, undeniably. But then it needs design to help sell that substance.