Creative Design: Art, Science & Marketing

Design is more than a pretty face. Design is purposeful, deliberate, objective, and multi-dimensional — and it incorporates the science of interaction design (IxD) and user experience (UX).

Think about this: it takes less than a 20th of a second for a user to form an impression about a brand or a website based on looks alone. This is called the Halo Effect. That impression influences further beliefs about the brand, the leadership and staff, and the products and services a company sells too. Before reading content and before noticing that call to action, users have made a judgment based purely on visual appeal. That is some pretty heavy stuff. Good design is vital to successful marketing campaigns.

Dirigo does a ton (actually, a few tons by sheer weight) of branding, collateral, and offline print design. We offer a full complement of strategic, creative, interactive and media services all under one roof. Our creative design projects are led by Jessie Lacey, our Creative Director. Jessie is an accomplished print and interactive designer with more than 14 years of real-world experience. She spent several years at Bangor Metro as a Production Artist prior to a six year stint at Maine Home+Design magazine as Art Director. Jessie is a graduate of the University of Maine with a BA in New Media and Studio Art. She's a centerpiece in the Southern Maine design community and followed by many on Facebook.

Creative services include:

  • Print Ads
  • Digital Banners
  • Website Design
  • Creative Packaging
  • Labels
  • Logos
  • Still & Motion Photography
  • Product Styling
  • News Releases
  • Press Kits
  • Fact Sheets
  • Annual Reports
  • Technical Brochures
  • Product Data Sheets
  • Visual Sales Aids
  • In-store Displays
  • POS Cards, Danglers, etc.

More on Design

Great design can only come from a true understanding and incorporation of solid marketing fundamentals. In life and in our works nothing is more important than trust. The most effective marketing and the most compelling brands come from the heart. That’s not to say that we discard statistics or turn our noses up at research or best practices. It is to say that we believe the most successful way to connect with people is through stories and messages with captivating human elements. We are not fond of working with committees, especially when it comes to developing ideas and designs. "A committee can take every beautiful color in a rainbow and turn them all to a dull and lifeless grey."

Solid design is not just visual appeal. Pretty is as pretty does—an Americanization of the English proverb "handsome is as handsome does”. It means that physical beauty isn't important; good behavior is. So true! At Dirigo this proverb means the same thing. Branding, advertising and selling are only as beautiful as the return on investment they produce. This is marketing. We're about results, period. Marketing and advertising is NOT art! You want to be pretty—bugger off. You want a solid ROI or a srong emotional response, read on. Design is far more than a pretty face. Design is purposeful, deliberate, objective, and multi-dimensional. It incorporates the science of interaction design (IxD) and user experience (UX).

Some believe that creative geniuses are born. Others say that creativity is a learned behavior. Both are true. The brain is divided into two halves, or hemispheres, that are joined by a bundle of fibres called the corpus callosum. Artists have a smaller corpus callosum, which may augment their creativity. Creativity is also related to the connectivity of large scale brain networks. Sir Ken Robinson has a terrific TED Talk titled Do Schools Kill Creativity. It is worth watching. In this modern age, society tends to stamp-out creativity. Being creative is about taking risks.

Graphic designers are essentially artists and because of this have special talents and an understanding of space, color, composition, and design. Let's face it. You're either creative or you're not. You were born one way or the other. Attitude and the way an artist sees the world contribute to creativity. True designers are multimedia experts. The good ones use every tool at their disposal to produce and convey coherent messages through design. Designers that work at successful agencies possess skills in technology, art, and business. This is the side of design that is learned.

Good design is not just visual appeal! Good graphic design is essential to producing peak response to your sales promotions. We've seen poor design cut sales by half or more. Conversely, we think that strong graphic design can bump response by 15%. In this internet age design can be easily tested. Perhaps the fundamental question is not ugly versus pretty but being interruptive and strongly supporting copy. If first-rate graphic design doesn't pay, successful businesses wouldn't be spending billions on design.

Advocating for good design has unique challenges. On the surface, aesthetics are subjective and vary depending on personal tastes that can seem superficial. But design is so much more than that. If a program functions, for instance a web-based customer support ticketing system, it is easy to demonstrate to the client that the program indeed functions. Yup, it creates and manages support tickets. The system works. Very little subjectivity. Good design is generally a combination of different qualities—what it does, what it looks like, how it makes you feel, and so on. In the context of advertising, whatever a design is, and whatever other qualities a design has, can't be well designed if it doesn't do something useful. Our perception of what looks good has become super complex, and often contradictory. Here inlays the challenge.

To know good design, you have to first be able to identify bad design. Just because something works does not mean that it is good. Poor design is rigid, fragile, immobile and stubborn—but it can still function. If you define that something works as it fulfilled the requirements then chances are, it’s probably poorly designed. Why? Well, the problem with bad design is that it leaves no room for future improvement, future enhancement, future maintenance and future ease of use. While something may have fulfilled the current requirements, but fails to fulfill future requirements, it’s limiting a brand and is poor design.

Good design is, in fact, objective. Good designers have an acute, trained, and almost instinctual ability to communicate with an audience through their products. Great designers are so objective that what they produce may or may not even remotely resemble their personal tastes and intuitions.

Different typefaces serve different purposes. Serif fonts were created to be read easier, to basically guide one's eyes across a sentence in a book. But even that well-known rule doesn't always apply especially to signage or a digital medium. There is even a font created for people with dyslexia, called Open Dyslexic (and it is free to download too).

Different colors produce a different response. There is a reason why financial institutions tend to use green. The most fights occur in a yellow room. Dark grays and black convey a high-end feel. Dark text on light backgrounds sell better than the opposite, yet dark backgrounds can convey a high-tech feel. And we have designed a number of dark background digital brands ourselves so combo can work especially in sectors where technology and innovation intersect, like the automotive industry.

Different colors mean different things in different cultures as well. In most Western cultures, the color white presents a look and feel of cleanliness and purity, while at the same time, conveying mourning and death in some Eastern cultures. With all that taken into consideration, the psychology of color also depends on the medium, the tint, the shade, and then what colors in which they are accented. When expertly wielded, color is a powerful tool.

Usage patterns provide the basis for intuitive design and sometimes following convention can be an asset to usability. Users expect certain things to be the same, like the behavior of tabbed navigation, contact information being located in the footer of a webpage, the logo (tapping or clicking ) will lead them a homepage.

White space de-clutters a page by giving items room to breathe while grouping other items closer together shows a relationship between those items. Control of white space is control over the hierarchy of elements on a page. A good use of white space between paragraphs and in margins will increase reading comprehension as well, increasing satisfaction, and the user's experience.

Designing for the hierarchy of needs was first proposed in 1943 by psychologist Abraham Maslow in "A Theory of Human Motivation". The theory says that for a design to be successful, it must meet basic needs before it can satisfy higher-level needs. If you try to satisfy the needs of one level before satisfying the needs of lower levels, the hierarchy becomes unstable. The hierarchy forms a pyramid from functionality (lowest), reliability, usability, proficiency, and creativity (highest).

Through education and experience, the grid, the rule of thirds, the golden ratio, designing from the center-out, color psychology, color schemes, design hierarchy, white space, and usability are all rules and theories that become part of a designer’s toolbox. The best part of being armed with all this design expertise and rules is the knowledge of how and when to break the rules, because there are rules about that too.

Functionality

A design must function above all else. A phone needs to at least make calls as well as receive calls before it is considered a phone. If every single phone out there is also able to display an incoming caller's phone number, than yours should too. The most basic required functions are not always static and can sometimes be determined by the consumer, the designer, the market, or some combination thereof. A design that does little more than function, however, is nothing special.

Reliability

Once a design is functional, the next level in the hierarchy of needs is reliability. A design should be stable and not just function, but function consistently. When we pick up that phone to make a call, we should get connected, with no dropped calls. The products we put out should at the very least, function and be reliable. Our friend Yoda would correctly surmise "this does not a special product, make".

Usability

Usability is the ease of which a user can complete a function. Can your users look at your product or website and know how to use it? How easy is it to figure out? Navigation and organization are two key features of usability. A good website has a navigation that is easy to use and functions in a way the user would understand. The site is organized, straightforward, and easy to browse and to read.

Proficiency

Proficiency is what guides the user through a function better or more efficiently than before, in a way that is empowering. It allows for expansion on basic functionality, for example, advanced search options, a forum, community blogs, video and sophisticated web-based tools. Facebook is a great example of a site where the level of interaction graduates from the usability stage into the proficiency stage. For instance, it is a website that the user will come back to again and again. The experience has moved the user to invest time and with more time invested, the greater the retention of users. High-level users can then expand on basic functions and build apps using Facebook’s platform and build and maintain pages and groups. Facebook’s usability encourages proficiency and constant interaction maintaining a user’s personal investment and ensuring their continued involvement.

Creativity

Creativity is innovation. A design that interacts with the user in a way that expands beyond the product itself. These are designs that foster a loyal fan-base. The best example I can give you is Apple in the past decade. The iPhone fulfilled all its hierarchal needs, delivered reliability, innovated the user-experience putting the user first and changed the way we interact with all our devices outside of the iPhone and even Apple products.

Understanding the User

Understanding customer attributes, including demographics and psychographics, is the first step to learning their practices and then building a user-centered design for your brand. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you read Interaction Design: User Experience Design by Alan Cooper. Interactive design (IxD) is a sub-discipline of design that examines the embedded behaviors on websites, smartphones, and anything with an interactive display in relation to how we humans interact with it. Interaction design includes user interface design, usability, and accessibility. IxD is not just visual but it is physical as well as time-based design. All that influences the user experience (UX) and is the overall process of designing the interaction between human and with that which they are interacting.

There are general ideas on how human interaction influences design. For instance, it is believed that we retain around 5 to 9 different items in our short-term memory at any given moment. Keeping that in mind, some argue to keep menu items down to 7 (+/- 2) top-level items, or 7 (+/- 2) points of interest on the home page. This isn’t set in stone, as some prefer the infinite scroll, which completely disregards this theory. Basically, knowing this facet of human behavior, we can create a better experience that eases their interaction. There is even a case with one of our clients where we use a total of three top-level items which creates even less work for our brains to do. Less, really is more.

Eye-tracking is another method of determining human interactive behavior. By measuring the point of gaze, we have determined how to organize and prioritize certain content blocks based on how the human eyes track on a page, which points they see first, and in what direction they see them. Faces on a site pull a user’s attention. A face turned towards a direction of a block of content draws a user’s eyes to that block of content (we look at what the face is looking at).

Once we understand your brand’s demographic, we can create a user-centered design where your customers’ and prospects’ needs are met. Due to the rise of user-generated content and increased content development and curation, creating user-centered design will only motivate participation, promote community, and build brands that invest in these activities.

Communicating with the Client & Working with Feedback

Client feedback happens and is encouraged. After all, they know their business best and most often, their customers and prospects. Design change suggestions shouldn’t be taken literally but rather as a way to pinpoint what the client hopes to communicate through their site. “Could you change this to red?” doesn’t address the issue or allow the designer to make the best decision, but “could we highlight this area more?” allows the designer to find a solution that might actually work better than what the client had in mind. Ultimately, the client is paying for our expertise in the field and we want to give the client a product that will help them meet their goals.

Design is visual communication. A designer is a combination of artist and communicator. Only an artist can make artistic choices based on nothing more than their feelings and leave it at that. A communicator has to know the target audience and the context and communicate effectively. A designer makes deliberate choices backed up by research and experience to effectively communicate the message (eg buy a product, join a community, read an article, sign up, etc.) to get a response.

Designers need experience and expertise of how an audience will read a piece depending on the medium. We also know that customers and prospects do not read a piece in the same manner across all mediums either. And of course it's not just digital versus print but within each there are nuances. Within digital you have iOS devices and Android, etc. and there’s tablets, smartphones, and other devices with touch screens, such as game consoles that have Internet connectivity. And in print you have brochures and business cards and then there’s magazine layout which will be different than the cover itself, or a poster. Cover design varies wildly because it has to be beautiful and grab people's attention like if it’s sold on newsstands and in many cases, does not need to be beautiful at all, just has to have bold enough colors or the perfect marketing words to grab people. Package design is another animal, depending on the market, beauty products? Software? Different audiences respond to different styles depending on the demographic in the market.

Techniques and Conventions Applied by Dirigo

At Dirigo we believe that the device you use to surf the web matters less than the context. We want the user to have access to all the information they want access for, not different information and not less information like what you might see on separate mobile versions of websites. Rather user data tells us that they want to view the same information, optimized for the user’s viewing experience, no matter the device they are using. This is why we practice responsive web design (RWD).

RWD takes designing on a grid and pushes it further. Like all print and web design, designers use a grid that can be divided into multiples of 3 or 4, for instance; we use a 12 column grid. The information is laid out based on your screen size, not device. If you have a 27” iMac with a resolution of 2,560 pixels wide, the user will have view the same website with the layout arranged for their viewing experience. The iPhone user with the 320 pixel-wide screen will view the same website (again, not loading a different mobile version) arranged with their screen size in mind. The grid is used because it provides optimum optical arrangement having a lot to do with how our brains read a page (literal print page or a website) like it has since design became a practice, but the grid also is advantageous in how it works with RWD. As the users viewing screen becomes more narrow (whether from using a smaller device or from changing the size of the browser window) areas of content take on different column widths and adjust. The 12 column layout can easily become 8, then 6, then 4, then 3, etc. Horizontal navigation that went across the screen can switch to a pull-down or a slide-out menu without sacrificing usability.

That's how we design, with the entire breadth of experience holding a constant priority of accessibility. A lot of developers call this the mobile-first approach. The idea is that the context of the smartphone or tablet is given a priority on equal-footing with that of the desktop, rather than relegating the design to an afterthought. Thought is given to the user’s behavior with their device, not their device or the problematic idea that they are “on the go” and therefore only need a stripped-down version of a website. On a smartphone or device, users’ behaviors are physical like tapping and swiping as well as active like taking photos or video or updating their Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Good Design Comes from Experience and Expertise

Take advantage of our creative team's extensive and varied design background, from print to web to interactive. Our design practices and theories are carried through all these mediums, continually backed up by studies and real-world application and examples.

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