Good Print Design Isn’t Always Pretty

And event promotions are most at risk.

I was just reading a post on designing collateral for small businesses over at Orange Envelopes. Author John Heaney made the point that pretty much all designers can create things that are pretty. The problem is that pretty doesn't always equal effective print design.

In design, it's too easy to become dazzled by style, and to forget about substance. No matter how good-looking a design is, it can be a fail if, as Heaney lays it out, it:

  • Doesn't support the brand it represents.
  • Doesn't gel with the end-goals of the company.
  • Doesn't actually get a message to the audience.
  • Doesn't fulfill the project brief.
  • Doesn't contain anything of substance, despite being incredibly sexy.

Heaney's post got me thinking about a lot of the posters, flyers, and club cards I see advertising DJ productions and other music events around town. And I'm not just talking about my town. I'm thinking of the print ads I've seen in Vancouver, LA, Miami, London, Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam, you name it. Promoters know they need print on the streets to advertise their events, but so much of the stuff that gets approved, printed, and distributed is both gorgeous and utterly indecipherable. Print designers push the boundaries with color, font, and layout to capture the spirit of an music and dance culture, but in the end, I'm left unsure of:

  • Where and when the event is taking place.
  • How much it costs.
  • If it's an exclusive or a come-one-come-all scene.
  • What, exactly, is going to be happening.

The eye is drawn to, and at the same time, repelled from investigating, the substance of an overly busy, or overly mysterious design. But is the designer to blame here? In part, perhaps, but not entirely.

A business owner, or event promoter needs to be able to act in an editorial capacity. Don't let imagination say 'yes' when business sense says 'no.' Follow Heaney's principles of good design, and search for a mid-point where your ad both catches the eye AND gets the job of driving traffic and interest done.

Nothing drives a designer crazier than a client who tries to play design expert, and destroys the integrity of a color scheme or insists on employing an unreadable font. But business owners, don't let yourselves be overwhelmed! Instead, leave style to the experts, and inject substance by focusing on what you do best: knowing what your business is all about, and what your customer-base wants. Find a way to meet designers in the middle, and the result will be a print design that's got it all: brains, beauty, and a great sense of humor. It's like your dad always said: the perfect design is out there, so never settle.

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