Sunday, February 12, 2012


Clear and efficient communication is an art form. It doesn't matter if you are communicating through a motion picture, a radio broadcast, sign language or an email. Communicating well requires careful thought.

There are a lot of ways to clutter up communication so that the message becomes unclear. Try having a meaningful conversation with someone while a big-screen TV is turned on in the same room. Try giving someone directions over a cell phone in an area with poor reception. Send an email full of incomplete sentences and misspellings.  Noise, interference and sloppiness can all become obstacles to good communication.

In my last post, I mentioned how avoiding unnecessary clutter can improve the clarity of an ad’s message. As a follow-up to that post, I present the subject of composition, and the designer’s role in directing the viewer’s eyes to maximize the clarity of the message. Obstacles which interrupt this clarity are avoided. Using the image of the magazine ad from my last post, I've added arrows indicating how this works:

(Click all images for a larger view)

We humans are social beings. A well placed person can become the initial focal point of a design. We are naturally drawn to the girl's face (certain stereotypes not withstanding) and her focus becomes ours as she looks in the direction of the text on the left side of the ad. The overall flow of the design then carries the eye around a fairly circular path which covers the whole ad space.

Still, there are a couple of potential traps where the eye is tempted to linger and this can get in the way of effective communication. The arrows below indicate two potential traps in this composition:

All the guys are nodding in agreement.

While these potential traps threaten the integrity of the composition, there are also several elements here which I believe help us overcome those traps and reinforce the intended composition of the first example.

People, of course, are not mindless simpletons and I don't mean to exaggerate too much the power of the graphic designer over the mind of the viewer. While most viewers will follow the composition as indicated in the first image, they will also engage with the other details of the image, noticing the warmth and opulence of the room, the richness and variety of color in the tile along with the obvious craftsmanship on display in the tile work. All of this, along with the composition, is meant to reinforce the message of the ad.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Strong Visuals

More often than not, when local businesses get involved in the design process for their advertising, they try to put everything, including the kitchen sink, into their ad. They may not even sell kitchen sinks but that doesn't stop them from trying.

My approach toward design is to only put in enough information to communicate what is absolutely necessary. And if I can let a strong visual do all of the heavy lifting then I say let that suffice. 

When I was asked to design a two-page spread for a local tile store to run in a high-end glossy magazine, I went minimal, allowing the image to do all the “talking”. Here is my design:

I wonder what product this store sells.
(click the image for a larger view)

Name, rank and serial number will suffice at this point; the image is the key here. How do you show potential customers all of the tile samples a store has to offer? How do you fit enough copy into an ad to explain all of the  potential applications for their tile and installation services? You can’t! If you try you will likely end up with an ad that is so busy no one will even bother looking at it. What you can do is present an image that communicates, in an instant, that this business can meet any tiling need you might possibly dream up. That alone will be enough to get them into the place of business where a highly trained sales staff can dazzle them with a billion possibilities.