Elevate design to the highest priority in your communications

October 7, 2013

We’ve been touting the benefits of high quality visuals for months now, and I hope we’ve convinced you to give your images a second thought. But the value of your high quality images also depends on the overall design of your website or outreach publication. Your beautiful photos and videos need a beautiful home.

Put your money where your reputation is. First impressions matter and your design has an immediate impact on the viewer’s experience. Information designer Edward Tufte says, “There is no such thing as information overload, just bad design.” Amen to that. The success of your visual storytelling hinges completely on how it is packaged – that is, your design. As well, design plays a big role in what viewers see first and where their eyes move across a page, be it on paper or online.

Website testers and others have found that if websites are hard to use, users will translate their negative feelings toward the site owner…which could be you. If you are hiring a new marketing, communications or social media director, add visual/design skills to the qualifications list. Or, provide visual communications and design training as part of your ongoing professional development for existing staff.

If you outsource design work, hire the best designer you can find, not the cheapest or the fastest. Would you really hire a cheap, mediocre writer to write your web copy or your fundraising appeals? Someone without any zing or ability to convince? If you don’t have low standards on the quality of writing, there is no reason to have low standards on design.

Design and processing fluency, the ease with which someone processes information, are closely intertwined. Simple, bold designs increase processing fluency, allowing your supporters to understand the information you’re trying to share. When you simplify your design, you create a positive processing experience that subtly elevates levels of trust. Accessibility = believability = trust.

The fact is, beauty makes us happy. Researchers have found that the more aesthetic an image, the more easily it was processed by the viewer, and the more the viewer associated it with good feelings[1]. When designing your upcoming outreach materials, remember these four principles: simplicity, symmetry, contrast and clarity.[2]

Happy beautifying!

Liz Banse

[1] Reber, R., Schwarz, N. & Winkielman, P. (2004). “Processing fluency and aesthetic pleasure: Is beauty in the perceiver’s processing experience?” Personality and Social Psychology Review, 8, 364–382.

[2] Song, H. & Schwarz, N. (2008). “If it’s hard to read, it’s hard to do: Processing fluency affects effort prediction and motivation.” Psychological Science, 19, 986–988.