Design – Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

After conducting a communications audit for a client – reviewing more than 100 documents, brochures, Web sites and more – I had one very clear revelation. Similar to the joke of “why does a dog lick his balls? Because he can” – I learned that just because designers can use a range of special effects, doesn’t mean they should.

In-house designers like to experiment. Experimentation is great – and when done well, can be quite successful. But more times than not, it falls flat on its face.

Our recommendation for clients is to create a brand standards manual to ensure consistency, professionalism and the end goal of reinforcing who you are, and what you’re about with every communications piece created. Brand standards do not need to be complex. My favorite page in brand standard manuals is usually the one with Word art, shadow boxes and picture edging – all that have red x’s or circle’s with lines through them indicating that these effects should be used – never. I mean, you never see Coca-Cola’s logo in pink, do you?

Nonprofits, especially start-ups, often have design donated by those desiring to be designers. As a result, colors, fonts and more importantly messaging is inconsistent. Gwinnett Children’s Shelter tackled this problem by acquiring grant money to create new materials to reach their growing marketplace. We worked together with a cause marketing firm and a professional designer – all of us working at deeply discounted rates – to create a new logo, tag line, color palette and design standards. Since that first grant, we have created three professionally designed brochures, all with distinctly different color uses, but still within the brand standards set more than a year ago. More importantly, they have seen their awareness in the community rise, and the funding dollars grow.

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