Graphic Designers Need to Embrace Strategic Thinking Too!

Unfortunately, some graphic designers approach their work in a way which doesn’t really take their clients’ marketing strategy into account. A great graphic designer can find a balance between their own creativity, what the client wants and what their consumers’ needs, and the path to success is some strategic thinking.

Sure, every graphic designer has their own style, and the client may well have engaged a designer to inject some of that style in their own branding or marketing materials, but the most skilled graphic designers can find ways to blend their style with a brand’s existing materials to create something that works cohesively with everything that’s come before.

The exception, of course, is when a brand has determined that a new design direction is needed, or when the designer helps them to see there is such a need.

Every time I take on a new design project, whether in the role of a creative director or the designer doing “the work”, the first thing I do is try to determine and tightly define what the actual design problem is. Often that problem is in the form of a particular marketing objective which needs to be solved.

The client’s consumer (A.K.A. someone in the key target market) is someone that can get overlooked when juggling what the client wants with the designer’s desire to create something that “looks great”.

The process for creating a graphic design solution can be summarised as follows:

  • Understand the objective of the work your are creating
  • Gather all the information to be communicated, and conduct research as required
  • Combine element like type and image into a format or medium that is suitable
  • Experiment with the attributes and arrangement of elements using design principles
  • Determine which solutions best communicate to achieve the objective
  • Explore new combinations of the above
  • Reduce the elements to achieve the objective as simply as possible
  • Present the solution(s) is a way which allows the client to understand the thinking behind them
  • Respond to feedback and refine the design until it is complete.

In the first step of “understanding the objective” the best designers take the opportunity presented by the project briefing (which is often informal and verbal rather that documented in writing) to take a step back and consider whether the objective itself is right and whether the solution which the client has in mind is right, or whether they are already heading in the wiring direction.

This is where having great communication skills is an asset.

“Understanding the objective” can be broken down further into an understanding of the following strategic elements:

  • What are the client’s business goals, broadly and in the context of the design task?
  • What is your client’s primary target market and brand positioning?
  • What are the actions the client wants the end consumer to take?
  • What are the end consumer’s real needs and what will motivate them to take action?
  • What environmental factors (like competitors and placement) are relevant?

In the briefing process, a good designer will work collaboratively with the client to tease out the information required and conduct their own research to verify the answers to the questions above.

If you’re a client, ask your designer how they’ll approach your project strategically.

If you’re a designer, take time to think strategically before you start drafting your design solutions.