Great advertising design is something you instantly recognize when you see it. You may not be able to put your finger on what makes it so appealing â€” it just works.
Itâ€™s clean, crisp, thought provoking, clever, and maybe even a little nostalgic. It can convey any attribute you want associated with your business â€” quality, exclusivity, approachability, playfulness, security, and so on.
Awesome design is a powerful thing that can instantly form a bond between your brand and your customers.
Advertising is a powerful tool, thereâ€™s no doubt about that. So, why is the vast majority of it so horrible?
The quick and easy answer is that most people donâ€™t pay a professional to design their marketing materials.
Even if they do, they still fall into the trap of piecemeal marketing, or paying a different person to design each piece of advertising you produce â€” the most common mistake out there.
Having aÂ style guide can help combat this unorganized approach by keeping each designer accountable to your brand standards, but thatâ€™s only one piece of the puzzle.
What is Advertising, Really?
Before we dive into the fundamentals of great advertising design, letâ€™s take a look at what that term actually means to the consumer â€” you know, the people youâ€™re trying to speak to?
Itâ€™s fairly easy to put yourself in the shoes of a consumer, considering you are one.
FIrst, how do you consume the vast amount of advertising that youâ€™re bombarded with on a daily basis? Honestly, advertising is a nuisance â€” an unwelcome interruption while taking care of all the things we have to do every day.
And, itâ€™s EVERYWHERE.
Here are some ways that clearly indicate our advertising isnâ€™t what people desire to see:
- No one opens up a magazine to look at the ads, they quickly thumb through them looking for the cover story.
- Normal people donâ€™t go to YouTube for the sole purpose of catching up on the latest 30-second ads that pop up before every video.
- Youâ€™ve probably never checked out Facebook hoping to catch up on all of the awesome new sponsored posts.
- Nobody gets excited about banner ads.
- Very few people have a favorite billboard.
- People donâ€™t read all the pop-up advertising before reading todayâ€™s featured news story.
Itâ€™s a simple fact: Advertising is the last thing that people WANT to look at.
Weâ€™re surrounded by so many marketing pieces on a daily basis that most of it gets completely ignored. Despite current research showing that people have become blind to certain types of ads, marketers continue selling them because advertisers will pay.
If people actively avoid advertising, whatâ€™s the point?
To catch your eye, that ad has to be stellar.
You probably do have a favorite ad campaign, or a company that you identify with. Itâ€™s even likely that you have an emotional bond with a certain brand.
What do these brands have going for them that so many others are completely missing?
Simply put, they are putting design first, and letting that design speak for itself.
In a noisy marketplace, shouting louder than everyone else doesn’t work â€” consistently looking great does.
Excellent advertising follows design best practices, andÂ becoming familiar with design principles will only make you a better client when partnering with a professional designer.
Advertising Design Rules to Live By
- Have a clear, singular message
- Limit your copy
- Utilize negative space
- Implement visual metaphors
- Unify your color scheme
- Create movement
- Play with visual weight
- Limit font usage
- Evoke nostalgia
- Play with scale
Advertising Design Tip #1 â€” Communicate a Singular Message
Letâ€™s get this one out of the way â€” your advertising is not a garage sale.
I get it. You sell several products or services, and you want to promote them all. On the other hand, when you consider your audienceâ€™s limited attention span, youâ€™ll understand why packing a page or ad space full of information is a bad idea.
If youâ€™re lucky, people will look at your ad for a few seconds, and no one will strain themselves to make sense of an unclear message or a cluttered layout.
Let me relay some personal experience to make that point clear: I designed print advertising for a company that had several brands under one corporate umbrella, which is a common practice. This business sold furniture, ceiling fans, lighting, and a plethora of accessories for each product.
Against the advice of a professional designer (me), they regularly featured up to ten products on a single page.
The result looked like a collage of random items pasted on a piece of paper â€” some chairs, a few ceiling fans, and a lighting fixture or two for good measure.
These ads were highly ineffective, and the company saw little return on their advertising investment.
If you and your designer properly plan an advertising campaign in advance, you can feature several products over time in a uniform fashion that will strengthen your brand and increase your ROI (return on investment).
Pick one product or service to feature by itself.
Advertising Design Tip #2 â€” Limit Copy
Giving detailed descriptions and model numbers is fine if youâ€™re developing a catalog for your customers, but that practice will absolutely drive people away from your regular advertising.
Looking back at the personal experience I told you about above: Each item on the page had an accompanying description and model number. The layout was both cluttered and very difficult to read.
If you are going to include copy, limit it to a couple of lines of text. As people are skimming through a magazine, or scrolling through Facebook, they are much more likely to read a brief, catchy headline or slogan than a dense chunk of text.
At best you have a few seconds to make an impression. Your main point needs to jump right off the page and announce itself to the audience.
Advertising Design Tip #3 â€” Utilize Negative Space
Over the last 18 years of designing advertising, Iâ€™ve noticed a common theme among the people Iâ€™ve worked with. Everyone recognizes the appeal of the â€ścleanâ€ť look when they act as consumers themselves, but they are afraid of actually executing it in their own marketing. Â
As you, a consumer, are viewing content in your daily life, what stands out to you?
Sometimes youâ€™ll run across a page with a clever slogan, and nothing else â€” itâ€™s so simple, but the impact is huge.
Maybe you notice a bold image with a small logo, and youâ€™re compelled to check out their website.
What these designs have in common is known as negative space, or empty space. Itâ€™s your best friend when it comes to a clean, stark look that will turn consumersâ€™ heads.
Most people canâ€™t even put their finger on why these simple looking layouts have such a huge impact, they just do.
Itâ€™s easy to admire an attractive layout that only has a few words on it, but itâ€™s difficult to execute â€” great advertising takes balls.
Say less to say it loudly.
Advertising Design Tip #4 â€” Visual Metaphors
Now that youâ€™re convinced that less information is more, letâ€™s look at the imagery youâ€™re using.
A great way to convey a message is through the use of visual metaphors.
Itâ€™s one thing to say â€ścigarettes are harmful to your health,â€ť itâ€™s another to portray them as a shotgun being loaded.
Grab their attention with powerful imagery â€” it works better than beautiful prose.
Advertising Design Tip #5 â€” A Unified Color Scheme
Color is one of the more subtle and powerful advertising design tools you have at your disposal.
Choosing a single, unified palette to work with is essential.
Thereâ€™s nothing worse than bright, garish colors that compete with each other for attention.
A common practice is to sample colors from any imagery you are using. I like to pick a dark, medium, and light hue from a photograph to integrate into my text and background. Itâ€™s a great way to tie any design together.
If you arenâ€™t working with any imagery to sample from, and are struggling to come up with a unified color palette, just Google â€ścolor palette ideasâ€ť and youâ€™ll find plenty of stock ideas.
However, I stay away from the predefined color swatches in any design program.
Poor color selection can make a design difficult to look at and drive viewers away.
Advertising Design Tip #6 â€” Create Movement
A great way to draw your readerâ€™s eye into your design is to create movement into or off of the page.
A common problem I see with less experienced designers is using the edge of the page, or bounding box of an ad, as the end of the design. Itâ€™s one thing to use generous amounts of negative space in a composition, but itâ€™s another to just place everything inside the edges of your layout without anything extending off the edge.
Try using large-scale imagery that gets cropped off by the edge of your design. This can give the illusion that there is more going on than the reader can see, and can create excellent movement within a design.
Too big can sometimes be just right.
Advertising Design Tip #7 â€” Play With Visual Weight
An important design principle to keep in mind is that different elements carry different visual weight.
You can guide your viewerâ€™s eye through a design once you understand how this works.
When viewing a page or composition, the viewerâ€™s eye naturally goes from the top of a page down. That means elements at the bottom of a design naturally appear more dominant, so placing visually heavier objects lower will have a more natural feel.
Placing large blocks of color towards the top of your composition will make it feel unbalanced and unsettling to the eye. Conversely, large amounts of negative space at the bottom of a design also look out of place.
Another compulsion of sales people is to put their logo at the top of a page, as large as it will fit. This is a huge mistake â€” you want your branding and contact information at the bottom, where the viewerâ€™s eye naturally settles.
Take advantage of how people naturally scan a layout.
Advertising Design Tip #8 â€” Limit Font Usage
Itâ€™s easy to get carried away with fonts since there are literally thousands of them to choose from.
I cannot stress this enough, itâ€™s graphic design 101.
Limit your font usage to a max of three fonts.
I typically only use two: one serif font, and one sans-serif font that compliment each other.
Traditionally, serif fonts are used for body copy and look good with sans-serif headlines. More modern designs use sans-serif typefaces for body copy, especially for website usage, since they are easier to read on electronic devices.
A great work around for limiting your font usage is to find typeface families with several weights to choose from, such as:
â€śProâ€ť fonts typically offer the greatest variety, but thatâ€™s not your only option.
The text you use is a design element in and of itself â€” you donâ€™t want your elements competing for attention.
Advertising Design Tip #9 â€” Evoke Nostalgia
Great branding and advertising design can form powerful bonds between your business and its customers, and thereâ€™s no better way to do that than with a little bit of nostalgia.
Trends in music, fashion, art and design are all cyclical, and sometimes taking your style back a few decades can be very powerful.
Any time you can get an emotional response from the viewer, youâ€™ve won.
The Nostalgia Card doesnâ€™t work for every situation, but itâ€™s a good trick to have up your sleeve.
Advertising Design Tip #10 â€” Play With Scale
When used correctly, exaggerated scale can make a normal object more interesting.
Taking a normal, familiar looking object, and enlarging it to completely fill a space can give an abstract feel to your design. Showcasing a product in an unexpected way will add interest to your composition, and draw the readerâ€™s eye in.
Making the mundane seem interesting is a winning move.
Teaming Up With a Pro
No doubt â€” Developing stellar advertising for your business will require the expertise of a professional.
Still, knowing the tricks of the trade will make you a better client, which will increase the effectiveness of your marketing.
At Commotion Art, we do our best to inform clients of advertising design best practices by explaining why we make certain decisions when it comes to marketing design.
Still, some stubborn clients sabotage their own advertising design. It truly is a team effort to get your marketing on the right track, and proper planning in advance will provide the best outcome.
If you have any specific questions about advertising design, or are ready to partner with us on your next marketing campaign, contact Commotion Art today!Contact Commotion Art!