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Blurbs and rants about graphic design

artfestival

It’s all in the Mind of the Beholder

It’s really easy to get lost in how pretty things look when designing things. While aesthetics are important in design, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we need to communicate a message first and foremost. I will illustrate this concept by quoting here some comments I made for recent makeover projects on About Desktop Publishing. Other designers have made comments about the look of design elements, how to allign them and so on, and rightly so. However the way you chose to convey the message and the reasoning behind it are very important as well, it’s the backbone of the creative process, which also helps with the positioning of various design elements.

You can read the description of the makeover project here. There are many submissions and much feedback to read through, if you want to get some tips. I am going to take up two submissions in this article. You can find the whole thread here.

Submission by Rezzyrezzy

You can find the submission here.

My comments
I like the colours and the reflection although all that blue feels maybe a little too cold and corporate, however here is the question for you: Does that image you chose communicate “Art?”

The world, as the only big image in that poster communicates “International” to me, but not “Art”. The font you have used is often used for stationery, corporate identity and things like that, admittedly not only that, so while I might or might not have chosen some other font (although I don’t consider it wrong and it’s better than just using some random script as it’s often the clich√© choice when talking about art related stuff) the image still bothers me a little. As it is now, with the colours you have used, it could mean anything. Some worldwide company, some ad to help people in need, etc.

My comments will focus not on the execution of the idea, not on how pretty or orderly things look, but on the development of the idea itself.

You are not the only one who used the world in the poster, others did too, but some submissions had something else that connected it to “art”.

On the other side, the uncluttered one-image-look is excellent as it’s an immediate message. Just not the full message. So in your poster, how do you keep that speed of communication? That one image that tells you everything at once without information overload? I am almost tempted to let you answer that question on your own and let you make the changes before I say more. But if you want to read on…

Make the world “artsy”. Maybe make it look like as if it were painted. Even the reflection. Or frame it into a sheet of paper with some pencil or a paintbrush or something. It doesn’t matter what you do, but if you made it look like the product of some form of art, the idea of “international art” would jump in the eyes of the beholder without him/her realising it. They’d think of “international art” without making a conscious effort to read your text.

Once that idea hit the audience through your imagery, they will be ready to read what you have got to say.

Following the same trail of concepts, now that you settled on your imagery, you can chose another font, should it be needed (and yes even a script one if it fits).

Too long didn’t read: The imagery, the first-impact, especially in a poster or flyer which you only look at for a few moments, is really important. It has to be the ambassador of your message. In many cases it has to speak more than words. I cannot stress this enough.

That said, there can be ways to make something communicate art without any real picture even. Example: make the whole poster look like a painting and the writing becomes part of the painting. But again, it’s a strong visual and the whole poster+writing is your imagery in that case.

The beauty of design is that there are as many solutions as the human mind can think of.

I often cringe when I open a magazine and I look at those beautifully executed ads, awesome aesthetic… but they feature a beautiful woman. And while I realise that surveys might indicate that a beautiful woman is associated to perfume, she is also associated to clothing, cars, jewellery… Sometimes I don’t know what such ads are advertising until I have looked at them for a long time. The most rampant example was this ad, again, an oh so stunning woman, with some awesome looking glasses, a beautiful necklace, and really stylish clothes. And the logo of a brand, which I didn’t know. No more information. I still don’t know to this day what was being advertised. The sunglasses, the jewel or the clothing? Or was I supposed to just gape at the stunning sight?

How many people look at magazines for design purposes, like me, or actually read them and skip the pages with the ads? So if I couldn’t get a clear message out of that ad after scrutiny, how many people would have? Only those who knew that brand, I guess. But still the message was weak. Even though beautifully executed, it was just as bad as random clip art thrown in without real connection and writing randomly placed somewhere out of the already inexisting eyetrail that the random, incoherent and unlinked graphics had already messed up.

That kind of advert can work if they are part of a campaign that gets hammerred on you through each communication channel (TV, internet, banners…) so you instantly recognize them, but that is often not even the case. However if a poster that had the ingredients I mentioned above was in their stead, even just flicking through the pages, your eye might have stopped that half a second longer to see what it is and maybe look at where and when it was.

Submission by Screenprinter

You can find it here.

My comments
I do have a couple of questions on the shopping experience quote and the hamburger image. Did you make up a scenario? Such as the festival being held in some shopping center or some such?

What I get from your poster is that you are trying to say, “Right, there is an art festival, and in this festival several arts are shown. But there are also some side activities, and if you like to stay here all day, you can eat here too.”

That’s fine, this wasn’t specified in the initial “brief” of the project, but we did give a lot of leeway.

However there are a couple of issues with how you are trying to convey that message, which are connected mainly to positioning. I might repeat some of the things that Faith has said by the way.

Your current positioning: The shopping experience quote is at the top. The International Art Festival writing is underneath, almost same size. The world is huge. Then the dancer on the side, nice silouhette, but she’s thin so she doesn’t get a lot of importance. The quote related to art is very small. I can’t read it unless I zoom in, so if I were a person walking past the poster I wouldn’t read it at all. Then you have all the stuff on the side, I like them where they are. On the bottom left you have the location and timing etc. That’s fine too although I don’t like that the text is center aligned.

Here is what I would change.

The shopping quote is too important. Either place the International Art Festival or the Michelangelo quote on top. Why the Michelangelo one? Because you are not plainly spelling “international art festival” but you are letting art talk by itself. You intrigue the reader who then will discover an art festival is going to happen.

The shopping quote can be quite smaller, and I would place it near the location information. On top or below, it doesn’t matter. Use it as the branding. As the thing that identifies the place people are going to. (Assuming that place had that slogan for ages).

Make the world a little less important and make the dancer more important. You work out how. International Art Festival can be bigger than the Michelangelo’s quote. Place it somewhere it can be seen. Just ask yourself, how do I make the eye of the beholder go fluidly from one point to the other? If you haven’t already, do read the feedback I gave earlier. Your copy (as in text) explains things, but the main message is carried by the graphics. Based on that you need to decide how much weight you are going to give to your copy. Yes design is a lot of decision making and problem solving.

If you want to give that extra bit of information about food being available, I would probably place the food photo at the bottom, maybe with something that looks like a voucher that shows maybe some special offer. “First burger is free!” (assuming there is such offer). Of course people are not going to cut it from the poster, but it’s the concept of promotion that matters. You don’t have to do that of course, it’s just some ideas I am throwing there because I know too well from experience how clients want you to convey 30 messages in one go. It isn’t optimal but sometimes you can’t help it. Whether you make up a promotion or not, the picture is too far up at the moment, and it’s more important that people see the other art stuff first.

One thing I often do when designing (of course it depends on the project) is going around the office showing the design without any text and ask people what it is about. Even if people don’t understand it’s about an art festival but they understand it’s about art, it’s still quite good. The copy can do the rest of the talking after. But in your case, with all the elements you have put in, you can probably walk around without any copy at all and people would get pretty much the whole message. It’s just a matter of giving the right importance to things. You do need the pictures on the side showing the other arts because without them people would think it’s a dance competition on first sight.

There are other ways to show arts without using those pics on the side, but then it’s not your submission anymore! And your solution is perfectly vaild, you just need to polish it and give the right importance to things.

Graphic Design

  • Annalisa

    I agree that the design in an advertisement has to be communicative. It is vital to communicate a clear message in the short amount of time that you might have someone’s attention. In the two examples you give above, I think you give a lot of great feedback. If an advertisement is for an event, it is even more important to communicate what/when/where specifics. On the other hand, I think advertisements for products/services often have subliminal messages. For example, you mentioned having a pretty girl in an ad for perfume, could also be in an add for x, y, and z product. I think the image of a beautiful women in ads are used for multiple reasons, each for a specific audience. What is your opinion of communicating messages like that? I think that messages should be as clear and truthful as possible, but that doesn’t seem to be the way of the advertising industry today.

  • Elisabetta Bruno

    Yes, alas, beautiful women are used for many advertisements. Personally, when I design something, unelss it’s something that warrants them or I am asked to do so by the client, I tend not to use -provocative images- of beautiful women, but I will use something more directly connected to what I am advertising. Unless of course, the marketing research data I have says that a woman needs to be there. For example it’s quite common to associate blond women with beers.

    I guess there’s nothing wrong with using something beautiful that makes leverage on aesthetics to spark the interest, but in reguards to provocative images, unless needed by the advertisement, I will not use them.

    Examples where I would use a beautiful woman: Ad for a beauty center. Or an ad for a toothpaste where there’s a beautiful face with white teeth (it could be a man too though). Clothing (again it could be a man).

    What I would not do, personally: A car ad with a woman sitting on the car in a very provocative pose (sexy is okay I guess, but if it isn’t needed, I won’t use it).

    It all depends on the project, but I definitely strive for truthfull advertising, which is to the point and connected to the message.

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