Continuing on with the commentary about How magazine’s recent 29 Tips for Young Designers article by Doug Bartow, we’re on to the fourth tip: define your audience. I’ve worked with a lot of designers; I’ve worked within a company setting and as a freelancer; I’ve looked online and have been the recipient of design and I can easily say one mistake many designers or creative types make, me included, is not always being considerate of the audience who you are designing for. This is a double-edged sword and isn’t as clear cut an issue as one may believe.
Different audiences respond differently to various messages. In my opinion, successful designers are those who don’t really see themselves as artists or designers; they see themselves as marketers. Those in the advertising field will tell you that coming up with any successful campaign involves lots of research. You probably got into your chosen creative field so that you didn’t have to do research! Sorry buds, but graphic design is like any other professional line of work – it takes research, it takes knowing your audience, it takes time and some trial and error.
When I first started out as a graphic designer, I often designed things that I liked. If it looked good to me, I deemed it good design and called it a day, shut the door on it. That’s why when I look back on some of my early work, I cringe. It feels dated, a tad juvenile. Nowadays, I am constantly looking at other people’s work for inspiration; I usually start each design task with the question of, “Who do you think you’re talking to?” meaning if my audience is 56-70 something year old women into gardening, I had better not design something that a college freshman would jump on. Sometimes, I often will do something of a “red pill vs. blue pill” approach to design to present to the client: one is tame and in line with what is expected and has been done before to appeal to a certain group; the other is usually a bit more out there and pushes the standard. In the end, it’s rarely an either/or situation but a compromise of the two.
When you set out to do your creative work – look back at what’s been done before and see what you can do to “remix” it. Yes, take the approach of a DJ would to a song and take something people already like and make it a tad bit better. Don’t go too far out and lose sight of what made the original thing appealing to begin with but don’t always play it safe and deliver what’s been done time after time. This seems a bit paradoxical but I’ve found this approach has helped me produce some good work that all audiences have responded to. Keep in mind that whether you are a graphic designer, photographer, web designer or writer you’re first and foremost a communicator. Don’t just create eye candy but create a piece of work that has a purpose and connects to a specific audience. Only by doing this will you create something that has a lasting impact and impression.