Recently, a potential client came into the office for an assessment of their brand, and we had to give the hard news that their branding was conveying the exact opposite of the values they told us they were trying to convey to their customers. Their response was to ask if we ever feel like we are writing copy for horoscopes, because “you can have things both ways when doing design.”

I think a lot of people have this feeling that design is all about marketers using buzz words to sell you on their personal preferences, or artists trying to live out their design fantasies through your business. And there are some of those characters out there, and if you don’t have a background in design or marketing, it can be hard to know what you’ve got. But the answer for me is no, I don’t feel like I’m writing copy for horoscopes when doing design, and I’ll tell you why:

Big brands know that design has a direct impact on their bottom line, and the psychology of color combinations, iconography, even little details like italics versus standard fonts has been studied within an inch of its life.

More research is done every year. It’s done in the form of psychological studies, MRIs and brain scans, A/B testing to see which designs yield more of the desired result, surveys, heat map studies, and more. We have data on how the impact of imagery changes across different cultures and different demographics. Oodles of it.

Of course, there are always individual variations, which is why it sometimes seems like “everyone has an opinion” and you may be told different things by different designers or different reviewers. That can be frustrating and confusing. Bottom line, when we at Marketing EQ are creating a design, we’re not aiming to please everyone – sometimes not even ourselves. We’re trying to get the highest percentage of the demographic we’re aiming at to “get it,” as quickly as possible, and for as long as possible (how memorable something is). In that sense, we’re not working based on personal opinion or even trying to read tea leaves or make predictions based on the position of the stars; we’re working based off of decades of hard data in huge quantities and from experience applying that data. For clients with the budget, we can conduct our own studies to confirm that we’re applying this understanding correctly and make adjustments where we need to, further contextualizing and deepening our understanding of how design plays out in the real world (and in the market.)

This sometimes means that we produce designs that we, personally, don’t like — but if it accomplishes the goal that our clients had for it and their audience by and large response to it, that’s what we’re after.

If you’re having trouble deciding about a design or brand, it may be because you haven’t clarified the audience or the goals of the design in enough specificity. If the goal is simply to look nice, you’re likely to end up in the land of conflicting personal opinions. For whom is it mean to “look nice,” and why?

Answering these questions can change the fate of your design.

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