Friday, April 29, 2011

Keep It Simple: Design

"The Bulletin" has been re-designed. As part of a stable that boasts the Catalan daily "dBalears", which won an award for its makeover, the result of this re-design should be positive.

The "dBalears" revamp was contemporary in one very strong regard. Its look owed and owes much to internet presentation. It is perhaps an irony of digital competition that the print media should ape this competition, though it is not a surprise. Good layout on a screen demands clean lines and appearance; the same principle applies to whatever format.

There is, however, design and there is design. No, make that that there is design, design and design. Design that is simply no good, that which is good, and that which is good but completely misses the point.

I was in a bar the other day (the Jolly Roger). There was a poster on one of the wooden posts. I looked at it and I continued to look at it. I had to go back and look again. Finally, someone (Grizz) came in and without asking pointed at something on the poster and announced that a complaint should be made. There it was. What I had been unable to see. The date.

If you are going to have a poster for an event, in this case a horse spectacular in Alcúdia, one fairly basic requirement is that you clearly communicate when it's taking place. This poster does nothing of the sort. The reason for my being unable to locate the date was how it had been designed.

The problem with the design was that the date was not only to the left, it was also vertical. Its positioning and style broke two fundamental rules. One is that the eye tracks to the right, unless you're an Arabic reader and the eye goes the other way, in which case you will have just read "daer tsuj evah ...". While the main visual look of the poster, that of a horse, strangely enough, grabs the attention, it is the information that needs to be communicated which is as important, and being informed as to when the show is happening is far from unimportant.

Just as the eye tracks to the right and not to the left, so it also, or rather the brain, needs to adjust to a vertical visual and more specifically text that runs vertically. It's why I couldn't see it, even though it was literally staring me in the face.

There is nothing wrong with breaking rules, but design which may be good (and to be honest the overall poster design isn't that good) has to keep to the point. Which is to communicate.

In Mallorca, there are an awful lot of designers. It seems, at times, as though whole school years leave education armed with a design qualification. There are hordes of them, armed with Photoshop and Illustrator and with innovation firmly in mind. This has spawned some remarkably good graphic work. The standards of Mallorcan design are high, owing at least something to an artistic heritage on the island.

However, the craving for innovativeness can get in the way of the message. Similarly, a lack of appreciation as to audience can also obscure what it is that is meant to be conveyed. I'll give you an example.

A few years ago, the Pollensa autumn fair had a visual that was meant to be some sort of agricultural tool. You could have fooled me. It looked more like a sex aid. I was completely baffled by it. While it may have meant something to the local Mallorcan population, it meant nothing to anyone else. Too much promotional material suffers from a failure to communicate in different languages, but when the visual imagery misses the point of its audience, or potential audience, then any innovation becomes pointless.

Simple really is often the best. Take design for restaurant adverts. Tedious may be the almost default style of advert which shows a terrace or an interior, but it is actually important. It was a message that came over when someone was analysing different designs as a tourist. Those with shots of what the place looked like were more meaningful than something more arty that didn't. The message was very powerful, because the very audience the adverts were being intended for was being influenced by one of the most powerful things a restaurant has to sell - its look.

And look is everything. Adverts, brochures, newspapers. And simple is also very often everything.

N.B. The re-design of "The Bulletin" is from Saturday, 30 April. This article, forwarded as usual for reproduction in the paper, would appear to have been vetoed on the grounds that the design team responsible for the re-design might be a bit "touchy". Can anyone explain why? Given that this article had been knocked out earlier than would normally be the case, as with a now alternative, in order to help them out for their grand re-launch (at a time when I don't have a lot of spare time), I feel I have every right to be a tad pissed off. Perhaps sensibilities towards contributors and remuneration might be as strong as that afforded to a bunch of designers.

Any comments to please.

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