A few months ago, I watched an episode of Abstract–a series of documentaries about the art of design. The episode focused on Christoph Niemann, an illustrator best known for designing covers of the New Yorker magazine. What I learned most from the episode was his use of abstraction. Niemann could look at the world around him and use Legos to create what he saw. These weren’t extravagant Lego cities; they were just taxis and buildings made of less than a handful of pieces. The idea was to boil down one object to its most simple parts, keeping only what makes that object recognizable.
What I took away from this: Abstracting your work helps you conceptualize better in the beginning of your project. Once you have the general look and feel of your graphic, it’s easier to see whether adding more detail would help or hurt your design. It’s important for all artists and designers to keep things simple because less often says more, especially in higher education. Here are some lessons for designers in higher ed to help create simpler, yet more effective ads and images.
Don’t Be Afraid of White Space
Whether we stay home and watch T.V., browse social media while waiting for a coffee, or simply just drive to work, we encounter dozens of advertisements everyday. The ad could be a billboard, a sponsored post, or an image on the side of a browser window. If you want to design an ad that will get someone to visit your website or convert to lead, it’s important to catch their attention first. The average social media user has a small attention span. In my opinion, this has less to do with an impatient attitude and more to do with how often we have to dismiss the countless, irrelevant ads we are swarmed with.
Designers in higher ed want the viewer to read what is on the ad, but cluttered text will most likely deter them from reading even a couple of words. White space is essential to getting someone’s attention. As a designer, you have to be aware of your structure. Imagine a border of unusable space so you keep text and graphics from looking messy. The largest message should have the largest amount of space around it. This will help the viewer focus on the importance seeing that it stands alone, appearing more powerful than the logo and any other text.
Be Concise With Your Message
Your focus should be on what you offer; who you are comes next. Ads come in many different sizes–some long, some tall, and others square. This requires compromising of art and text. The essential pieces to your puzzle should be your school’s name, the program or major, and the art associated with that round of ads. Your message should be another piece, but if your art goes well enough with the message then you won’t need the message there every time. Try to keep your graphics as simple as possible and try taking out a unique piece of it that helps all the ads work cohesively. This helps when a prospective student goes from Instagram to desktop or from Facebook to Gmail.
The ads will change size, but the viewer needs to remember it’s the same school targeting them. Whether they notice the ad consciously or subconsciously, it’s best to brand your specific ad so it becomes more familiar. If the art you’re using can’t be simplified any smaller to fit the smallest ads, try using the same colors or textures. It’s okay if all the ads look different, they just need to look like a family.
It’s essential that your school stands out from the other schools also marketing to the same prospective student. Throughout most of my senior year of high school, I was getting emails and letters from colleges around the United States and online; many I had never heard of.
There were a few things I was looking out for when deciding on a college to attend:
- Excellent art and design programs
- Help into a design career
- City with a lot of available design jobs
The problem with most ads I received was the fact that they didn’t target my interest but were more general. Instead of a woman in her mid-20s sitting in the grass on her laptop, why not target my interest in art by showing actual art? An ad targeted towards my interests could show an artist working or it could be as simple as an interesting digital art piece made by an alumni.
How I Have Created Ads
American University wanted new marketing ads for their education programs. They already had a specific type of imagery and a strong message that went along with it. The illustration has mostly brand colors so it only made sense to keep up with that theme.
The full design was pretty elaborate, but the most important elements were the raised hands to go with “raise your hand if you believe..” I tried to keep the message on sizes such as 320×50 px, but it just wasn’t looking right. The message was losing its impact the smaller it got. I had to compromise the message by replacing it with of a couple of the “raised hands.” This kept the theme consistent and hinted at the message.
The other problem with the graphic was that it was busy. I couldn’t use red, white, or blue for the text if it went over the imagery because it would get lost. I didn’t want to compromise the brand colors so red and blue shapes were used to block the imagery. This also worked to declutter the space around the text so that it could be read with more emphasis.
With every type of design, problem solving is crucial. If the imagery didn’t use brand colors, it would be okay to use colors based off of the imagery alone. As a designer, especially in higher ed, sometimes you don’t get a choice of what fonts, message, or imagery is going to be used. Clients may ask for something specific, but they also trust your design instinct. Go with your gut and make them see that what they want may not be what looks or works best.
Gabrielle Brambila is a graphic designer for Circa Interactive. She is a recent graduate from San Diego State University with experience working as a designer for an on-campus entrepreneurship organization. Her passion for illustration and photography inspire her to create something new and unique every day.