Making sense: why brands shouldn’t forget the importance of design basics
Do you know who Margaret Calvert is? Although you see her design everyday, for the majority, the answer is no. Calvert is a typographer and graphic designer responsible for creating the Transport font that appears on road signs used throughout the UK, as well as designing most of the signs themselves. Despite her designs being so prominent, she is comparatively unheard of. Her designs work so well that people rarely notice them.
The chances are you will have encountered numerous instances of typography on your way to work this morning. The chances are even greater that you don’t remember a single one. Our brains can only register a small fraction of the information that it absorbs every day. The aim of functional typographical design is to present information in the simplest way, so it can be processed quickly and without confusion. Applying this logic to the creation of application forms, Borries Schwesinger, author of The Form Book, states, “Forms are meant to lead to efficient communication and so reduce to a minimum the amount of time required between the provider and the user.”
This is why we struggle so much when we encounter something that is poorly designed – our brains are so used to things working properly that when they don’t it becomes glaringly obvious. This is exactly what happened to Warren Beatty as he presented the award for Best Picture at the 89th Academy Awards.
Beatty was unintentionally at the heart of an embarrassing mix-up that meant the team behind La La Land were mistakenly presented the film industry’s most prestigious award, only to be informed minutes later that they would have to hand over the coveted statue to the Moonlight team, right there, live, on stage, in front of a celebrity audience and millions of television viewers.
Unfortunately, the confusion that ensued eclipsed Moonlight’s historic victory, as they became the first all black cast and first LGBTQ film to win Best Picture, as well as overshadowing the greatly improved diversity of nominees and winners from previous years.
Within minutes of the fiasco, the internet was awash with articles trying to make sense of what had happened. As several members of the design community have acknowledged, the whole mix-up could have been easily avoided if a bit of design nouse had been applied to the proceedings.
If the card had been designed properly, it would have been clear to Beatty that there had been a mistake and the resulting drama would have been avoided…but I guess that wouldn’t have been very Hollywood.
This is how the card read,
“La La Land”
It’s clear that the visual hierarchy of information was open to misinterpretation. The Oscars logo, possibly the least important piece of information, takes priority at the top of the card, making it the first thing the eye is drawn to. The all-important category is so small and far down that it is (and was) easily missed and there is no difference in font size between the actor’s name and the film. The card is a great example of how not to display information effectively.
The Oscars debacle brings to light the importance of typography in design to communicate information quickly and successfully. When Legal & General asked us to redesign their suite of application forms, we understood that we needed to bring clarity to something relatively complex. Typography played an integral part in simplifying the forms to help improve the customer journey. By using different size, weight, balance and colour of type, a hierarchy of information was established, differentiating help notes from questions, and navigating the user through the form, using clear routing. Our work was so well received, it was published in the Thames & Hudson book on best practice in form design.
For brands to convey their messaging successfully and communicate brand values effectively, it is essential that functionality and design go hand in hand. There is an important lesson for brands to learn – poor information design causes confusion and can negatively affect brand perception. The Oscars blunder left The Academy and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the auditors responsible for counting the votes and distributing the envelopes, red in the face. In fact, the mistake was so bad that the two accountants responsible will never work at the Oscars again, having tarnished the brand’s reputation for accuracy and precision.
Design is not just about making things look nice, it is the balance of aesthetics versus function. So often, we see brands offering beautifully designed and considered brochures only to overlook the design of the application form, consequently missing a crucial opportunity to communicate at the decisive moment when the customer will either commit to a purchase or reject it. To gain that all-important competitive edge and instill confidence in your brand, you must convey a positive impression at all stages of the customer journey…and that’s not achieved through looks alone.