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Before & After: Things Every Designer Should Know
Illustration by John Hersey

Know your story: Part 1


From:

Before & After: Things Every Designer Should Know

with John McWade

Video: Know your story: Part 1

Design begins pretty much in the same place that a road trip begins. Before you take a trip, the first and most important thing you need to know is where you're going. I mean, it doesn't matter how efficiently you pack or how well you drive, if you don't know where you're going, you're not going to get there. So, step one is to Know Your Story. I have an example of a good way to know your story, but I have to tell you a story.

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Before & After: Things Every Designer Should Know
1h 5m Appropriate for all Feb 27, 2013

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Appearance may not be everything, but how something looks has a fundamental impact on how it's perceived, what it communicates, and whether it succeeds. In this course, author John McWade of Before & After magazine shares foundational graphic design techniques that will make your page, screen, product, or presentation look and perform its best.

These design essentials can be used by nondesigners as tips, tricks, and shortcuts, and by professionals as building blocks to greater understanding. Each lesson is a short, easy-to-understand how-to that can be applied regardless of the brand of software and hardware you use. This course was created and produced by the Before & After magazine team. We are honored to host this content in our library.

Subjects:
Design Page Layout Typography Design Techniques Design Skills
Author:
John McWade

Know your story: Part 1

Design begins pretty much in the same place that a road trip begins. Before you take a trip, the first and most important thing you need to know is where you're going. I mean, it doesn't matter how efficiently you pack or how well you drive, if you don't know where you're going, you're not going to get there. So, step one is to Know Your Story. I have an example of a good way to know your story, but I have to tell you a story.

A number of years ago a young woman, a thirty-ish woman named Jennifer Diamond died of a rare form of cancer, and her family chose to establish a foundation in her name to educate others about this type of cancer. So they formed the Jennifer Diamond foundation, and right at the outset they brought in designer Karen Barranco to help them develop a logo and a look to really make the work visible to the public, and they sat for a long time and exchanged stories back and forth of Jennifer and her life and what was meaningful to her and what they--they wanted the foundation to represent and to look like, and out of that came a list not a long list, but a list of keywords.

As it turns out the image of a dragonfly was important to Jennifer in her life. I guess in Eastern thought a dragonfly means a healing messenger or can represent a healing messenger, and they decided this would be the appropriate image. So at that point everything got written down on paper, and everybody signed off on it. Karen understood what they were looking for, and they understood what they were looking for.

And I'll tell you up front that the client sometimes doesn't know, the client sometimes can't articulate what he wants. So it's up to the designer to work with them until they get the definition. But once you have it, write it all down and everybody sign off on it. This does two things: one, it gives everybody an understanding of the goal, which is vital to a good design project, and two, it keeps the conversation at a high level, and by that I mean we all have personal artistic preferences, you know, I like red, you like blue.

And what you don't want is to bring a piece of work back to the client and start getting it nitpicked. Gee, could you make that a different shade of green or could you move this thing over here and make this a little bigger or bolder or whatever. You don't want to go there, and having a creative brief will prevent that, because now you bring a piece of work back to the client and you can put it on the wall and everyone look at it and say does this design fulfill the goal? And you can set personal preferences aside for the most part and evaluate it that way, much better conversation to have.

Karen sat down with her dragonfly and began sketching. First step was to get the correct view, you know we're not talking about a dragonfly like the insect with sticky little feet, but rather kind of the regal four-winged creature, and so she just began sketching. And when she added this circle that represented the head, she realized that she had-- she had found something special.

So this is the one that she rendered in Illustrator and presented to the client and the client was thrilled with it. Except for one thing, you know that red/blue thing. The client does get a vote. And the two lines that converged near the navel reminded Mr. Diamond of the feeding tubes that were in his daughter as she lie dying, and he asked Karen if she would remove those, and of course, yes, she would.

And when she did, the logo became fantastic. It's beautiful, it's feminine, it's angelic, it's stately, you see in it a woman, you see in it a dragonfly, you see in it an angel, looks very much like a healing messenger. It's a fantastic logo and it became the symbol for the Jennifer Diamond Foundation.

It's as good as it is for two reasons, one because Karen is the designer she is, but two because everybody got very clear up front together what they wanted to achieve. So this is the--this is the creative brief process, vital part of any design. When you're branding it's more important than if you're just, you know whipping out a quick flyer for something, but even there you have a story to tell.

As a designer, you need to know what that story is. So, know your story. First step, know your story.

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