Join John McWade for an in-depth discussion in this video The challenge, part of Before & After Case Study: Informational Sign Redesign.
- Here's what goes on the sign. It'll have copy describing Seneca Meadows, announcing the important bird-area designation, explaining what an important bird area is, listing the most common birds in the area, it'll have photos of the Seneca birds, and it'll have a company logo and an Audubon logo. All this information was provided to the designer but with no instructions. As a client, this is something you should never not do.
You don't need to know how the sign should look, that's the designer's job, but it is your message so you want to articulate in as much detail as possible what the piece is to embody. And if you're the designer, you want to hear in as much detail as possible what the piece is to embody. In this case it's all the stuff that's just been said, to clearly announce that we're an important bird area, explain what that means, picture the birds, create a sense of engagement, and display it all in such a way that visitors can relate to it, learn from it and be proud of it.
If the client doesn't do that, and if the designer doesn't ask or even know to ask, you'll get a design that looks like this. You're setting out for a hike and you come across this sign. What would you think? I can kinda guess. You'd walk up and try to make some sense out of it. What is this, why is it here, what's IESI, what are those pictures, and so on. You shouldn't have to do that, the design should clue you to all of those things, but this one doesn't.
It has no starting point, no end, there's no differentiation of information, on the page are just a half dozen visually unrelated pieces. The result is that there's no meaning here, there's no communication, it's hard to tell what the designer was even thinking. I mean, the round logo is huge, it's two feet across, but why? The logo's not important, but the birds, which are very important, are small and hard to see.
Those backgrounds are like camouflage. You would make them easier to see, but here the opposite got done. They've been set against a dark background so they blend even more. Here's the thing, that was a design decision. The designer then made the background blue, which made it worse. Natural, outdoorsy stuff is not blue. For the outdoors you'll almost always want earth tones, these saturated greens and browns and grays, clays, bricks, the blue looks like it was picked up from the logo, which is a good way to tie elements together, but not here.
It's the wrong color and it's a meaningless connection. If you're gonna tie things together you need a functional reason. I mention this stuff because the design decisions here are unrelated to anything real, they're just arbitrary, and arbitrary never works. That's because every mark, every shape, every line you put on a page has an effect on the viewer. You need to know what it does, and use it to accomplish something.
For example, lines of things, like the vertical line of photos, lead your eye. Our eyes follow lines, and they follow this one too, but then what? All it does is chop the page in two for no reason. The dictionary says that, "To design means to plan." so we really can't call this a design. Our challenge for the next 30 minutes is to fix it.