Communicating an Idea

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There are a lot of ways of communicating. There are a lot of different things that need communicating. Ideas, Directions, Suggestions, Feelings, Thoughts, Implications. You can speak it, write it, imply it, draw it, design it. I for one, usually think of the work that graphic designers do when I hear this phrase, because it was drilled into my head that this was what they did. They "communicated ideas", not "designed stuff". When I was a burnt out student, this concept began to annoy me.

(As an aside, I will mention that getting burnt out is never good, as it, at times, results in handing in class projects completed, purposefully, entirely in the font courier. I think graphic designers will  be the only ones to get this little quip.)

Now that I've been working for a number of years, I'm starting to come around to the phrase, not that I ever denied its truth, but rather that it took me a while until I felt that I could use it to explain what I do and not feel like a fool saying it. I communicate ideas, now more than ever. I design things, write things, create things, and while some people have commented to me that I'm somewhat of a "Jack of all trades" (pun intended, I assume) to me it doesn't seem that way. The skills all seem interrelated.

For one example, two of the skill sets that I use regularly in the workplace are two that for some reason people assume aren't really related. By trade I'm a graphic designer. To say you are a graphic designer can mean a lot of things to a lot of people - it's kind of like saying you are a "doctor". Well, lets hope that if I'm having a baby in an elevator, and you are a "doctor", that you aren't a podiatrist. That said, I'd likely be better off with you (the podiatrist) than I would be with Joe Schmo, the accountant. My point being, saying you are a 'graphic designer' can really mean a lot of different things. We're a spectrum. Anyhow, I'm a designer, with a specialty in printed media, and a background in creative design as well as corporate design (which isn't always so creative). Secondly, though potentially primarily, I'm a marketer. I do a lot of writing - press releases, blog posts, ad copy and so on.  To me these two things have always seemed hand in hand.

While being a copy writer and pr person is not necessarily what a graphic designer does,  I don't personally think the skill set is that different. A good graphic designer and a good writer share more than you'd think.

Here's 6 important skills good designers and good business writers share:

1. Killer Research
 You can't be a good writer or a good designer without doing a lot of research. If you are designing a logo or branding program, you had better know that company inside and out. You should understand who they are, what they do, how they do it. You had better know what their competitors are doing, what their logos look like, and after that, you should also make sure your designs are fresh, current and have a long shelf life. It's a lot to learn. A lot of clients will give a design assignment like so: "Here's my company name. I like purple. Can you have a great logo by tomorrow?" But really, how much can you really do with that? That would be like saying to a pr person: "Tell them we're awesome. Tell them we like stuff. And make sure they print that." My point is that the client can't always tell you exactly what they need and why they need it. That's why they have hired you. To do the research and to figure out what they need. In public relations, where you as the PR person are the face and voice of that company, you should really know who they are, what they do, where they came from. If you don't know the organization inside and out, as well as the particular promo item inside and out, you will mess up. For both jobs, research is the most important step, and should be your first.

2. Knowing your audience.
 Similarly to point one, how can you create a design, or write ad copy, if you don't know your audience? Research, of course. Getting to know about demographics, trends, market strategies...all of it will contribute to a better solution to your design or communications problem.

3. Being clear and concise.
 Writing about something complicated can easily get wordy and convoluted. Designing a poster for something that has many details can get overwhelming. There is always temptation to add more. Another tag line, another image, more words, more info. That "tell them everything!" feeling is hard to shake. Writing for marketing purposes should follow the same rules a great poster design does: be compelling, get their attention, don't say too much, just get the most important details out there, leave them wanting more. 

4. Listening to instructions 
 A client for a design gig and a client for a writing gig will give you instructions. They will likely be unorganized, off the cuff and will not necessarily entirely accurate to what they actually want. But the best first step in either case is listening carefully when people express what they want to you. Interpret what they say, sure, but make sure you listen closely. Taking notes helps too. If you don't listen, you'll either produce a design that isn't what the client wants, or you'll write a blog post with incorrect information. It happens, and it happens because there was a communication breakdown. You can't make other people communicate more effectively (after all, that's what they are hiring you to do), but you can always try to be a better listener.

5. Meeting deadlines
 I guess a lot of jobs include deadlines, but the deadlines in design and marketing materials are both very similar. They tend to be short and they tend to be very firm. There is no room for error and planning your time wisely is essential to success. There is no point in sending out a press release after the event.  A business card does nothing for the client's important meeting if it arrives two days late. Missing deadlines in either field is totally inexcusable, and consistently meeting deadlines will only help your customer satisfaction.

6. Did I already say research?
I've been thinking about this one a lot lately, because I'm now working for an art gallery. For the gallery I'm producing everything from invites and logos to pr kits and newsletters. The same research I do for one, I can do for the other. If I'm promoting an upcoming exhibit, I read the curator's notes and essay. The feeling I get about the show from those notes, I now need to place into the invitation and the press release. Same research, two different results. What I can say firmly about research is, the more you do of it, the easier your press release or postcard comes together. It feels as if the design or the copy creates itself. The solution to your problem - explaining what the show's all about - becomes much easier when you understand what it is about.

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