"A Graphic Design Agency That Takes The Status-Quo and Eats It."

RITUAL – Alluring

This part of RITUAL is where non-creatives really struggle – what looks good is totally subjective and instead of trying something new, the safe option seems preferable. Time to prepare for war.

22 March 2015
Josh Davidson

This is the one I’ve been looking forward to – this part of RITUAL is the most singular, unrefined concentration of the industry. I say ‘unrefined’ because alluring is the evolved form of ‘attention-grabbing,’ which is a lesser way of saying something is visually attractive. I have faith in the fact that designers know they can do better. Their capacity to make things look good is clearly essential, which is exactly why it’s part of RITUAL; the difference with alluring lies in subtle attraction and depth, which few get right. Design ought to compel attention, rather than demand it; people want to look at it, which makes the transfer of information much easier.

In AIDA of…

A simple change of terminology immediately improves how we approach generating desire through design. A fundamental flaw with the AIDA funnel (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) is that it treats the AID parts as 3 entirely different things. A much better version would be DIA – Desire, Information and Action. The AIDA funnel element works on a number basis - get people’s Attention and thereby get some of them Interested, and then some of those will Desire the product: exactly the same technique telesales companies use. Using Desire at the first point of call targets people specifically, rather than trying to get everyone to look at it. This thinking removes the element of design made to literally steal someone’s focus away. It also adds depth, unlike the existing process of making everything white with a trendy, generic logo which has nothing interesting about it; it’s all so flat and thus, meaningless and desirable to no one.

Design Civil War.

There needs to be a middle ground in the battle between overly simple and catastrophically over-the-top design. Much like every nation needs a civil war to iron out exactly what the country stands for, the design industry is still finding out which side will best represent it. Right now (because it’s easier) it’s the simple stuff. To use a typically geeky analogy, I’m a bit like Spiderman in the Marvel Civil War event in that respect: I’m fighting both sides because neither side is totally right or wrong. My belief is that adopting the “Simplicity First” approach is not only lazy creative thinking; it doesn’t actually acknowledge what or whom the design is for. On the other hand, an overly complicated design shows a lack of creative discipline, a lack of understanding of the design’s objectives and insufficient knowledge of visual hierarchy and structure.

"I’m a bit like Spiderman in that respect: I’m fighting both sides because neither side is totally right or wrong."

The law of the land should be that each and every design project should, to the greatest possible extent, be treated individually. We need to bear in mind that different projects require drastically different approaches. Taking a pre-constructed design solution into a project addresses nothing that is important to the outcome.

One very easy way of pointing to the truth in that statement is by saying that everyone’s tastes are different. It’s exactly why we have different markets – most deodorants use basically the same ingredients but are packaged and branded differently to appeal to certain ages and genders. If they were all the same, customers wouldn’t identify with them.

Do, or do not. There is no ‘fan-art’.

However, customers identifying with a product (in terms of branding and design) shouldn’t mean the designers should do exactly what the audience says. This might sound harsh, but most customers don’t know what looks good. Think of test audiences for movies, most people on those panels just want to suggest what they think would work better, rather than conflating with the coherent artistic vision of a cinematic production. Everyone seems to have an idea of what they would do and because the vast majority of people like to think they’re creative, they believe their idea is fantastic. Seriously, bad things can happen when you start following on from customer suggestions; just look at some Star Wars fan-fiction for a case study.

The stuff that gets suggested is always an over-the-top version of an existing concept. Birthed from such ideas, often found online (cough, DeviantArt, cough), is the current TV series “Star Wars Rebels”. I am a really big fan of the SW franchise, but I cringe to see what comes from the minds of people trying to create things that look ‘cool’; there’s a bloody female Boba Fett protagonist, for crying out loud!

Now, I wasn’t just insulting the creative aspirations of an entire fandom for nothing - the point I want to make is that customers/followers/fans/whatever lack the objectivity to develop an idea subtly. To them, everything needs to be taken to an extreme in order to make what is already abundantly clear still more obvious: compare a fireworks display to a flash-bang and you see the effect this has. When a start-up company produces branding that looks ‘developmental’, nobody associates with it as they can see it clearly isn’t there yet. Leaving it wide open to them to make pointless suggestions like what colour it should be or to make it bigger – which is always just what they like/think. Summed up beautifully with the following quote:

“When you give people advice, all you’re telling them is how to be more like you.” – Doug Stanhope.

“You’re my favourite customer.”

As you may be starting to see, asking your potential audience what they think will work in the developmental stages can have disastrous consequences. Generally, this boils down to you asking the wrong people and mistaking them as your target audience, which is frightfully easy to do – especially if they are family. A thing seen in a lot of marketing strategies these days is to make up your customer. What they do is profile all the usual – age, sex, location and marital status, but then get really creative with what they like. Where they read, their eating habits, even their favourite perfume – the more detail, they say, the better. This is such a shoddy way of thinking about your target audience; you have generated a fantasy that is completely irrelevant to your business and uses made up facts that support corporate decisions in the place of actual business intelligence:

“My made-up customer ‘Maria’ reads Vogue!”

“Oh really? Well, that’s lovely, but you’re not about to advertise your quaint little coffee shop in there, are you?”

Not only is it silly to do this in oversaturated markets, but especially so in ones that don’t even yet exist. Do you think there was a defined market for smart phones before they came out? No; one was created. People make the mistake of thinking that if there isn’t an existing market for something, the demand for it isn’t there. Not true in the slightest. An example (from my own experience) is when people say; “there are no classy places to drink in Cornwall.” Does that mean there are no classy people in Cornwall? No. It means that people want a classy place to drink in Cornwall, or else it wouldn’t occur to them to point it out.

"I specialize in design; I have no authority in the arena of film and so I shouldn’t be telling them what works."

Back to test audiences: even if your person in question is actually (fantasy aside) your perfect customer, they can’t be as talented in your field as you are, or else they would be doing it. For instance, I absolutely love the direction the Marvel Cinematic Universe is going, I watch every single film multiple times and sit and have hour-long discussions on the nuances of character development etc. However, if they were to have asked me what I would have wanted to see and they had proceeded with it, the films would have flopped. I specialize in design; I have no authority in the arena of film and so I shouldn’t be telling them what works. It isn’t just about what I want; there are millions of other fans to think about. With that in mind, it’s far better to produce something you believe in and win over audiences/customers that way – you can’t please them all.

Mr. Stanhope, as quoted above, has a knack for not caring what people think. That’s not to say he’s an insensitive bastard, he just doesn’t see why people waste their time tiptoeing around the preferences of others. If he were to spend his time gearing his comedy towards the mainstream, he wouldn’t be funny – or just above Michael McIntyre. Instead he’s generated a cult following, one that’ll talk over his jokes alongside a pint. One of the few comedians who actually stand for something, he’s really easy to side with if you can get over the crudeness.

Essentially, he has the key ingredients to lasting fame, which isn’t necessarily about numbers of fans. He has a dedicated and enthusiastic audience, he has a point of view that actually counts for something and, perhaps most importantly, he’s doing it the way he wants to. More famous comedians are likely to fade into irrelevance, much like a football players post-40 (and that’s being very generous). They become greedy regarding their number of followers and often sell out to attract the biggest volumes of people. Such audiences really don’t care for the integrity of the performer, and often only care where they are going for drinks after the show.

“Hello, I do marketing!”

You’ve got to think outside of marketing when I discuss it. There are so many lessons you can take from things totally unrelated to the profession – helps you keep an open mind instead of using currently stagnating strategies. Referring to Doug’s wisdom helps illustrate the importance of ‘care’, as in, what’s the point of caring what people think if they don’t care about what you do? In the design world, selling out manifests itself as having a brand that is ‘accessible’ to everyone – this is a terrible idea and it’s what most branding born from this century so far is doing. ”I’ve got to make everyone like it because I don’t want to turn down potential business:” what a dumb sentiment. People may buy from you, but these are just people looking for the most efficient offerings and not clients who are actually invested in your company. You’ll always have to be the cheapest, or work the hardest for people that are too fickle to care – the absolute antithesis of branding and design.

Look at the divide generated between Apple and Microsoft in recent years as an example of good market segmentation, or better yet, making sure their target market cares for what they do. Apple has made what was once considered ‘dorky’ and ‘nerdy’ into an accessory that is regarded as so fashionable that people are compelled to buy basically the same model, each with a slightly bigger screen, every year or so. The PC world turned to producing similar tech that was less ‘pretty,’ but cheaper, and marketed it towards office complexes and the public sector. Not entirely bad moves considering there are still substantially more PCs in the world. You might argue that Apple is worth more in global markets, which just goes to show that when a company resonates well with people, they are willing to put their money down for it.

Microsoft has more revenue from a comparatively larger range of products, but is stretched a little thinner. More money has to be spent manufacturing and marketing products under their flagship gaming platform XBOX for example, as well as the multitude of other technical advancements that are developing the future of computing – just recently the “Hololens”. People who care about where technology is headed, as opposed to where it currently is, are more likely to support the brand without the company having to be as precious about it as Apple. This allows for a more diverse range of products and services, because the brand is a little looser, more nimble despite its size. If an audience doesn’t see product development as important and just want the next instalment in a series, they may purchase it with more cash because of the demand, but won’t care at all if they step outside the current “safe zone”. These sorts of things have quite a short half-life and their continual success is never guaranteed.

Attention-grappling.

So why has everyone settled on their designs just being attention-grabbing? There’s far more to design than contrasting colours and big typography. One thing humans like to do other than emulate creativity is learn ‘stuff’, they like to discover things. By cultivating an air mystery, desire and curiosity (to name a few) you can give the “there’s-just-something-about-it” feel to a brand or design. I grow weary of people that feel the need to get attention by visually screaming at people. It comes across as desperate and undisciplined, not to mention it can actually hurt your eyes in some cases. What these people don’t realise is that you can tap into the subconscious parts of the mind - often desire and curiosity - to make an impression on people. It’s a very abstract point of discussion; the difficulty in understanding such things is precisely why marketers go for predictable options. Hence why a change in terminology is in order: the term alluring actually relates more to physical attraction in, say, a person – but we feel it’s perfect suited to describing design considering that, at least in a base level, some of the same emotions are in play; obviously it’s very visual in both instances.

Being alluring is more of a long stare than a quick glance. This doesn’t mean to overload it with text because we’ve already established, that isn’t informative. Humans are too used to being bombarded with imagery and design that is demanding of attention, hoping that the potential viewer will glance and keep whatever brand it is in their minds. People have become very good at phasing this out, we’ve adapted the ability to ignore our surroundings to avoid having such things pushed into our short-term memory; if you’re anything like me you’ll realise that area of the mind is precious brain real-estate.

What alluring means is generating a pleasant viewing-experience, like when you watch a sunset. It’s just a generic example, but you can take notes from the things you enjoy. Sunset’s have a range of colours that harmonise and aren’t heavy, the only time you’d see the sky as blood red would be the apocalypse. I mention comedians because they are funny (mostly) which is something that can be used to really engage people. Subverting expectation, targeted marketing, shared interests – all very good ways of getting a positive and engaging response.

None of the parts of RITUAL are about telling you how to design in a technical manner; it is instead what to bear in mind and how to question an idea/concept. Think objectively about the design, just because you’ve been staring at the work or had the idea for ages doesn’t mean the viewer is going have the same interest or investment into as you have – naturally you’re going to think it’s good anyway. It’s better to think beyond just ‘good;’ use RITUAL to rationalise an idea/concept into existence rather than after. There’s a sense of pride that comes from achieving an objective, if said objective is just to catch the glance of a random passer-by they you haven’t really achieved anything.

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Change alone is perpetual, eternal, immortal.