What Comic Books Teach You About Design

Keila White
Keila White in Design

I can rant on forever about why comics are great. The combination of visual elements and text call to me. Plus, I am a sucker for a great hero. Better yet, a great villain.

 

In Scott Mcloud’s Understanding Comics, he defines comics as “Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response from the viewer.”  As I read, a light bulb flashed on top of my head: comic book artists have similar goals as designers. We both use images and other pictorial elements to convey information. We both work to get specific responses from our viewer. I took some insight from this book and applied it to what I do as a Designer.

 

Build Visual Vocabulary

 

Both comics and design utilize iconography and a set visual vocabulary to communicate an idea. Keep in mind,words are abstract icons. Words represent an idea, not the physical representation of that idea.

 

Comic book artists use simplification to entice a response from their viewer. People respond to cartoon images versus realistic images through simplification. For example, smiley faces are so stripped down, anyone can identify with them.

 

 

“Comic book artists use simplification to entice a response from their viewer.”

 

To effectively communicate, iconography should remain simple. The more realistic an icon is, the less effective it will be. For instance, icons that include people with realistic features are not inclusive of everyone. A faceless and gender neutral icon can be you, me, or the next door neighbor. We can identify with these faceless icons. Work within a visual vocabulary of basic shapes to build simple but effective iconography.

 

Speak the user’s visual language: build on norms to communicate. For example, people associate a floppy disk icon with saving. I did not say all icons make sense, but, norms are exploitable. Expand your vocabulary by looking at icon libraries, observing everyday iconography like street signs, and studying typefaces.

 

To take this idea further, design the rules of your visual language. Use these parameters as a jumping off point and reference throughout the design process. Work within a set photo style and color scheme. Choose a concept to consistently convey throughout the piece. Set these parameters at the beginning of the process to build consistency. Never forget that the complication of a visual vocabulary takes away from ideas.

 

Provide Closure

 

Closure is observing parts and perceiving them as a whole. Closure involves arranging elements so people can mentally connect the dots to complete your story. Both designs and comics need closure. Great designs and comics do this well.

 

 

“Both designs and comics need closure. Great designs and comics do this well.”

 

When designing an interface, tell a story with a beginning middle and end.  Design elements to lead users through the story, similarly to comic book panels. The user is a participant who dissects what is on the page and creates a new reality from it.

 

Give the user tools to move through this new world. Guide the user to the destination through composition and visual hierarchies to gain closure. Elegant design provides closure while presenting minimal information. When you allow the user to complete information and connect the dots themselves, they will identify with the design. Those connections allow the user to see themselves in the design.

 

Create Additive and Subtractive Work

 

Elements omitted from the comic, or design, are as much a part of the work as those included.

 

Japanese comics are known for using panels to build an atmosphere. The reader recognizes the reality through panels that move throughout the scene. Comparatively, western comics contain panels that are action based without depicting much atmosphere. Western comics do not wander much in terms of moving along the story.

 

Strike a balance by creating work that is both additive and subtractive. Add enough visual information to create atmosphere while subtracting enough to let ideas flow seamlessly. Use the additive information to amplify meaning without letting it become a distraction. Less is more with design and comics.

 

 

“Use additive information to amplify meaning…”

 

The next time you are busted for reading Batman at your desk, explain that you are learning about consistent visual vocabularies, providing closure, and creating additive and subtractive work. Think of yourself as a designer assigned to tell a brand’s story.  We are working towards similar goals as comic book artists. Designers can learn a lot from the comic book profession.  


Design for User Experience

Keila White
Keila White in Design

Information is the lifeblood of design. Without information, design is useless. Web users do not spend as much time focusing on fonts and colors as designers would like to believe. They want information.

Fellow designers, I am with you; I die a little when good companies use inefficient typography. If design is not about about aesthetics, what is keeping designers from living a life on the run and becoming design vigilantes? Kerning for justice in the face of ugliness?

I’ll admit this approach is drastic. So before you go out and buy a cape, try this approach – focus on user experience.  Before focusing on aesthetic elements, do your research. Utilize problem solving skills to accomplish goals, give users what they need, and organize information effectively.

 

Define Goals and Set Objectives

It is a designer’s job to solve problems and work toward specific goals. Goals must be established before pixels hit the screen. Parameters are set to work toward a specific outcome. While it may seem that rules limit creativity, they actually set the stage for good design. Clearly defined goals produce obtainable objectives.

 

 

“It is a designer’s job to solve problems and work toward specific goals.”

 

The first step to designing anything is getting to the core of the problem. This could be anything from providing contact information, to organizing the hierarchy within the page, or achieving more sales.

Once a problem is defined, a solution can be created, and objectives are then set to achieve that solution. Define goals for both the user and client, then align those goals. This process gives focus to the design process and clarifies what the design is communicating.

 

Know the User

The key to knowing your user is identifying the target audience. The target audience is the ideal audience for your website within your demographic.

Keep in mind, the target audience for a website about fuzzy flying unicorns is not composed of 40 year old business men. Some of your audience may include 40 year old business men, but not all.

You may be asking “Shouldn’t everyone to be the target audience? The more people you target the more people will visit, right?”  When your target audience is everyone the message gets diluted. Users’ needs cannot be anticipated when everyone is part of the target audience.

At Fahrenheit Marketing, we create User Personas. A User Persona is a fictional or real user of the website.

A persona can embody the demographic of the user and have the same motivations as the target audience. However, the user persona can also represent a user who does not use your site. This shows who not to design for, which can be just as helpful

Designers utilize User Personas to solve problems with a single user in mind. Personas paired with other research methods such as competitor analysis and an analytical review give designers the tools to understand who their user is, what they are accustomed to, and what motivates them.

 

Design with Users in Mind

The goal for creating optimal user experience is making the site obvious and simple, which is not as simple as it seems. Designers use research to craft tailored experiences for the user.

Utilize conventions within the demographic to make the design easier to use. Conventions do not produce conventional design when they are used to enhance usability. Important information should be easily accessible to ensure users can accomplish their goals.

 

 

“Conventions do not produce conventional design when they are used to enhance usability.”

 

For example, If the user is looking to access contact information, contact information must be on top of the visual hierarchy. The visual hierarchy needs to be arranged so information is scannable. This includes clearly defining sections and reducing clutter to clarify information.

Allow some information to fall back so important information can move forward. Decipher what is important by referring back to the research throughout the design process. Give the user what they need, while simultaneously enticing them to go deeper into the site.

 

Designers have a complete arsenal of skills to create work that is visually pleasing and efficient for the user. Ultimately, precise planning goes into excellent web usability. When designers do their  research, they can better understand their users and present information for optimal usability.  


The Marketing of You

Adriana Thompson
Adriana Thompson in Marketing

Marketing is everywhere. From the time we wake up and enjoy our first cup of Folger’s coffee to the time we brush our teeth with Colgate Optic White toothpaste and hop into our Tempurpedic bed, we are delivered thousands of messages from thousands of brands.

A brand sets a product or service apart from another product or service, or one person from another person. That’s right, we’re talking about personal branding. Remember, marketing is everywhere.

The American Marketing Association defines marketing as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

We can then define personal branding as “the activity and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging your personal skills and experience that have value for employers, coworkers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

 

Why is a Personal Brand Important?

 

“Your smile is your logo, your personality is your business card, how you leave others feeling after having an experience with you becomes your trademark.”

Jay Danzie

 

A personal brand, like a product’s brand, is important because it sets you apart from others. Your personal brand is constantly developing as you acquire new skills and experience. It answers the questions of who you are and what you want to accomplish in your career.

 

Business man leading team of business people

 

If you’re competing for your dream job or have your eyes set on a promotion, your personal brand can help you achieve these goals.

 

Personal branding is a great tool, but it’s overlooked by many people. Whether you’re a media buyer or a software engineer, personal branding is important for many reasons:

  • A strong personal brand can help you be more competitive as a potential employee
  • A strong personal brand can help you achieve career goals
  • A strong personal brand can help you get a promotion

 

A personal brand, when presented in a clear and consistent way, tells people who you are and the value you could bring to their organization, project, or team. The great news is that we are all unique and each of us has something valuable to bring to a business, client, or customer.

 

How Do I Build a Personal Brand?

Like a product’s brand, there is a strategy to developing your personal brand. Here are 4 things to consider when building your brand.

  1. Develop Your Personal Brand Vision
  2. Identify and Cater to Your Target Audience
  3. Develop Your Online & Offline Presence
  4. Grow and Adjust Your Brand Accordingly

 

Personal Brand Vision

The first step a company takes when branding themselves is developing the brand’s vision. A personal brand begins with identifying your vision and where you want to go. Do not try to oversell or undersell yourself. Be honest with yourself, evaluating your strengths and weaknesses, and develop your brand around the unique things you offer.

 

Think about your career and the things you want to accomplish. Consider your values and what is most important to you. Write a personal mission statement; this will help you focus on your main goals and the values by which you will accomplish them.

 

Whether you want to become a CEO, start your own company, or become an expert in your field, a mission statement will lay the foundation for your personal brand because it should reveal who you are and where you are going.

 

Your Target Audience

Brands sell products or services to customers. Personal brands sell your experience and skills to potential employers, clients, or customers. In order to develop a strong, clear brand, you must know the audience you’re targeting.

 

Possible target audiences include:

  • Potential employers
  • Superiors within the organization
  • Coworkers
  • Potential customers

 

Illustration of magnifying glass on two people with gears in the background and circles around the magnifying glass, target market concept

 

One of the most important things in the marketing world is networking; it’s about who you know and who they know. You can advertise your personal brand as you network, building the relationships you need for current and future business. Connections are valuable assets for all people in business.

 

Online & Offline Presence

Social media offers people the chance to broadcast their personal brands to the world. Make sure you’re on all of the major social media sites:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • GooglePlus
  • Instagram
  • Youtube (Videos are gaining popularity and are a simple way to share more about yourself with your audience)

 

Make yourself a personal website with your resume, your experience, and your contact information. This provides another way for people to experience your brand.

 

Woman looking at tablet in a chair at an office desk with windows in the background

 

For your offline presence, design a unique, creative business card. A business card with an innovative design that reflects your profession and your expertise can help set you apart from others. The design should match or complement your personal website, developing a consistent image.

 

The most important thing to remember when developing your personal brand is consistency. You want to provide people with a clear message of who you are and what you do; all of your social media sites and business cards should contain the same information and emphasize the same things. A clear brand is much more memorable than a brand sending mixed messages.

 

Constantly Evaluate

As you grow and develop new skills in your profession, your personal brand should grow as well.

 

Monitor your brand and how others are reacting to you. Like a business, you need to immediately respond to both positive and negative feedback. From Google Alerts to Hootsuite, there are plenty of tools to help you monitor your personal brand.

 

Woman typing on laptop sitting on table

 

Remember This

Here are the main things to remember when developing your personal brand:

  • Be yourself; capitalize on your strengths
  • Understand your target audience
  • Present a cohesive image throughout your online and offline presence
  • As you grow, make sure your personal brand grows too

 

Your personal brand tells us who you are, where you’re going, and the value you can bring. You offer something that nobody else can offer – you.


Marketing & Sales: A Love Affair

Tiffanie Wichman
Tiffanie Wichman in Marketing

The longest lasting love affair is the romantic relationship between marketing and sales. These two peas in a pod rely heavily on each other for results. Marketing creates the channels for sales to obtain leads and conversions. Whereas sales communicates statistics back to marketing, letting them know the needs and wants of the consumers in order to better market the services/products that align with their needs. Just like in any relationship, the two should serve and support each other, and as you’ll see marketing and sales do this through many facets.

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