Good design requires good content

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In my career as a freelance designer, I have come to appreciate a few things that can give any project a major boost. But these details tend to get overlooked on projects with smaller budgets. They shouldn’t be, though. Here’s why.

Choose a strong brand name

What will get people excited to buy or use your product? What will roll off your customers’ tongues when they tell their friends about your stuff?

You don’t necessarily have to have a slick name. It really just needs to capture people’s attention.

Years ago, I worked at a small board shop, and at the register there was a product called “Cat Crap.” I have no idea why that company decided to name its brand after literal poo, but every single person who walked by the cash register picked it up and looked at it. It was an anti-fog product for ski/snowboarding goggles, and an awful lot of people sure purchased it.

On the flip side, I named my design studio “LOKA”, which I thought I’d thoroughly researched and vetted. It was, as far as I could tell, like Kodak—one of my all-time favorite brands—in that it had no meaning or association at all as an English word. Google searches taught me that in Sanscrit it meant “world” and carried several associated concepts, which all seemed lovely and fine. But I completely ignored the fact that it also kind of sounded like the Spanish word for “crazy,” just spelled with a “k” instead of a “c.” Every time I told anyone what my brand was, they said “nice” with an erroneous head nod. So, I might as well have named it “Krazy.” Which I hate.

Anyway, dedicate a lot of deep thought to your brand name. Run it past a lot of people. Be open and receptive to their criticism. And also feel free to keep it open if you’re hiring a branding firm.

Fast Company has a great, short write-up on choosing a name.

Hire writers and copyeditors

I’m amazed at how many clients—even the big ones that employ design agencies—think that excellent copy just appears. It doesn’t. Yet it’s so, so, so vital to have well-written text that describes your product or service.

Once, when I was working with an agency, we were helping Coca-Cola rebrand its offerings at the Bronx Zoo in New York City. There was no copy team in place, so the design team came up with lists of headlines. I came up with “Otterly Refreshing,” which Coca-Cola approved. Almost ten years later (at the time of writing), it is still up at the zoo. This alone should be enough to convince you to hire good (or maybe just any) writers.

Good design is good storytelling. And, really, there are so many products available that, to stand out, we all need to work together to tell the best story possible. Professional writers and copyeditors know how to make static words on a page sing. (Just ask the editor who tidied up this post.) Hire them.

“Content precedes design. Design in advance of content is not design, it’s decoration.”

Jeffrey Zeldman

Make a good product, and hire a good product photographer

If you’re selling a physical product, investing in high-quality industrial, or product, design—as well as professional photography to communicate that quality—is a must. The most expensive branding and web design can not spackle over gaps in those processes.

Apple is the gold standard in industrial design. As arguably the most well-designed tech company out there today, it hires the best UI/UX designers in the world. But if you look critically at Apple’s website, you’ll see meticulous industrial design and literally perfect photography doing almost all the work to make the products look so lusty. The design is so minimal and smart.

In a potentially more accessible category are the online clothing retailer Taylor Stitch and coffee product designer Fellow, which both have minimalist, template-based websites. Still, exceptional photography does all the work of showcasing their products. Taylor Stitch employs a modified Shopify theme, and Fellow uses a prepackaged WordPress theme. These are both less-expensive design ecosystems, but because both companies have invested in photography and their physical products are well designed, it works. (Confession: it’s worked on me…more than once.)

“Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.”

Joe Sparano
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