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The Fundamentals of Compelling Design

September 26, 2014
I’ve spoken a good bit about branding and how to brand using social media. Now I want to touch on something that is integral to both concepts – especially establishing your city’s overall brand concept. Paramount in any solid branding campaign is compelling design. 

In previous columns, I’ve discussed the importance of understanding your community’s established visual standard and ensuring your brand fits into that aesthetic. As you begin to look around at the visually pleasing aspects of your town, start to catalogue a few of the trends and recurrent themes you see. What do you find compelling about these images? 

I’m willing to bet it can be grouped into two basic concepts: 

Compelling design is a study in contrasts: Look at how fonts are used in print, on signs and on television. You will notice what is most pleasing to the eye usually contrasts two fonts against each other (check out this example). They usually include a serif font (those fonts that have the “little feet”) and a sans-serif font (without the “feet”) very close together. In this example, they really hammer home the aspect of contrasting modern (in design, usually sans serif fonts are seen as more modern and cutting edge) and the concept of family (a familiar, friendly font that’s old-fashioned).  

The words might be two highly contrasting colors – for instance orange and black -- to suggest a major juxtaposition that the mind should understand as integral to the concept. Or similar colors might be contrasted against each other to suggest movement or evolution (check out this example).  

Compelling design is balanced: Take a look at advertisements in large circulation magazines. Most of the time, they will not be completely centered – this can be very boring to the eye (though some centered design is quite effective). However, you will find they are balanced (check out this example). Compelling design plays form against form (it contrasts the forms, to reference No. 1) to please the eye.  

For instance, take a look at a major newspaper’s front page (here are a lot of examples). In many of these examples, the dominant image is not in the center of the page. Instead, it’s often pushed to the right or left and contrasted with text or smaller images placed throughout the page.  

Balance is a difficult concept for non-designers; novices usually consider balanced analogous with centered. But one of the hallmarks of confident design is the high-wire act of finding balance, and that is no easy task. It just takes work. 

OK, that’s it for this month. Next month I’ll discuss these concepts in more detail using some examples from where I work, Milton.
Jason Wright is Communications Manager for the Georgia Tech Research Library. Up until November 2015, he was the Director of Innovation and Engagement for the City of Milton where he oversaw all aspects of the city's branding and communications efforts, including transparency, automation, design, photography, printing, web services and social media and public outreach.

Prior to Milton, Wright spent seven years working in the magazine and newspaper business. Most recently he was editor of both the Milton Herald and Alpharetta–Roswell Revue and News, where he wrote, edited, photographed for and oversaw design of the weekly papers. Prior to that, he worked as a writer, editor, designer and photographer for local, regional and national publication.