Originally I was going to title this post “design commandments” but as I’m not feeling very divine or dictator-ish today, we’ll stick with guidelines. These are some tips that both the designer and the client should keep in mind as they design any materials – printed or online – so they can have the desired impact. After all, design is a tool used to accomplish something. (If you just want to show a pretty picture, it’s art. If you want to accomplish something, it’s design.)

1. Know Your Audience
Before you start creating a website, flyer, logo, or anything else, it is important to know who you are talking to. You need to know not only some basic demographic facts (age, gender, location, etc.) about your audience, but also what those characteristics mean for your design and your overall marketing strategy. What cultural assumptions do they have? What colors and styles appeal to them? What opinions do they have about your product/industry? This information about your audience should impact the colors, fonts, images, and overall look of your design.

2. Know Your Message
Every marketing component should have a clear message. It should communicate information about your company, persuade the customers to take action, or help them understand some information. The specific message will be different for each project, but all designs should work together to build a consistent image for your company.

3. The Audience’s Opinion is More Important Than Yours
When it comes to design, it doesn’t really matter what you like; what matters is what your audience will like. You may think that unicorns are a great symbol of wisdom and timelessness and should be incorporated into the logo for your financial services company, but if your audience will interpret unicorns as childish and their mythical status as symbolic of capital gains that they will never see, you’re better off not using the unicorn, even though you love the idea. When designing, you have to be willing to set aside your personal preferences and focus on what will be the most effective in accomplishing your goal.

4. Double-Check Everything
Spell check everything. Then have someone else look at it and catch what you missed. Sometimes after working on something for long enough, you start to see only what you intended to say and not what is actually on the page. Also pay attention to your images. Make sure something isn’t cropped weird or has an awkward juxtaposition between objects. Double-check the edges and make sure everything lines up exactly as it should.

5. Don’t Be Stupid
Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. Just because you can use an animated talking pony on the home page of your website doesn’t mean you should. Don’t use your design to show off. Use it to communicate something. The design should call attention to the message, not to itself.


These are just a few of the guidelines that I thought of. Feel free to add your own guidelines in the comments!