Functional vs. Pretty

The single biggest design mistake non-designers make is to put too much emphasis on appearance.

But design is all about appearance, right? And we want everything we design to look good, right? Well, yes. But your #1 design goal should NEVER be for it to look pretty. Your goal should be for it to be functional and useful. Attractiveness should ALWAYS be secondary to functionality.

How many times have you seen a poster or a billboard and thought, “Wow, that’s beautiful, but I have no idea what it means.” Or “Wow, that was pretty, but the type was so small I couldn’t read what it said.” Sometimes marketers do this on purpose, and since I’m not a professional marketer, I can’t say if it’s an effective strategy or not. But as a professional communicator, I can tell you that you cannot afford ambiguous communication with your employees.

Ambiguity is bad for them AND for you

When you communicate with your employees, it’s usually about something important to them: their benefits, their pay, company policies, required training, etc. And often it requires some sort of action on their part: enrolling in benefits, acknowledging policy changes, completing forms, etc.

If you don’t VERY clearly communicate what they need to know and what they’re supposed to do about it, you run the risk of them missing out on something that impacts their health, their job or their family.

When this happens, the company suffers as well. Enrollment drops, new policies don’t get followed, legal issues arise, employee satisfaction declines and retention suffers.

If those aren’t enough reasons to be clear and concise, consider this: Every time you communicate with your employees, you are pulling them away from their real work. The work you’re paying them to do. Forcing employees to spend time deciphering your message not only wastes their time, it costs your company money.

Make it clear, THEN make it pretty

When asked to create a flyer for an employee program, most non-designers (and sadly, some professional designers) will immediately focus on how it should look. THEN they decide how to fit the message into the design. This is the exact opposite of how it should be done.

The first step in the design process should always be to decide what you want the finished piece to accomplish. In the case of a flyer, do you just want to catch employees’ attention and make them aware of the program’s existence? Or do they need to take some kind of action?

Then figure out what your message is (KEEP IT SIMPLE!) and make that message the most prominent element in your design. If an employee can’t look at your flyer for ten seconds and know what it’s about and what they need to do in response, you’ve failed as a communicator.

Then and ONLY then should you worry about making it pretty by adding color, changing fonts, and using graphics or photos. When properly and sparingly used, these design elements can support your message, increasing the effectiveness of the communication. At the very least, they should be neutral. Design elements should NEVER distract or detract from the message.

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