The 3 Laws Of Design…Photoshop Not Included

The 3 Laws Of Design…Photoshop Not Included

This is a 3 part series walking you through the steps for creating a successful display ad campaign on the content network.

This week I’ll focus on the 3 laws of design that your website and display ads need to follow.

Let’s face it: unless you have background in design, or have a nephew who tinkers in Photoshop, laying out the graphic elements of your webpage and display ads can be a little daunting. Ever tried to learn any design principles on your own? Then you’ve probably been hammered with entire books talking about color theory or typography. Who has time to learn all that?

You’ll be happy to know that like everything else in life, the complexity of design is built upon a foundation of rules. Once you understand and follow the rules, the ascent up the learning curve becomes a lot easier. Now, if you’re worried that these rules are based upon a working knowledge of Photoshop, I’m pleased to tell you that they’re not. Nothing I’m going to tell you today has anything to do with Photoshop. Breathing easier? Good. Let’s get started.

First Rule of Design: Color Dictates Emotion

It’s estimated that the human eye can see 10 million colors. Your computer monitor can accurately display 16 million, with some capable of displaying 32 million. That’s a lot of choices to choose from. What’s even more amazing is that each one of those colors has an emotional impact on you. This is known as Color Psychology. The big players in the marketing world spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year studying the effect of color on the consumer. In my time in an agency, our first priority when starting a campaign was finalizing the color palette the campaign would be built upon. We didn’t actually look at the product, copy, or pictures until we had all the colors finalized. Color is that important.

All those millions of colors have been separated into seven basic groups. As a kid you learned them as ROYGBIV: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Some of those colors evoke strong emotions (yellow, and blue), while others tend to provoke a response (red is the most response driven color). Ever wonder why most hospital rooms and corridors are shades of green? It’s because green is the easiest color on the eyes, and it symbolizes nature: thus helping with relaxation.

Can you see how powerful this understanding can be? Without a word or picture on the page, a person’s emotions can be established just by the color combinations shown.

I urge you to go through this site on color psychology. What colors are you using in your current website or display ads? Why did you choose them? If you picked a color “just because I liked it” or “it’s my favorite,” chances are you could be using a more efficient color palette for your designs.

One more thing, remember that some colors work better together than others. This has both positive and negative consequences: red and green are one of the most compatible color combinations out there. What’s the problem though? No matter what’s being advertised, if you see red and green together you’re going to think Christmas.

Second Rule of Design: No Frilly Fonts

One of my design professors in college took the drastic step of removing all but 5 fonts from our workstation computers. For two years the only fonts I could use were Arial, Adobe Garamond, Helvetica, Times New Roman, and Verdana.

His point was simple: you don’t need to have cute fonts to have effective design. When you’re looking into creating your display ads and website, font choice will be a major factor.

Fonts basically fall into two categories: serif and sans-serif. Serif fonts have the little feet at the bottom of the characters. Times New Roman is a serif font. Sans-serif (or without-serif) doesn’t have them. Arial and Helvetica are two of the most popular sans-serif fonts out there.

As with color, each type of font has a certain subconscious response to it. Serif fonts are more traditional, and are almost always used in printed material. They are easy to read (especially in print), and work especially well as headline text. Sans-serif fonts are typically easier to read on computer screens, and are considered more modern.

As you’re browsing the internet take notice of the font choices being used on various web pages and ads. Typically you’ll see serif fonts on financial websites, or business journals. Sans-serif fonts will almost always accompany anything in the tech or social media realm.

Check out this awesome article  on how to properly select and use fonts. It’s especially useful to understand how letter spacing can make or break your ad copy. This understanding is especially important for display ads. If you’re running any, I challenge you to look over them again after going through this article. How many fonts are you using? Do they match with the fonts on your website? If not, why?

Third Rule of Design: A Picture Speaks… Well… Everything

I’m going to cut straight to the chase here: in today’s marketplace there is no excuse for your ads or website using shoddy photography. This was different five years ago, as it was very costly to use good photography in your advertisements. Royalty free images were hundreds or even thousands of dollars, and photographers were even more expensive for custom photo shoots.

That was five years ago. Today, getting top quality, royalty free images for your ads, can cost as little as $1. Seriously. Sites like iStockPhoto, Shutterstock, and even Flickr, have taken the royalty free marketplace by storm, and have made it possible for everyone to play with the big boys. Go to any one of those sites and start searching for pictures. It’s guaranteed to be a good time (many of the pictures are just hysterical, and you’ll want to develop ad campaigns around them). iStockPhoto and Shutterstock allow you to make “lightboxes” for the pictures you like. These collections contain the pictures that catch your eye so you can quickly find them again later. Take some time and make a couple lightboxes. You will start seeing similarities in the types of pictures that catch your eye.

In case you’re wondering, these sites are great for generic landscape, building, or posed model shots. They’re obviously not going to have your specific product on them, but they will give you a great idea of how good product photography looks. Next time you need a break from flipping through Excel spreadsheets, browse through one of these sites to get a better understanding of what they offer. Now, time for some homework.

I intentionally left this particular post a little vague with implementing these rules. Like most rules in life, you will learn these rules better when you’re actually implementing them. In my next post I will walk you through each of these steps as we start the planning process for a display ad. I will also give you tips on how to make these ads without using a six-figure budget. In the mean time, I encourage you to go out and take a look at the websites and ad campaigns for Nike, Apple and BMW. Take a look at the colors they are using. Notice the specific fonts they’re using, and how they’re specifically using them. Finally, look at the pictures they use in their ads and website. These companies continue to spend a fortune understanding each of these three rules so they can get an intentional response from you. If the big guys are investing in these three rules, shouldn’t you be as well?

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Joe Ryan

    I find your content to be outstanding but the color of your font too light for me to read easily.

Comments are closed.