Design is the process of creative problem solving: Because it is about solutions, it’s a practical process; because it is about creativity, it’s an aesthetic process. It’s not always easy to get these two aspects moving in harmony without letting one or the other take over. The practical requires logic, hard information and numeric accuracy. The creative requires subjectivity, critique and emotional evaluation.
I think everyone can agree that the Golden Gate Bridge is great design, even timeless. It is the marriage of an engineering feat with an aesthetic design perfect in scale and proportion. It achieves the solution of providing passage over the inlet of the San Francisco Bay while providing room for the shipping lanes below, and it is breathtaking to behold.
But say you’re a rural town of 30,000 people and you have to build a bridge over a 100-foot wide river flowing through your community: building the Golden Gate Bridge or anything like it would be absolutely ludicrous. That’s because, although both are bridges and both address spanning a course of water, the problems are also very different in their scopes and environments and the needs of the communities they serve. The rural community has to approach its problem as unique, and the design it ends up constructing may be as or more beautiful than the Golden Gate, but only if the bridge solves the problem both practically and aesthetically for its community and its course of water.
Shift over to graphic communications and apply the same concept: the practical aspect of a graphic communications design solution is getting information transmitted effectively (and cost-effectively) to a target audience. If you’re a local business that relies on your community to purchase your goods or services, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to produce a national television ad campaign. The commercial spots might be visually stunning and wildly creative, but you’re wasting your money delivering an extravagant spot to an overly broad audience when good design (practically and aesthetically) dictates targeting local neighborhoods with locally relevant information. You will have wasted a lot of money sending the wrong message to the wrong market.
Many businesses make this same mistake when approaching their website design. A retailer may look at the website for a national department store and want to emulate that, but the amount of purchasing traffic that will move through a local website may not even warrant an online shopping module. Also, purchasing elaborate third-party online services can be a mistake, since most are sold “packaged” or “bundled,” and you may get charged for a lot of services you’ll never use. Before letting your emotions and subjective decision-making take over, look at what communication functions your website will shoulder best, then budget and design around those needs and strengths.
One big responsibility for a designer is making sure the client doesn’t skew too far away from his or her main goal during the design process. The toughest thing a designer has to do is inform the client that his or her ideas or concepts are going in the wrong direction, or that the client’s decision is not using the marketing budget effectively, no matter how large the funds at your disposal are. If you’re working with a good designer, trusting his or her advice can be the first step to running a lean, clean promotional machine.
After all, communicating with local markets is about developing personal relationships with your local customers; finding ways to cultivate and motivate those over time. No matter how high-falutin’ the technology gets, it’s still word-of-mouth that get customers and clients through your doors and onto your books. It may show up as posts on Facebook or Tweets on Twitter or reviews on Yelp or other social rating sites, but it all comes down to people trusting people who say good things about what you do.
Even here in the 21st century, local marketing still comes down to generating backyard gossip and water-cooler buzz, even if it is taking place in cyberspace.