At Midwest our creative team is constantly pursuing better graphic design. Much of what we do centers around raw functionality, such as designing a mail piece that passes breezily through mail sorting equipment. But when it comes to creating client direct marketing campaigns, we get to flex our creative muscles a bit.
Here are a few of the tried and true design rules we follow - as well as a few graphic design game changers that forever altered the way we view powerful design.
1. Number one on our list of graphic design rules is functionality. For us, the design has to work. Our concepts may be potentially visually stunning … but we need room to spray IMbs, and we need to follow the unforgiving rules and regulations set down by the USPS.
2. White space. Because our designs often brush up against the demands of utter practicality, we always try to use white space as a design element. We try to convey power in what we say and draw, by what we do not say and draw.
3. Typeface is critical. It is a key design element - as well as what makes or breaks legibility - and is never an afterthought. Trendy typefaces are viewed with skepticism because classics are classics for a reason.
4. Logo as art. With limited space on a direct marketing or direct mail piece, it’s sometimes critical to elevate the logo (and the brand) to center stage and let it carry the weight of the overall design. Logos as art elements was a design game changer; and, one on which we seek to capitalize.
5. Break the rules. Once you know the rules innately, you are free to break them - much like an athlete can adopt his or her own form when sprinting, or performing an Olympic lift. Our head designer, Scott, has spent a quarter-century mastering design basics, and he has permission to break the rules. Our copywriter Vince does not. (He actually presents design ideas done in PowerPoint at meetings, causing Scott to shake his head sadly).
We also pay homage to design ideas that have shaken up the establishment, much like the logo rising to an elevated, stand-alone design artifact.
- The pointing finger. Perceived as cliche by some designers, the pointing finger (or arrow) brings a lot of impact and focus to direct mail design.
- Novelty lettering. As we stated above, mastering the rules of design gives one more leniency in breaking them. Sometimes Bommer Slab is the perfect compliment to Ariel.
- Text as art. There’s a constant, creative tension between words and text. Which is superior? When a designer employs text as a visual element and uses words as images, this tension can be resolved in a powerful way.
There isn't a lot of emphasis on direct marketing design, and especially on direct mail piece design, in graphic arts education programs. It's almost taken for granted that a good artist will surely be able to pick up the ins and outs of this marketing niche. We feel this neglect is unfortunate, given the fact that direct marketing is one of the most prevalent and powerful forms of marketing available today.
At Midwest, we attempt to elevate the role of advertising to art - like so many great ad agencies are committed to doing. Our difference is the balance between art and functionality. First, in getting client designs through mail processing equipment; then, in pulling results and ROI for our customers once those pieces land in the hands of prospects.