The Marriage of Clarity and Style
Tips for Building a Crystal Clear Campaign
July 5, 2017 | Beth Singer, Principal
Complexity is the state of the world right now. Not only from what we take in, but in what we share with each other. High-quality graphic design can help people untangle the daily information overload, and, ultimately, serve to change their opinions and behaviors.
That’s where the marriage of clarity and style comes in. When it comes to engaging people through visual communications, these two key ingredients are not only linked, but are interdependent.
Clarity is king and requires objectivity and discipline. Often communications and marketing professionals are too close to their information and come to us believing their content merely needs to be styled. Together with our clients, we help organize and prioritize key points and employ strategic thinking about what they want people to feel, think or do. We also encourage clients to test the content on their target audience before publishing it. By taking the time to make information easily accessible, there is a high likelihood the audience will respond with zest to what they are seeing—because it is clear.
Style is the soul-mate of clarity and all too often we are afraid of overstepping an unspoken rule of decorum and going too far with it. But the fact is that we live in a ubiquitously visual world. No matter how clear your content is, if your presentation doesn’t have inherent good looks, you are fooling yourself into thinking people will be enthusiastic about consuming it. Style is the tool that lets people know that you are serious about excellence and want to engage them.
To use clarity and style effectively, here are 10 questions to ask your team as you embark on your next visual communications project:
Can we describe our target audience in great detail?
Are we clear what we want our target audience to think, feel or do?
Are we checking all our decisions for consistency with our objectives in #2?
Are our words and phrases considered easy to understand by our target audience?
Are our choices of typefaces and sizes easy to read by both people who need glasses and those who don't?
Have we used enough color contrast to make the words legible?
Are our images high quality images that tell a story without having to read the captions?
Would our target audience consider our presentation visually compelling?
Bonus point: Would our target audience consider our presentation extremely engaging?
Have we solicited open-ended feedback on our content and presentation from at least one member of our target audience before launch?
Here are some examples from a recent infographic redesign project in a very technical Financial Operations Report for the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Our audiences for this report are world-class economists and people from 189 countries working to keep the international monetary system stable.
It’s complicated to combine bar and fever line charts so that people can follow. Note how a background grid was added so viewers can trace both the year and the two sets of metrics simultaneously.
Here are six fever line charts charted simultaneously. Note the use of shading in shapes makes it easier to compare the data lines.
Directionally clear arrows using energetic lines are essential for easy-to-understand flow charts.
The smart, modern style of the pie chart is the workhorse here and is key to drawing readers in.