Designing for the Medium

By Stephanie Sprouse

It’s often tempting, when designing a campaign, to keep things as consistent as possible across every component. While a good amount of consistency is great, each component has its own requirements and boundaries. If you’re not designing for the medium, you’re missing the opportunity to maximize your impact in that specific medium, and that could eventually translate to missed audience attention, and even missed sales. So here are some tips on designing for the medium (we’ve picked print, digital, and environmental as examples) that will ensure you’re getting the full marketing value from your materials.

Print

Print includes everything from newspapers and magazines to posters and handouts. All of these print types will need to be exported to a CMYK color space, but other specifications may vary.

Registration

  • Use black for small or fine print in newspaper ads. Newspapers print one color at a time, so it’s important to think about what colors to use for fine text and details. Black, Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow will all appear sharp, but any combination of them (red, blue, orange, etc.) may have a bit of distortion that can make small or fine text hard to read.
  • Use imagery and white space in cluttered media. Newspapers will place your design amongst a variety of articles and other ads. A large percentage of a typical newspaper page is text, so having a lot of text in your print ad will make it feel like white noise. Photos and white space are harder to come by in your average edition of a newspaper, so taking advantage of those elements in your design will help distinguish it from its surroundings.
  • Know when you can and can’t design to the edge. A lot of printed materials benefit from a “bleed,” or extra content printed to the edge of the piece that will eventually be trimmed off. When cutting large batches of print material, even large print houses can only be so precise. A bleed ensures that the design goes to the edge without any important information getting cut off.

Digital

Digital is a broad term, covering all things web: display ads, emails, social media, etc. The web is highly-utilized for advertising so it is a competitive space for a design to stand out.

    • Keep it short and sweet. The interactivity of digital ads sets it apart from print. The ads can be linked, so copy and design should be more of a teaser, enticing a user to click.
    • As with all designs, consider the context. Ads that display on a website often have other ads around them, as well as content from the website itself. If you are too intrusive with your message, you will frustrate the viewer. Too passive, and you’ll be easily overlooked. Avoid flashy gifs and distracting bright colors and, instead, go for something clean and strong. If everyone is yelling, then no one is being heard.
    • If you can make it interactive, try it. New advancements in browser support mean that .svgs can be used more and more. SVGs allow simple animation, responsiveness, and the ability to change appearance on hover. This is a great way to display infographics and other information in an accessible way on the web.

hover to change my color

  • If you can make it move, try it. Gifs and videos add an entire new level to storytelling that print messages can’t match. They can attract the viewer’s eye and provide them more incentive to click.
  • Know your compatibility. Emails have similar attributes as a website, as they are both built in HTML. Email clients such as AOL and Outlook, however, don’t read emails the same way a web browser does. It’s important to test your designs on a variety of email clients to ensure you have a design that works well across the majority of inboxes.

Environmental

Environmental advertising includes bus ads, billboards, and anything else meant to be experienced outside in the elements. Because these mediums are often larger and viewed at a distance, they have their own set of requirements to consider.

Big and Basic

  • Big and basic. Bus ads are often viewed while the bus is in motion, so this means your logo should be big and your message clear and requiring only a few seconds to take in. The same rule applies to billboards, and be sure to check just how far off the road your billboard is. If it’s tall and far away, you’ll want to make sure that, in addition to being big and basic, your message also contrasts strongly with the background for easy readability.
  • Keep exposure to the elements in mind. For anything exposed to the elements, view it in person and see how it ages, if possible. Bus ad messages can form rips where panels meet, which could be mistaken as part of the design.
  • Resolution is relative. Even though these components are printed, the resolution of a message depends more on the distance at which it will be viewed. Billboards can be less than 100dpi and still look sharp from the road.

The next time you find yourself simply transferring a design from one medium to the next, check these tips to make sure you’re not making a mistake. Take full advantage of what each medium has to offer and recognize any limitations. Keep in mind that these tips are just a starting point, as media and technology are always advancing. Be sure to keep researching new trends and innovations so that your designs keep up!

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