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A Better World Starts with Good Design

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I was stuck in a long queue of cars trying to get into a mall parking garage so I could take my son to get a COVID-19 test. We were waiting while cars cut each other off trying to get in and out of the garage by the same entranceway. And I said, “This is a design problem. They built this place for parking and they did not design a clear path for entrance and exit.” They even roped off the first floor of parking spaces requiring everyone to drive to the upper levels. This was not an adapted space being squeezed out of a retrofitted factory in a dense city, this was a parking garage at a suburban mall that was built on empty land to look like a little fantasyland of shopping with fountains and balconies and a little park for concerts. I often call this the imaginary city with real traffic problems.

And yet what infuriated me is that it’s all by design. They could have taken the time to figure out a traffic pattern based on the anticipated usage. But they did not think about their customers. We’re in the midst of a pandemic and many of the stores are closed and yet we still have traffic jams. My son reminds me that it’s all about money. “Dad, nobody wants to pay more money to build a garage.” Sure, it would have cost more to put in another entrance to the parking garage, or to time the lights and build the ring roads that would keep traffic moving. But it’s so short-sighted. The late Italian designer Enzo Mari said, “The problem today is that the ability of the mind to dream—but also the ability to go from a dream, an idea, to its actual realization—has money as the only benchmark.” By focusing on the money only we fail to address the real needs of the customers who are coming to the mall. It’s just like Yogi Berra’s paradox, “nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.” I do think twice about going to a mall with such traffic issues. You have to consider the design of the whole customer experience.

The only kind of design is redesign.

Designing for a better world is more than just using recycled paper and reducing your carbon footprint. I can’t tell you how many times organizations have told me to design something so it doesn’t look expensive. In one case, we actually printed the brochures on paper bags to look cheap when it was substantially more expensive to print. Avoiding the expensive Cadillac-look is one thing, but looking cheap and presenting your content in ways that confuse your audience are insults to the very people you are trying to attract. Designing for a better world is not just about good intentions, it’s about finding out how to make the customer experience more enjoyable, useful, and productive.

Good design is about cutting through the clutter and presenting an engaging and thought-out process that actually meets the needs of the client. You have to take the time upfront to think it out. You must do the process over and over until you get it just right. Ernest Hemingway said, “The only kind of writing is rewriting.” The same process applies to good design.

5 Tips for Good Design.

  1. Identify your target audience. It’s NOT the whole world. Think about who you really want to reach and target your message to the group. It’s not about being exclusive, it’s about being clear about who you are and what you offer. Just because Apple targets a young, tech-savvy demographic doesn’t mean that your grandmother won’t buy an iPhone.
  2. How familiar is your audience with the content being shared? Does the use of inside jargon and acronyms make you seem closer to your audience—or does it alienate your target audience because they need more explanation?
  3. Write and rewrite; design and redesign to reveal your true message. Getting to the core message takes multiple drafts. Ask “How can I say the most with the least amount of words?”
  4. Be holistic and think about the total process. Examine all of the important touchpoints and explore the customer journey from the viewpoint of your target audience. Do you know what one of the most important things a restaurant can offer its patrons? A clean bathroom! According to a study by Nelson Barber and Joseph Scarcelli, “a functioning restroom… has also been shown to impact the choice of where to eat or whether to return to a restaurant.”
  5. Prototype it. Test it out and see if it works the way you intended. Good design is not about what you think works but it is about how your audiences responds. If they are not acting the way you intended, then maybe it’s time to blame the messenger.
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Langton Creative Group is a NYC communications design firm dedicated to improving the way businesses and organizations interact with their audiences. We were founded as Langton Cherubino Group in 1990.

245 West 29th Street
Suite 605
New York, NY 10001
212-533-2585