Katy Cesarotti | Gallery Design Studio Editor + Copywriter
Why do some layouts turn consumers off? Why do social media users click on certain links and not others? Why don’t clients read your sales sheets?
We’ve identified some all-too-common design mistakes that threaten to disrupt your message and negate your strategy. Even experienced marketing professionals sometimes fall into these visual communication traps.
Master beautiful (and functional) user experiences with the following tweaks.
1. Overcrowded Layouts Confuse the Reader
To get through to your audience it can be tempting to cram information into presentation slides or to add eye-catching gifs to all your webpages. But overstuffed marketing collateral can overwhelm the user.
Eyetracking studies have shown that consumers’ eyes often follow certain scanning patterns online. The most famous is the F-shape: we read from left to right, and as we get further down the page, we read less and less. Some users skip the regular text and only read headers and subheaders. Other users, most often on mobile, “mark” one spot on the page as the mouse scrolls.
By understanding viewer behavior, your team can structure clean layouts that are built for skimming. Create a main focal point to attract the user’s attention, like a pull quote, informative graph, or key statistic.
Ideally, each paragraph (or presentation slide) should contain one idea. Too much information or content to cram in? Consider splitting it up into chunks or different pages.
Clear headings with meaningful keywords establish visual hierarchy for readers. Consumers can skip information, decide what’s important, and opt in to read what they need. When pages have too much information to take in at once, it can distract the viewer.
2. Redundant Design Adds Fluff, Not Meaning
Illustrations, graphs, text, stock photos, video: Each element demands attention from your viewer until all that background noise becomes deafening, and drowns out your message.
Too much decorative clutter can dilute your message. Great design should add value for the user, instead of just prettifying the page.
Do graphs or charts just repeat what the text says? Are the visuals bland or forgettable? It might seam counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to maximize the impact of visuals is to go minimal.
White space gives your readers room to breathe.
Visuals can create value for consumers in a variety of ways:
In visual communication, there’s a crucial difference between offering insight and triggering action. Consumers want to understand where they fit into the action flow and what they need to do next to address their problem.
A Wharton study at UPenn analyzed the performance of two different brochures to raise funds and combat world hunger. One brochure focused on the hard data: the number of people without access to safe food or water, how many communities were affected. with just the hard data on starvation in Africa vs narrative of one girl: The team from Wharton found that the brochure that contained the story of Rokia drove significantly more donations than the statistics-filled one.
Engage emotion with visual storytelling. Data or facts can function on an intellectual level, but to drive buying behavior, communications need to resonate on an emotional level
3. Inaccessible and hard-to-read visuals
Visual communication should be designed for the realities of the actual user. Your users might be taking in your content in ways you didn’t intend: watching videos on mute in an open office, for example, or zooming in on a graph on their phone. With accessible design, you can ensure your marketing materials add value for all users of different abilities.
Accessibility often means better readability and search rankings that benefit all of your users. Search engines can’t crawl scanned-in PDFs or videos, but they can crawl HTML content and video transcripts. Direct and concise content is always best.
Take into account the different situational needs of your audience. With videos, be sure to include transcripts and captions. Viewers might be in a place where they can’t play the video at full volume, or maybe they prefer to read along as they watch. Include alt-text with a brief description of the image (or the function of the image if it’s an icon, like “Click to Print”). Alt text is also helpful for users with limited data availability or spamblockers on their email accounts.
Assistive technology like screen readers can help users with disabilities consume content, but it relies on the content creators to make it accessible. Without HTML tags for images and clear common formatting best practices, low-vision readers will struggle to read your content.
On your website, use header tags instead of bold text or large fonts to separate different sections. This helps screen readers and boosts SEO. Keep pages limited to one <h1> that reflects the key concepts of the page or article.
4. A one-size-fits-all to different mediums
This might seem self-evident for digital experts, but as the number of mobile-first users continues to grow, it’s more important than ever to optimize your designs for different platforms.
Consider layouts and colors that work for print separately from your online presence. Is the color and resolution crisp enough on a piece of paper? How will the layout shift with different aspect ratios and screen sizes? In general, sans serif fonts are more readable online, while print is gentler on the eyes.
Even though there’s no longer a literal fold, like with print newspapers, it’s still crucial to maximize how you use the space at the top of your website. This is what users see without any effort or scrolling. What does this space look like on your computer or your phone? How can you make the most of this prime real estate?
5. Inconsistency creates speedbumps in the user experience
Does your website “teach” consumers how to read it and what to expect? Does it follow similar layouts and aesthetics? Or have you built that PowerPoint deck slide by slide across your whole team until it starts to look like a hodgepodge?
Avoid potential mismatch between visual style and your brand. If you’re promising whiteglove luxury customer service, your website should look high-end and polished.
Add an extra layer of polish to your brand with a cohesive set of materials. Standardize your colors, templates, and fonts, and uphold those standards across all of your client-facing materials. Your presentations and pages don’t all have to look exactly the same, but users should be able to tell they came from the same collection.
On the page, make sure all text and graphics are cleanly aligned with the page instead of floating in space. Keep designs simple. Choose a few colors within your brand color scheme per piece of collateral and stick to them. Use three fonts maximum to make your materials feel cohesive.
Especially as your company (and workload) continues to grow, marketing professionals at all levels might occasionally fall into these visual communication traps. With a focus on strategy and cohesiveness, your team can ensure that your materials are connecting with your audiences to inspire action.
About Gallery Design Studio
We're passionate about helping B2B businesses with their ongoing marketing communication design needs. We help our clients transmit complex information clearly, concisely and in a visually engaging way. Relentlessly curious, we're inspired by experimentation, and always looking for better ways to serve our clients.
We’ve collaborated with transformational businesses, both startups and more established companies such as Townes Wireless, Questback and CIT Bank.
Get the creative support you deserve. Contact us today.
About the Writer
Katy Cesarotti is a copywriter at Gallery Design Studio. Katy believes that, with clear and concise copy, innovators can spark emotion and drive action in their readers. She’s written for magazines, blogs and cutting-edge startups.