Skills: Basics of Design

AAM Summit 2018 - CPA Firm Marketing

This topic was originally presented at the 2018 AAM Summit in Portland, OR, by Precious Bugarin, a Portland-based creative director, designer, and educator.

Precious Bugarin’s talk on the basics of design did a great job of walking accounting marketers through the basics and explaining how they can become an asset to their firm with this knowledge of design. As a Creative Director of a marketing agency for accounting firms, allow me to dive a little deeper into the session, and how you and your firm can elevate your marketing efforts through your knowledge of design.

Design is everywhere

Design is everywhere. It’s present in every aspect of our lives – from kiosks at our local grocery store, to printed publications, to every single interaction you have on your smartphone, just to name a few.

Interestingly enough, if something is designed well, your users may not even see it as being “designed” (which is a great thing). When done well, design solves a problem, creates a connection, and most importantly the interaction feels natural and seamless to your end users because it’s all designed intentionally.

What is graphic design?

This seems like a simple question. But the definition of “graphic design” can be a little vague, and I believe that is with intention. The professional association for design, AIGA (formerly the American Institute of Graphic Arts), defines graphic design here, but in short, graphic design as a concept does three things:

  1. It informs
  2. It delights
  3. It sells

Graphic design, when done properly, communicates a message to an intended audience that is easily understood. In the accounting industry, that means our clients, prospects, and employees should be engaged with the product and easily understand the conveyed message, all within the chosen medium. This can be a brochure, website, digital ad, business card, service sheet and so on.

The Design Process

Before getting too caught up in the final product, it’s important to work through the design process. The design process, most recently known in the design industry as Design Thinking, is a cyclical process. It can start and stop at any point, but the best results are often realized after repeating the cycle over time.

Depending on your needs, each step in the process can change the meaning of the step or change the project direction entirely. Let’s break down the basic steps of Design Thinking and what they mean.

  1. Listen – Define the problem you’re trying to solve. Arguably, this is the most important step of the process. What is your goal? What is the ideal response? How will it be seen?
  2. Research – Learn. Learn. This step can be very loose, but you need to learn as much as you can. Don’t leave any stone unturned.
  3. Brainstorm – Get the ideas out there. Every single one. Put it down on paper – sketch, write, create! Turn off your “this is a bad idea” filter and get everything out.
  4. Develop – Create! Watch your ideas start to take shape.
  5. Test – Get Feedback. Share it with focus groups, with your team, with your client. Understand you will get gut reactions about dislikes of trivial things but dig deeper to the source.
  6. Iterate –You just received a ton of feedback. Revise your ideas using common themes from all of your feedback. Repeat this step as necessary.
  7. Implement – Build and Launch your ideas. It’s important to build extra time here for the unexpected, because things could go haywire at some point.
  8. Measure – Ask questions. Get more feedback. Measure your results. The best solutions may not always be the most visually appealing, but they evoke the desired response and lead the user through the desired path. Visual aesthetics can always be updated.

What does this mean for you and your firm?

Graphic design can be intimidating. It’s likely, however, someone at your firm has some basic knowledge of graphic design, whether it be a visual understanding or a tangible set of skills using the Adobe Creative Suite, who can get you started. If you do not have those creative eyes or capabilities internally and need further assistance, I recommend finding a graphic design partner you trust, knows your industry well, and can help guide you in the right direction and continue to elevate your marketing.

With a little preparation, vision and quality work, you will be seeing your new collateral meet your goals and add value to your clients in no time.

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About Chris Hartley

Chris Hartley is Partner + Creative Director at Indianapolis-based Catalyst Group Marketing, a marketing agency specializing in accounting marketing. His responsibilities include a healthy mix of coffee-fueled designing, strategy sessions and client relationship development. Chris serves on both the AAM website and blog committees, and is active locally with the American Advertising Federation, AIGA, and Creative Mornings Indianapolis. Earlier in his career, Chris worked with an internationally-awarded events nonprofit and numerous beverage industry giants and craft beer startups.

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