Dirk Knemeyer

What Does Your Audience Want?

Originally published at Thread Intelligence

Successful visual designers well know the audiences they are designing for, and realize that their audiences exist at multiple levels.

Paul Rand famously directed that, if clients don’t like a logo, make it bigger. If they still don’t like it, make it red. Regardless of his feelings toward larger logos, or red logos, Rand understood the biases and tendencies of his client. That is a critical factor to successful design because – after all – if the final decision maker does not approve the design, it will not see the light of day. Through his experience, Rand understood the patterns, objections and preferences of his clients: They tended to prefer larger logos and the color red. Regardless of his renowned cavalier attitude and unwillingness to conform to client requests – which in itself is a strategic approach to dealing with his client audience – a key component of Rand’s legend is how he understood the role and mindset of the client. His famous quote about bigger and red logos is obvious proof of that.

The inspiration for this article was a remarkably similar observation that I recently encountered, attributed to Norman Rockwell. Rockwell said, “If it doesn’t work, put a dog in it. If it still doesn’t work, put a Band-Aid on the dog.” Unlike Rand, Rockwell is commenting on the desires and preferences of his eventual target audience, the consumers of his design, instead of a client or other go-between. Through his extensive experience designing for particular people and publications, Rockwell came to understand who his audiences were and what visual elements he could provide to meet their needs and desires. While his designs and art are today thought of as rather simplistic and uninspired, they reflect a deep understanding of that audience. His wry comment about using a dog and/or a dog with a Band-Aid illustrates his close relationship to his audience’s “hot buttons.” We can assume that the notion of inserting a dog into his design would address audience needs for personal nostalgia, and/or the common heartfelt sentiments people have toward their four-legged friends. And while the idea of putting a Band-Aid on the dog was certainly sarcastic, it underscores the effect that eliciting sympathy and empathy had on touching his audience. Indeed, while it is a humorous comment on the surface, Rockwell’s words really speak to his depth and experience of designing for his audience.

Paul Rand and Norman Rockwell both knew what their audiences wanted and crafted their design and approach with that knowledge in mind. While not typically thought of in a similar context, these examples illustrate their shared understanding of the importance of audience in achieving success as a visual designer.

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