My initial training in design was more broad then it was specialized. I never really focused on one area more than another which was probably just because I found all areas of design equally interesting. Typography, print, web, branding, illustration, photography, you name it… These days I am much more focused. Probably 80% of the work I produce is for the Web. Years ago I realized that it was impossible for me to be an expert in every area of my interests so I needed to focus my direction. My focus ended up landing on the Web, which is arguably a great place to land. However, between the evolution of technology and the web design trends that are gaining momentum, I’m finding myself more frequently tapping into my broad training of design and applying it to my Web projects.
This shift thats causing me to dig deeper into my basket of design tricks revolves around design efficiency. With every new web project I take on I find more and more that the content almost needs to speak louder than the design. The problem here is the more I strip back the design in an effort to highlight the content, the less unique character the design itself has. It’s times like this that I’ve found it handy to have a deeper understanding of “design” beyond just “web design”. The true challenge in creating an effective website is allowing the content to shine through the design rather than having design and content work independently. This is where efficiency plays a large role in the success of a project.
A good brand should be flexible and supportive while having a ton of character. Most importantly, in my opinion, an organizations brand should be thorough; every angle should be considered. Not surprisingly, I could use the same list of adjectives to describe a good website. In order for a website to be successful, the content and design need to support each other mutually. That means, the brand or design of a website needs to work on a level that will allow the content to shine when it’s necessary while not compromising aesthetic. This essentially comes down to designing more efficiently – thinking through every decision in an effort to use the best “type” of design to allow the content to stand on it’s own while retaining unique visual character. It’s a tall order, for sure.
It’s rare that I take on a full blown re-branding project for an organization because that just doesn’t really fit into our companies pipeline. The request does come in from time to time, however, and we occasionally make it work. Creating a new brand for an organization is a huge responsibility – especially if your following project will be to create that same organizations website based off the direction of the brand you just created.
A few months ago I wrapped up a complete rebrand for Terra Nova Church. This wasn’t a minor task, but a complete overhaul. Everything from their logo, signage, announcement slides, general marketing materials, t-shirts, bulletins, etc had to be designed from the ground up. Shortly after all of the tangible materials were created it was time to re-work the website, which was something I had been wanting to do for years.
The day finally came when I was ready to start designing. We had a solid structural plan set up for the site, and a fresh new brand to work with. As I started to piece everything together, however, I quickly buried my face into my hands as the task of designing this site started to really unfold before my eyes. While I really loved the brand I had created, as well as the site structure, it became quickly evident that together, they didn’t easily support the main type of changing content that would be used on the site regularly. It’s common for a church these days to have graphics associated with almost every piece of content they create – whether it’s a new or current series they’re promoting, or some other sort of major announcement. A thriving church is, in a way, a multifaceted living organism. It contains multiple ministries that are all unique while working together towards the same mission. Long story short, there are a lot of different promotions that need to be accommodated simultaneously.
I was originally planning on having this site almost completely focused on the announcements and promotions, but after toying with that idea for awhile it dawned on me that I was letting the dynamic content speak way too loud which was causing the design and brand to be completely overshadowed. It was really important that the brand and core message of church was being displayed boldly so I had to take a few steps back in order to figure out the most efficient balance. I asked myself questions like, where does the brand have to speak loud and where can I afford to strip things back in order to accommodate the corporate promotions and unique changing content. Questions like these helped me re-think the use of typography, colors, textures and photography and general layout of the site. In turn, I was able to come up with a design that, I think, effectively and efficiently communicates a strong message focused around the brand while also creating a tool that will be useful for both congregation and non-congregation members alike.
I can’t even begin to explain how beneficial it’s been for my Web related work to have an understanding of how the brand of an organization can impact the outcome of a website. Depending on your perspective, things like typography, illustration and photography may either seem like they have everything to do with designing a website or very little to do with designing a website. In my opinion, have this understanding is what separates a template that was specifically designed to let it’s content stand alone from a truly effective, thorough website.