Over the years, one particular question is starting to become the norm. "What's our message?" Ok, I would expect this question from a small business or a startup selling something like snail-flavoured crackers. They get an idea, they are passionate about the idea, and boom, they think the next step is for us to crank out a logo or website. Unfortunately they aren't the only ones tripping over this error.

Organizations pulling in 20 million in revenue have the same question. When we are brought in, as goal-oriented graphic designers, the goal should be presented. We should be the creative outlet to communicate the message for that goal, but so many times there is no message to communicate. These companies spend their time focusing on the platform they will use to deliver the message, but not the message itself. It's like choosing a method of transportation before knowing your destination. This may have been permissible when bigger marketing budgets meant more ads plastered everywhere and more revenue, but this doesn't fly anymore.

In a new global economy consumers are harder to attract, and naturally suspicious of your motives. In this market place, simply spewing out gorgeous designs won't do; I can pay anyone with Photoshop a few bucks and get that. We need to be more emotionally and culturally sensitive. Simply jumping on Twitter and Facebook, or creating a "viral" video won't do it, these were trendy at first, but they are quickly morphing into simple distribution channels like web sites, email or texting.

Companies need to press their marketing firms, design firms and other ad teams to focus on goals. As a designer, let me caution the Marketing VPs and Communication Directors out there: Your ad campaign message needs to be established independently of the method of communication. The design should be the very last step. It's not about the method, it's about the message.


Justin Brady is the quick-witted founder of Test of Time Design in Des Moines, Iowa.  http://www.testoftimedesign.com/blog