Author: Melody Edwards, Creative Director

In 1897, American Architect Louis Sullivan famously said, “form ever follows function.” Well into my third decade as a creative artist, I’ve concluded most people still prefer skipping function and going straight to form. Form is what people enjoy most about their marketing projects. 

Form is design. It’s color, type styles, imagery — it’s the look and feel of your project that makes your company unique. While design is enjoyable, cathartic, empowering; and, an innate part of who we are as humans, your designer needs to start with the function part of the job; otherwise,  your business and your marketing projects will probably miss the mark. Function is the intended use — the end goal, your objective. You need to know how your creative output will function before you try to create it. You need to understand your audience and its history. Even your location and culture have an impact on your creative endeavors.

When Marketing Communication Hits the Mark

Instgrm_Date_Post_NewWebsiteConsider this example. A client recently approached us to design marketing materials to support his sales team. After receiving our company brochure, he insisted that he needed one just like it to share his company’s offerings. When we sat down with him and discussed his sales team’s current interactions with prospective customers, we discovered that the company’s leads primarily came through referrals and that his sales team members routinely passed by neighboring businesses who are tenants in the buildings where they’re servicing existing clients’ audiovisual needs. While a full color brochure would best serve as an introduction to the business leader, an attractive line card with the company’s services and a direct “Need AV Support?” call to action could be easily left with the Office Administrator (usually the one notified of AV issues and often the AV troubleshooter) as the sales member passes by.  

The form (style) must fit the function.

Applying Design Thinking to the Creative Process

In his recent article titled Form and Function, contributor Warren Bergen promotes the importance of design thinking in the creation of marketing communication materials. “Design is about much more than graphics,” he says. “It’s about solving problems. And creating better, more intuitive products and services. And it’s also about planning and orchestrating rich, satisfying consumer experiences.”

Bergen defines design thinking simply as “how designers think” and breaks it down to four principles of: Question, Care, Connect, and Commit.

  • Question – designers should ask lots of questions as the act of asking questions leads to problem-solving and innovative solutions.
  • Care – designers should be observant and consider the deeper needs that the client may have not expressed.
  • Connect – rarely is there an original thought and designers know how to connect past concepts with other elements to create something new and engaging.
  • Commit – designers jump in and give these new, engaging ideas a form… one they know will be repeatedly revised to the client’s satisfaction. 

Bergen notes that the “Question-Care-Connect-Commit model is just one way of looking at Design Thinking” and encourages marketing communication designers to follow the lead of product engineering companies such as Proctor & Gamble and Nike by questioning “everything they do and make; caring more about customers’ actual needs; connecting product ideas in fresh ways; and committing to experimentation and rapid prototyping.”

Marketing Communication Tools with ROI

Form follows function, or as Steve Jobs said, “Design is not just what it looks like; design is how it works.” 

You may think you need a slick trifold brochure but, after questioning and caring about how your piece will be used by your sales team, the designer may realize that a simple two-sided line card will best engage potential clients when used as a leave behind. The designer can then connect the form and function, that results in an effective, eye-catching tool.

If you want to hit the mark with you marketing communication, make sure you and your designer are clear about function (use) before you jump into the form. Bob Ross, the eloquent and inspirational artist once said “If I paint something, I don’t want to have to explain what it is.” Too many times, when the form (style) proceeds function, you are left explaining why the project lacked ROI.

The great artist is the simplifier. Vincent Van Gogh