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Design Literacy and Why It Matters for Your Brand

graphic design tools and process illustration

Insights from Rachel Flores, Senior Graphic Designer:

Design literacy is the ability to understand and discuss how something was created — and whether it’s a successful solution to the problem. I like to think of it as applying the scientific method to design. It begins with asking questions about something you observe, followed by research, formulating a hypothesis (or design solution), then testing the solution and further refining it based on data analysis.

The great thing about this process is that it helps provide a more objective way to look at design. By nature, design has subjective qualities because everyone experiences things differently and brings personal or emotional responses to certain design elements. For example, some Texans may be more partial to burnt orange while others take pride in maroon.

Design literacy provides a standard framework to help see beyond personal preferences and ask questions to determine whether a design is functional, user-friendly or overall successful in reaching your goals. The key is to approach any new design — whether it is a piece of printed material a website, or even an object that is used regularly at home or in the office — using a specific set of questions to make a more informed opinion.

Let’s take a look how this process would be applied to rebranding your business’ website, along with important questions to ask at each step of the process.

Step 1: Observe and Analyze

First, you want to observe the current object or piece — in this case, this would be your current website as a whole. Ask yourself, what is the intended purpose of the website? What action do you want visitors to take? Do you want them to donate, request a quote, call your office?

Clarify your number one goal for the site. It’s okay to have secondary goals, such as joining your email list, but you want to hone in on the top priority. You’ll also want to research your target audience to best understand how they may engage with that goal. How will you “speak their language” through visual and text content? This will help you assess what’s working and not working, while allowing you to create a clear journey for visitors to your site.

Once you’ve identified your goal and researched your target audience, review your current site with a critical eye to see what may be unclear or confusing to your visitors. Do you have clear calls to action (CTA) to lead visitors to donate, call or request a quote? Is important information front and center, or does someone have to click through several pages to understand what you do? Ideally, you want to lead your visitors down an intuitive, easy-to-follow path to help them get the most out of your site.

Considering these key questions can help give you a framework to discuss with your team about what’s working, not working and what may be missing from your website. This will allow you to clarify the challenges and goals — and help everyone be on the same page moving forward. You can also return to these later in the process to see if the changes are solving the original challenges to meet those goals.

Step 2: Design and Develop

During this step, you take all the information you gathered during Step 1 and begin organizing, sorting and streamlining it to find an effective solution to the problem. You want to create a clear path to your number one goal. For a website, this step includes the content development, graphic design and programming.

You might begin by breaking up content into categories, organizing the navigation of the website to best suit your needs, before moving on to the individual pages. Typically, you’ll outline content first, then move onto wireframing and building out the material in more depth. Throughout this process, it’s important to not lose sight of your goal. Be sure to always return to it, asking yourself whether the content helps guide visitors back to your goal while building trust and providing valuable information. If you come on too strong or salesy, your audience may be turned off from the messaging. While if you lack direction, your audience may be confused or lose interest. It’s a fine — but essential — balance.

Step 3: Test, Evaluate and Refine

Your website is a dynamic and ever-evolving part of your marketing toolkit. Testing, evaluating and refining is also a critical step in design literacy. After a site is launched, you can use tools and analytics to see how well the site is functioning. Are visitors following the path you created? Are they taking the actions you want them to? Or, is there a section that seems to throw them off the course?

There’s a lot of value to be gained from understanding what’s not working. This is the time to use data and reporting tools to identify what areas can continue to be refined. As you continue to make the journey more clear and concise, you continue to finetune your site. Overall, you want to tailor your site to meet the needs of your target audience. They are more likely to stay engaged with something that is user friendly and offers them a positive experience. This third step allows you to continuously improve your site to better meet their needs.

All in all, design literacy gives you a tool to better evaluate your materials and those of your competitors. At Design At Work, we bring these principles to the table on each and every project we tackle. This understanding of design allows us to find design solutions that meet your specific needs and reach your company’s goals — whether we’re working on a brochure or a website. This process can be applied to all projects, whether large or small, print or digital, to provide a highly functional, quality solution. Reach out to us to learn more about how we can take your marketing projects to the next level.