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Designed to work
Design shouldn’t seek to be creative or effective. It should always strive to be both.
Earlier this year we secured the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra as a client for the first time. The NZSO is well known for their artistic excellence and high standards of creativity. It’s always a great pleasure working with creatively inspired organisations and we’ve been lucky enough to work with a few including The Arts Foundation and the Royal New Zealand Ballet.
Over the years, the NZSO has produced a number of stunning season brochures that have been recognised with numerous design awards. Fair to say we were pretty excited to be working on the Season 15 brochure and its extended communications programme.
At the brochure briefing, the client was very clear about the objective: “more bums on seats.” This was followed by an explanation that they didn’t want an ‘over-designed’ brochure that made them look pretentious and inaccessible. They wanted something that represented their artistic excellence and worked hard to sell more tickets to the season’s individual concerts. By their very nature, the client understands the tension between creative integrity and business reality but even they seemed to imply that creativity needed to be grounded in effectiveness.
For many designers this outwardly expressed desire for a more functional approach could be a bit of a let down and they may feel that it compromise their creativity. In my view, if you approach a job with an attitude that it’s not a creative opportunity then chances are, it won’t be.
Unfortunately this ‘creative or effective myth’ is one we seem to reinforce as a wider creative communication industry. We hand out creative awards to design ideas even though they fail to deliver the client’s objectives. We have separate awards to recognise communication effectiveness as if to say “it’s ok that it wasn’t that creative”.
I am a firm believer that in our commercial design industry good creative is only as good as the results it delivers. Our clients pay us to design communications that inform, create desire, drive actions or change perceptions. If they don’t do these things then how can they be hailed as good design? A beautiful chair that can’t be sat on is a failed design. Equally, a highly creative sales brochure that doesn’t sell is just as much a failed design.
Fortunately, creative design and effectiveness do go hand in hand. Good creative assists with cut through, engagement and storytelling, allowing audiences to effortlessly move through the stages of awareness, interest, desire and action. A strong creative idea balances rational and emotional appeal allowing the heart to want and the head to turn it into action.
To understand the Season 15 offering we set ourselves the homework task of listening and watching the music and guest artists that make up the season’s concerts. For each concert we developed a story capturing the essence of what audiences would see, hear and experience. We also attended NZSO performances to immerse ourselves in the concert experience we were promoting. (I’ve got to say what an awesome experience it was!)
The brochure’s cover is a key focus of immersion - losing yourself, or indeed finding yourself, through the music and the experience. The opening spreads tell a high level story of the season and what seeing the NZSO live will feel like for audiences. These pages draw readers into the more detailed concert pages that follow. Concert spreads provide a mixture of expressive and passionate imagery and factual cues to further involve the reader. To capitalise on the emotional engagement, the booking information was redesigned to aid the reader to take immediate action.
If you’ve read this far then the question you may ask is, did the Season 15 brochure deliver both increased sales and high standards of creativity? So far, season sales are over a third higher than they were at the same time last year. We can’t claim it’s all because of our design (the season itself features an amazing line-up of compositions and guest artists) but the client feels that our work has definitely made a big difference. Feedback on the brochure design is that it is worthy of awards recognition. We will no doubt enter it and let our creative peers be the judge.