How effective is design?

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There’s an idea I’ve wanted to do for years—the kind of concept that pops into the mind occasionally and never really goes away. After observing hundreds of professional communicators, there is a common gap in the development process. Most visual creators are onto a new project once a design is released. Few stay with that concept to gauge reaction or results. Similarly, the clients who buy design have no way to compare or contrast with others’ experiences—except at networking events.

When I wrote my three books about creative business practices, I thought I nailed the spectrum of communication concerns. With more youthful eyes, I was smug in my comprehensiveness. Now, as Mark Twain said: “The older I become, the less I think I know.” Perhaps this is because experience deepens the questions asked. Now I peer out from under the creative tent canvas to see what happens next—how does design perform?

Blog technology seems perfect for this exploration—a structure with an easy interface. Tackling all visual design is too huge, so I choose to examine nonprofit communications. Clients of design are either members or aware of their trade associations and charities. Though members’ participation may vary, they receive information from these groups. Hence nonprofits reflect, and must appeal to, businesses in general.

Answering this haunting question of what design works best reveals the quality debate. What makes a design effective? Who can judge?

Political and complicated, as an initial critic, I go solo—placing my credentials under scrutiny. I maintain that no one is more qualified to judge the aesthetics and performance of communication design than me: I am as educated and objective as a person can become.

In beginning the Sebastian Study. I launch with my evaluation of fifteen Midwest organizations with the best graphics. The full Study comprises design from 1500 national organizations—it took me several years to compile the research.

This blog will build from the Midwest (which has the largest population of nonprofits in the country—with DC as a close second) into the national evaluation. I will interview organizations and include their statements, advice, and lessons. The project will grow organically.

My first review is of Have Dreams, an organization to help autistic children and their families. (I choose them first out of the group because this project is one of my dreams.) If the effectiveness of visual communication is intriguing to you, visit often as the psychology of audience reaction becomes revealed.

Liane Sebastian, illustrator, designer, writer, and publishing pioneer

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