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Creating connections through design

Rose Stewart

Design is a superpower: it allows us to influence the way someone feels and how they interpret a story or message. It can be the difference between someone connecting with information – or scrolling on by.

The connection it forges with people is one of the reasons I love design. Design is inherently human and emotional. Design tells us where to go, what to buy, how to use things, how to feel. It impacts election results and social justice. It communicates good news and gives us hope.

Design elevates storytelling by turning an idea into something people can relate to. And this audience interaction is vital for brands looking to improve engagement.

More than meets the eye

When we watch a good film or advert, the visual style, the emotions it evokes and the soundtrack will make an impression. Design underpins all these elements. As Addison Duvall said in Storytelling in Design, “The most important thing you can do as a creative professional is capture your audience’s imagination”.

The more human something is, the more it resonates with people, evoking a deeper emotional response and creating more impact for the brand. When brands tell stories, they take the audience on a journey, using design to pass on their message in an engaging and relatable way.

As designers, our job isn’t just to decide how something looks. There is design in creating the brief and scoping the problem, in the strategy and research that informs the solution, and in building the solution itself – visually, yes, but also through language, sound, UX or even the way the paper will feel in your hands.

Design for accessibility

Creativity and accessibility are often seen to be in conflict with one another. But I believe good design gives equal importance to both. It makes concepts easier to understand and is key to bridging the gap between a story and its audience.

Ensuring your message is designed with accessibility in mind doesn’t just make the output more inclusive – a responsibility we all have – it also exposes your brand to a far broader audience.

Designing something that pushes the parameters of visual appeal and execution while remaining accessible is all part of the challenge. Digital mediums allow for ever more ways to improve and support accessibility. Simple additions such as alternative text and image captions allow screen readers to get the best description of the content and bring those with hearing or visual impairments into the fold.

Design for good

Design has always played an important role in social and political movements, not least in the last year where issues like equality and climate change have gained necessary momentum. From handmade placards to purpose-built websites, there’s no shortage of ways to communicate how you feel on any number of causes.

Social media has broadened audiences for brands as well as individuals. At the heart of it all is design. The way we place lettering on a banner, the image we choose to support our tweet, the website we build to support a campaign: design underpins all these things, often without us realising.

In 2020, we worked with IBM to create a diversity and inclusion campaign that would celebrate all its employees. Above being a client project, it’s hard to ignore the importance of work like this and the impact it needs to have on those interacting with it. It was fundamental that the design forefronted inclusion. It needed authenticity and humility to resonate with – and inspire – its audience. We captured IBMers talking to camera about their experiences of inclusion to show the difficulties they’ve faced in the past; their hopes for the future and the things that unite us.

On the message

Good design is at the heart of everything we do. It plays a pivotal role in helping an audience to access information – and fully engage with it. It builds connections between concepts and audiences, stories and tangible business messages – and, ultimately between people. If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that authenticity and compassion are paramount. If we can use design to elevate these attributes, more power to us.

A version of this article first appeared in Transform Magazine, September 2021