There is an old saying that rings true, no matter what forum or context it’s applied in. ‘You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.’ We were thinking of this the other day, and how with some minor tweakage the statement could become a powerful statement of affirmation for designers, or at least it could lead us towards this freeing affirmation.
Recently a project came our way that we were extremely excited about, however, as things unfolded, we realized that the project was doomed from the start. Now as designers we are used to working with non-creatives, or at least people who are not in, or do not understand our field, therefore you have to work across an information gap. This is something we are used to dealing with, but in the context of the discussion about to take place, it only makes things, that much more difficult. This project had the gap, but beyond that, there was an underlying instruction from the client that let us know this would be an utter waste of our time. ‘We want it to appeal to everyone across the board. Consumable to all.’ It was at this point, that we walked away.
You see, going back to Honest Abe’s words of wisdom and tweaking them as we mentioned before, we work under the premise that you can appeal to some of the people all of the time, but you cannot appeal to all of the people some of the time. Perhaps we have too much of a cynical streak running between us, but as varied as the masses are, even when broken into discernible groups based on similar interests or occupations, we believe that there is not much that they will all find appealing. As designers, this is reflected easily in the fact that we all have differing tastes and opinions as to what designs and styles appeal to us.
Breaking Down the Myth
Universal consumability, in the creative communities, is a myth. Given that our tastes play such a large role in our creative consumption, finding a flavor that everyone is going to appreciate equally generally will not happen. The appeal of what we create will have a heavy draw for some and perhaps little to none for others. The sooner we come to that realization, the less stressful and more fun our designs will be to create, thus making our job easier. And if we compromise our creations to try to bring in that universal appeal, we will slight our audience, and our designs. Allow us to elaborate.
When we create something, it will automatically appeal to a certain crowd for a specific number of reasons (theoretically at least, we hope there will be some appeal, and for the sake of this argument, we will work under the premise that there will be some inherent draw). Now if we take away from those areas, to try and make it appeal to another crowd, we have already lessened the appeal of our design for the crowd that initially responded to it. The more aspects we include or alter to further that mass appeal, only takes the design farther from both its original intent and audience. Look at it in terms of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
The PB&J Factor – An Analogy for the Ages
If you make a PB&J sandwich, then you are only appealing to those people who like PB&J sandwiches. There is really no way to alter the sandwich to make it appeal to those who don’t like PB&J, and if you tried, then it will tend to lose appeal to the PB&J crowd. And even in your group of PB&J fans, there are still degrees that affect the sandwiches appeal. There are those who like more PB than J and vice versa. Once again, you can alter the amounts of PB&J to try and appeal to both, but chances are, you are going to end up with a sandwich that still appeals to one faction over the other.
So what does this all mean (beyond the fact that we are apparently hungry for a PB&J sandwich and are a little particular as to its construction)? It means as designers, we need to accept that our work is not going to have that mass appeal and trying to design with that in mind can have more of a negative impact on the work, not to mention our psyche, than a positive one. Universal consumability simply means an end product that falls far short of its potential and intent, and since when has that ever been appealing to anyone? So when you are designing, do it with focus. Meaning basically do it with a particular audience in mind, and go for it.
The Client Variable
When working with a client, designing with focus may be a bit of a challenge, but it can be done. It is our responsibility as designers to lead our clients towards decisions and away from bad choices, this is simply one of them. If the client keeps pushing for more mass appeal, we need to be able to make them understand why that will effectively hurt the project. We need to make the client choose a crowd to appeal to, and work within those boundaries while not trying to reach out beyond that crowd so much that it no longer appeals to anyone.
In the case of the project we walked away from, we made our attempts to sway the client over to our side, but after a couple of attempts and lots of time wasted we surrendered and threw in the towel. Perhaps we should have tried harder, but we did not see our arguments as having any effect whatsoever. Not to mention, we had not thought of that whole sandwich analogy, so we walked away. With so many opinions, tastes, and overall individuals populating the masses, trying to design for them all is a mistake. But designing with focus, never will be!
Finding Your Audience
In order to find your audience and allow them to guide you in your work, you must make sure that you are doing two major things. One, connecting with your audience. And two, listening to them once you have connected. Now as we mentioned before, when we create, our product will have inherent appeal to certain members of the crowd, but you first need to find that audience that you are going to be designing with in mind to bring them in and make them aware of what it is you are doing. Reach out via the various social media outlets to find the fans that will be drawn to the designs you will be crafting. Other places to try to connect with the audience you are seeking are related sites and blogs who share a similar style or mission as you. By becoming more active on these related sites, you can easily tap into that necessary connection you are after for your business or blog.
After you have made this connection, then the next step is so simple to accomplish as you are engaging the crowd. Listen to what it is they are talking about, or moreover, what they are looking for. This is easy to find out because overall, people like offering their constructive critiques on where the community is lacking or letting them down. So ask. Get in there and mix it up a bit. Talk to your audience to find ways that you can improve your work so that its reach is much more effective. Take these suggestions and critiques that you find being repeated from various places and make adjustments to fine tune the direction of your designs. Afterall, what is the purpose of connecting with them, if you are not going to listen to what it is they have to say. You can also interview others in your field, who may share in the audience that you are seeking to tap into, and find out what they have done to connect and listen to their followers. What helped with their reach? It may be something that can help you as well.
Again, when dealing with a client, it is still important that you have this connection and avenue for access to the intended audience, so if the client is not already tapped in, then you both need to work out the best way to extend this reach before you begin. Having this understanding of who you are trying to appeal to with the design, can assist you invaluably, and making sure the client does as well should help ensure that they are not steering you away from their target with their input. So this is always a critical factor in the overall equation, and trying to reach out in a universally consumable way, is only going to close you off from your audience not widen them. So know which audience you are going to go after, and focus on them as you move forward.
That is All
So that concludes the talk from this side for now, but just use the comment section below to keep the discussion going and offer your thoughts and perspectives on this topic.