Everyone keeps talking about this king known as content, but what about his beloved queen? If quality content is king, then quality design is at his right hand, guiding the kingdom.

Content and design shouldn’t be considered separate entities, but rather, work together to reach their highest potential.

Here’s why: our culture is distracted with very little patience for tom-foolery design. According to a 2015 study done by Microsoft, the average human attention span has dropped significantly, making images even more important than ever before.

The most informative and well-crafted content is easily overlooked because subpar design couldn’t hold an audience’s attention. But the same goes for the flipped coin — quality content must be there in order to make the design worth something. Enthralling an audience requires a balance of valuable content with complimentary visuals.

Many companies go straight for the easy and cheap solution — more like a jester’s position than a queen’s — and they default to templates and stock images. Don’t get caught in this trap. Templates and overused stock is something you must avoid like the bubonic plague that cursed kingdoms of the past.

So, you may be asking, what am I supposed to do, hire a photographer for every social media post? Realistically, there are a few steps you can take to becoming independent of the mundane.

Here are three simple design techniques that will enhance your digital content:

#1. Make it useful

Stock Photos

Design is more than just a pretty picture on a page. Effective design communicates messages and solves problems, with or without supplementary text. It’s crucial to remember that web-users expect to have informative and engaging imagery that provides value, at a moment’s notice. Stock images simply don’t provide value-add to content, with rare exceptions.

Does this stock photo make you think of success, or do your eyes glaze over the image for the sham that it is? Does your company make million dollar deals on top of a sky rise, or are your meetings much more personal with more of a human touch?

Relevant imagery with valuable content always connects on a deeper relational level with your audience. According to eye tracking studies by the Nielsen Norman Group “Visual bloat continues to annoy users: even with high-speed Internet connections and sub-second download times, users still prefer websites that focus on the information they want.”

So instead of stock fluff, use a compelling photo or graphic that connects to the content. The example below compares two photos promoting the same cookie recipe.

Quality Design is Queen

The example on the left uses an unrealistic and vague stock photo with plain text while the example on the right includes a detailed photo of the actual cookie, a personal typographic title and a call to action for conversion. With just a few visual changes, the image on the right seems much more appealing, and delicious!

Another way to make your images useful is by turning your content into infographics. Infographics help make complex information easy to understand. According to Google Trends, visualized information has increased by 9900% since 2007. Presenting your content in a bite-size infographic makes it easy to digest information in a shorter amount of time. The visual example below explains why infographics work.

 

Infographic
Infographic

#2 Make it integrated

In today’s multichannel world, a strong content and design strategy is critical to your brand identity. It leads to a better user experience and it resonates with your audience.

Here’s how you do it: Understand the primary intent of each channel, and focus your design on how customers use the platform.

For instance, Instagram should focus solely on creative photography instead of content-loaded images. Pinterest and Facebook, on the other hand, lend well to more content-heavy posts because that’s how the platform is structured. Take your content seeds and turn them into visual elements to keep your brand design consistent across multiple platforms.

Need a great example? Look no further than Whole Foods, and take note of the company that creates quality content and packages it in a visually appealing (and platform appropriate) way. They successfully create useful and integrated images across all channels.

Whole Foods

#3. Make it custom

So, you’ve ditched the stock, and your comprehensive design strategy fits the platforms with a consistent look and feel. Great. Now, don’t forget it’s important to be creative. Effective design makes a big impression in the smallest of details, because it helps humanize your online presence, build coherent perception, and gain trust. Don’t underestimate the power of custom design elements that your customers will appreciate and want to share.

How can you do it? Focus on touch points. Touch points include any form of interaction, no matter how large or small, that directly connects the customer to your company, including: error pages, forms, social posts, and confirmation emails. Take note of the clever way Lego expresses their creative nature and personality through their unique 404 page.

Lego

Here’s another example, compliments of Dropbox, that makes relevant, custom illustrations to express company values on their social media channels.

Dropbox

Focusing on these three design techniques in 2016 will give your content the attention it deserves. No one said it would be easy, or cheap. But will it be effective? You bet. Custom design elements could be the only thing keeping you at a distance from relating to your customers, today, and in the future. Don’t wait another minute to reevaluate your design strategy, fingers crossed you have one, and see if it's working for you or against you.

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Lacey Sigurdsson

About Lacey Sigurdsson

Lacey is a Senior Designer at Liquid focused on digital marketing and campaign design. With a background in video and motion graphics, she is a firm believer in story-driven design. She also has a passion for hand lettering, weird words and unusual creatures.

Published Jan 29, 2016