I was thinking the other day about first impressions. We all say it, “first impressions count”, but what does it really mean? In business it is more than just wearing the right clothes and having a firm handshake. It is also about the first visual impressions whether that is your business card, stationery, website, store frontage or even vehicle livery. If we make our minds up about a person, or business in a few seconds based on what we see then design must play a central role in how a business presents itself.
Now I have always been fascinated by design (even before I knew what a graphic designer was) and I was thinking about how and when design started to really have an influence on me?
For me it really started to take hold when I first started getting into music. It was the record sleeves of bands like Visage, Ultravox, Joy Division, New Order that drew my eye. In fact, I would buy records just for the front covers. I may never have heard any of the tracks, or even know of the band but the design of a record sleeve could be enough to make me buy.
Because they looked great, I bought into them. Now, not every design-based choice was a good one, but for an industry where, at the time, it was very difficult to get your new material heard, the design of the record sleeve did its job. It got me to try. Now LP’s had great possibilities for the design, not only the covers but also glossy inserts and posters, all added value to the product. I remember OMD and Ultravox albums with die cut windows on the outer sleeve so the insert became part of the design.
CD’s followed vinyl which brought along new design ideas and possibilities- holograms, CDs in tins, CDs that looked like boxes of tablets, it was great looking at the covers reading the lyrics whilst listening to the music. Sadly this as mostly disappeared now with downloaded music.
Bands have had to move with the times and think of different ways of spreading the word, Facebook, myspace, twitter, blogs, lastfm, ilike, getting involved in online communities to promote themselves. There having to think outside the box of different ways to get the hype, Hamfatter for example appeared on ‘Dragens Den’ to get publicity and secure Peter Jones investment, another idea was on ‘Nevermind the Buzzcocks’ where one of the panellists was getting fans to drive him from gig to gig around the country, giving him something interesting to talk about for his blogs etc.
So does this mean that design for bands is less important? I’m not sure. What I do know is that there are many more ways a band, or a business, can promote themselves. But maybe this choice leads to fragmentation and actually means that although design won’t necessarily play a part in every piece of promotion, it should be the thing that brings it all together- because at some point we want to see something visual that represents our favourite band or shop or bank ….
Businesses need to have an online presence, they can no longer have silos of marketing activity such as brochures or the web and they need to explore new ways of tying in this ‘old world’ activity with some new world options such as social networking. Whether IRL (in real life) or virtual, they are having to network harder than ever before and build relationships with their clients, talking to them more often… socialising online and keeping them forefront of mind for when their services are needed.
As a designer I still believe in the power of design and with all this ‘marketing noise’ going on I think it holds just as important a role today as it did in the simpler days, when a new album cover was something to be worshipped and adored not only as a carrier for a plastic disc, but as a piece of art.