GLOBAL: Design is not about mere decoration, but is a marketing tool whose primary purpose is to create common ground between a brand and a consumer, according to a leading industry figure.

In a WARC Best Practice paper, How to use design in today’s fragmented media mix, Katie Ewer, Strategy Director at creative agency and brand consultancy jones knowles ritchie in Singapore, notes a recent convergence of design and communications.

While design has always been with us, its current growing influence is in part a consequence of a changing media landscape, she says.

“Fragmented, superficial and complex, we often have a handful of silent seconds in which to communicate with our audience. Nothing does that job as well as an image.

“An image has no story to tell; it is not dependent on dialogue or music, and it has no punch line. Design is immediate, instantaneous and instinctive.”

Research shows that humans process visuals thousands of times faster than text, with one MIT study finding that the human eye is able to interpret an image in just 13 milliseconds. And social media posts and tweets with images are more likely to be shared and liked.

Accordingly, Ewer offers five tips to guide marketers in their use of design, starting with clarity on what a brand stands for and how design can advance that idea.

What results can be outward expression of a brand’s inner spirit or something as mundane as a re-sealable bag for frozen peas, but, she stresses, “design is more than just surface-level adjustments”.

The role of design is often to simplify unnecessary complexity, Ewer adds, whether that’s through improving a user journey, making complicated data easy to understand, or making decision-making effortless and intuitive in a supermarket.

Related to that, marketers need to continually remind themselves that consumers often do not make rational choices. So covering packaging with product claims, for example, is unlikely to persuade as it simply “puts friction into the decision-making process”.

But, done properly, packaging can be an effective communications medium. Limited editions, for example, “allow buttoned-up brands the opportunity to let their hair down and bend the rules of their brand visual equities”.

Finally, it is important to understand the user journey, since today there are always multiple touch-points to consider, and “each should be visually cohesive, yet able to deliver specific messages at the right moment”.

Data sourced from WARC