Design is in the Details

If you’ve had a chance to look at the site’s about page, you might remember that part of the mission of architangent is to show how good design relates to our every day lives. Over the weekend, I set out to design business cards for architangent. Although a seemingly simple and routine design, there was much more complexity to the project than meets the eye. I’ll take this as an opportunity to elaborate on the topic of good design and how it relates to you.

Good design is always on a mission: to inform, educate, influence, amaze, perform, sustain, etc. Utility would say that all I need to produce a business card is my contact information written in a clear font on a small piece of rigid paper. Design would ask, ‘how can we achieve multiple goals while meeting specific needs?’. In my case, I have several goals for my business cards. One is to project an image of my company – an image that puts my best foot forward, makes a great impression and conveys simplicity, creativity, and purpose in an approachable way. Another goal is to create a business card that is functional. A final goal is to create a business card that is memorable. Ultimately, the purpose of handing out business cards is so that potential clients contact you to engage in business (whether to purchase a product, read an article, or otherwise). Good design will ask the question of ‘what is the goal’ and ‘how do we achieve that with practical steps’. The way the questions are answered will help determine the success of the product, and ultimately, the business.

Cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black).

Image via Wikipedia

Part of branding is to establish the logo, name and colors in the consumer’s mind by use of repetition. For my design, I wanted to use the company’s colors: black, white and green. During my design process, I discovered that the color green I had originally selected was only available in the RGB spectrum and not the CMYK spectrum I would be printing in. For those who are not familiar, RGB means red, green, blue, while CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, black. RGB colors are much brighter and vivid than CMYK colors because they are colors emitted as light. These colors are the ones you’ll see on the computer and on websites. CMYK, on the other hand, are colors that absorb light since they are printed on paper. A limited number of colors can be produced with CMYK inks, and thus, my original color choice was dulled when changed to account for the printing method. Good design principles guided me to choose a new color and apply the change not only to my new business cards, but to my existing website as well. Small changes might be cumbersome in the beginning, but the final result is well worth it. Now my business cards and website colors will match and help establish the brand’s colors. Consistency is important in good design. It can mean the difference between instant brand recognition and consumer confusion.

QR code to architangent

Functionality is a large aspect of any design project. If a design does not work as intended, it is little more than a piece of art – beautiful, perhaps, but useless. At the beginning of the design process, my intent was to use two QR codes to graphically convey links to my website and contact information. If you are unfamiliar with QR codes, check out a detailed post on them via Bob Borson’s post here. The basic principle of a QR code is that it is a 2D image of a snippet of code. Smart phones equipped with barcode scanners can ‘read’ the image and send the user to a website, download a contact’s information, or other pre-determined functions built into the image’s code. I originally had one image that took users to my website, and another one that would instantly add my contact information to their phone. However, upon my test prints, I discovered that both android and iphones had difficulty reading the contact information image due to the size. In the end, I opted for functionality over clever design and only included one image. To sacrifice functionality for the sake of design is a disservice to both. Good design finds a way to make functionality beautiful. It may take an extra 10 tries, but the result is much better than settling for mediocre functionality.

Finally, price is always an issue when dealing with real projects. Being your own client has a way of teaching the importance of budgets and finding a way to meet them. While I didn’t have a specific dollar limit, I knew that if I could produce a set of good-looking cards for $200 or opt for a similar design for $700, I would have to justify the $500 premium somehow. My initial desire was to use offset printing and deboss the front of a cotton card to create a depressed texture for my logo and brand name. While I knew debossing was expensive, I couldn’t justify a $500 premium for this method when I could produce a similar look and texture for under $200 using a different printing method. When faced with the decision to spend or save, I had to re-evaluate my goals. Would spending the extra money help me achieve more clarity, brand recognition, or functionality? Would a letterpress design exude ‘approachable architecture’, as my website states? In the end, the decision to use another method was made by simply going back to the goals of the design. Good design will be guided by the intentions of the project at hand. Good design will justify costs or savings and establish confidence in project proposals.

Architangent Business Card Front and Back

The final product will be a two sided business card printed with two colors of ink on silk paper. I opted for spot gloss on the front logo and brand name. Spot gloss is a slightly raised glossy finish over a chosen area – great for creating a subtle texture at minimal cost. I chose to use Taste of Ink as the printer, due to their amazing portfolio, great prices, range of service options and outstanding customer service (I got a response to my email within 10 minutes of sending!). They also offer a deal to sign up for a ‘membership’ which gives a $30 credit and 10% discount on all orders.

In summary, good design was extremely important to something as small as business card design. Good design practices helped me create a visually appealing and memorable card that will serve as the introduction to my company, products and brand. The translation of the card into clients is ultimately how this design will affect me. Hopefully it will also inspire those I hand it out to to pursue good design and impact the world around them.

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  • Kevin

    Can a barcode be green too, or does it have to be black?

    • David

      Unfortunately, the green QR code reads poorly on smart phones.  Another concession aesthetics must make to functionality.

    • Apparently my reply via email did not show up, so here it is again: Great question. The QR code images can be made any color, but I found that both android and iphone apps had trouble reading the image quickly (or at all) when I used the ‘architangent green’ color. The problem could be a combination of the color and size, or it could be that the color I chose did not produce enough contrast. The main consideration is choosing a color that will retain a high contrast so that it can be read clearly and quickly. While there are standards for creating the code that QR images use, the standards are not always followed, and that can cause problems for readability. On average, I found that the iphone app “Qrafter” was the fastest and had little trouble reading images. The next best was the android “Red Laser” app, though in low light it had some difficulties with the colored images. In the end, I chose to use black so that there would be no end-user frustration if their particular phone or app didn’t work with colored images. Functionality won in the end!