You Can Put Lipstick on a Pig, but It's Still Just a Pig


Over my 25 year career as a creative director and designer, I have received many different types of direction to reach quality expectations. Some has been good, but mostly the requests are weak and inefficient. The most careless, typical direction that I have heard during this time has been, “just make it look pretty.” A direction which has no real merit when it comes to solving a creative challenge other than leading to failure instead of success to only cost a company time and money. As it’s been said often, beauty is in the eye of the beholder so what I might think looks “pretty” may not be what another person sees as the same. The bottom line is a counterproductive direction like this is so subjective and diminishes the chance for your product or service to connect with your audience.

If you appreciate good design, I can assure you that the successes of companies that execute it well don’t start from a superficial objective like this in mind. Take for instance Apple, do you think their accomplishments were ever generated by having the goal to “make it look pretty”? Anything they design from product to their packaging to their retail stores to their marketing materials is deliberate to make a connection with their audience. Sure we want to strive for an exceptional appearance, but by ignoring your audience’s emotional needs, your outcome will fall flat and instead only satisfy your own selfish desires (which they do not care about).

The ingredients for a successful design is one that gets to the core of helping your audience’s challenges in life by pinpointing their desires and building up your benefits around them. Provide solutions to what is troubling them, discomfort or their aspirations in life. By assisting your audience to reach their goals of wealth, safety, success, security, love, acceptance, etc. will trigger interest and even purchase of your product or service. According to Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman says that 95 percent of our purchase decision making takes place in the subconscious mind. It’s an instinctive feeling, not a laborious assessment of why they need your offerings.

The most effective way to discover your audience’s emotional desires is by asking them directly. Strive for open-ended questions during your research or through a focus group study. If you are unable to conduct either of these strategies, try using reverse psychology instead. Put yourself into their shoes and still ask aspirational questions to unveil the information. When designing, it’s imperative to focus on this feedback when illuminating your characteristics that will help them achieve their passionate ambitions. Your audience is smart so don’t underestimate their intelligence. Integrity and professionalism are critical so be sure to choose visual elements and effects that represent their wishes. Reflect on 3-4 adjectives that best describe their mood, this will help to evolve the tone of your creativity. For example, if one of your qualities is “happiness” then choose colors and design effects that represent and don’t select a mysterious or dark look and feel.

Whenever in doubt to capture emotion into your design, try researching examples from the marketplace that display the attributes you are trying to achieve and simulate them. Also, be mindful that a marketing design opportunity shouldn’t be about showing off how savvy you can create but instead to produce something that moves people and builds a relationship that lasts with your audience. It may be fun and easy to put lipstick on a pig but in the end, avoiding the makeup will express to your audience who you are from the inside.

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