Paper Matters Blog
The 4 Cs of Design

The creative brief is in your hands… concepts are swirling about and you’re ready to blaze the trail with your amazing ideas and creative sensibilities. Whoa! Slow down, reign yourself in a bit and take the time to do your research. It can be easy for a graphic designer, whether seasoned or unsalted, to head off on a new project like a lone cowboy. I know this because I’ve done it. Years in this business has taught me that, whether you’re designing a logo, concepting a printed piece or creating a website, research is imperative for effective communication. You are marketing for one group to another and competing with still another group. Once you have the scope of your project, it is essential to have a handle on your 4-Cs: your Client, your Consumer, your Competition and your Comrades (your fellow graphic designers).

Band Together

Your client is your partner. Align yourself with them and their needs. From here on out the company and its product/service are your very own. Your loyalty won’t go unnoticed. The first order of business is to know exactly what you need to convey about your product or service. Are you introducing a new product, selling a service or just reminding consumers that their trusted brand is still the best? Much of this knowledge can be forged from the creative request you receive. Get to know your company; its history and relationship in the marketplace. Study your product or service and identify the positives. Use this knowledge to highlight the features that sets your brand apart from its competitors. In turn, stay away from those features that don’t.

Hit Your Target

Mastering consumer research is an art in itself. The target is always moving and changing. Discovering what consumers want, need and are moved by can prove frustrating. Use what you know. Age, race, gender, cultural background, socioeconomic status and physical environment all play a significant role in the tone, imagery, typestyle and colors you choose to reach your consumer. Maybe your consumer is senior adult female from the U.S., retired but active. She tends to stick with brands she can trust, but can be swayed with ideals that match her own. Using an image of a grandmother pushing her grandchild in a swing may motivate her to choose your brand. A simple illustration, but disregarding your target’s motivations can cause you to miss your mark altogether.

Stake Out Your Rivals

Identifying and following your competition is often a forgotten step. Skipping this critical step in research can result in missed opportunities to advance your message. Use all the resources at your disposal. Try out their product or service if possible. Study your competitor’s marketing message. Gather ads, check out their website, follow their social media channels and search reviews. Your diligence in this area of research will prove invaluable. Used properly this information will set your message apart and drive consumers to your business.

Spur Your Imagination

At this point you should have all the Client, Consumer and Competitor wisdom you need to hash out the message of what you are selling, why they should buy and how yours is better. “Now what?” you say, chomping at the bit. My advice…just a bit more research before blazin’ the creative trail. The internet is your friend. There’s a wealth of inspiration at your fingertips to fuel your fire. It can be a bit overwhelming. But you’ve done your research and have narrowed your scope. Now, check out other designers’ work. Find design solutions for similar brands, but don’t limit yourself to those. Perhaps you’ll discover a new approach to marketing your product that just works. This last piece of the research puzzle can be the trigger that brings your design to life.

Now using everything you’ve learned about the 4-Cs, it’s time to put boots to the ground. In truth, research alone will not make you “Head Honcho Designer,” but you’ll be well on your way to creating great work that will get you noticed and forging loyal partnerships that keep the clients hot on your trail.

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Nicholas Pearson
Marketing Specialist
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Danielle Sinclair
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John Parke
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Paige Goff
Vice President of Sustainability
Deborah Corn
Domtar Paper
Roland Basdeo
Graphic Designer
Susan Jones