B2B Beat: What Marketers Can Learn about Design on Lynda.com

April 3, 2016

Technology moves like screaming bullet train. Or like a speeding self-driving car. Or like a hurtling drone.

You get the picture. Technology is moving fast. As a business professional, it can be hard to keep pace with all the changes in our own industries. In marketing, for example, we must strive to be hybrid marketers, staying current with new marketing technologies, with SEO changes, and with the latest in metrics and analytics.

LinkedIn recognizes the necessity to keep learning. LinkedIn’s Lynda.com recently introduced “Learning Paths,” a new program of videos that offer “step-by-step structured courses, supported with quizzes, practice, and learning reminders” to help professionals improve their skills for their current job or to make a career pivot.

There are three specific learning paths for marketers on Lynda.com: “Become a Content Marketer,” “Become a Digital Marketer,” and “Become and SEO Expert.” 

The B2B Beat recently watched a separate (and excellent) Lynda.com video on design that can help all marketing professionals — not just designers — gain a better understanding of how good design can improve our messaging. Here are eight lessons from “Things Every Designer Should Know,” a Lynda.com video taught by John McWade, senior staff author at Lynda.com.

Know Your Story

McWade starts with the premise that good design is impossible without knowing your story or what you want to communicate. “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re not going to get there,” McWade says. A creative brief – which is essentially a client sharing the story to be communicated with a designer – is a critical step in any design process. “The creative brief process [is] a vital part of any design,” McWade says.   

Keep It Simple

McWade subscribes to the Ludwig Mies van der Rohe motto, “Less is more.” McWade’s explanation: “When it comes to communicating a thought or an idea, simple is best. By simple I mean basically less stuff, fewer elements, simpler elements, less to look at, less to process, less to think about. Just reduce your message to its essence.” When applying this idea to a slide deck, he says, “What you want when you’re making a PowerPoint presentation is to have your slides just be simple, memorable, memory hooks that support what you're saying.” He uses a “before” and “after” of a single PowerPoint slide to demonstrate his point. The “before” slide on the top McWade describes as “notes.” The “after” slide on the bottom, with the "What makes you different?" headline, is a design that communicates with a powerful visual.


Have a Focal Point

Great design takes the eye on a journey, which begins at a focal point. It gives the design a hierarchy, from the most important element on down to lesser elements. “A focal point is typically the biggest or the brightest or the boldest or the most different element on your page, and it gives your reader a place to focus,” McWade says. 

Get Extreme

McWade is a fan of making images very big in a design, and letting the image’s size do the talking. Using large images that dominate a design can be a way to a) tell the story, b) keep the design simple, and c) have a focal point.

Put White to Work

McWade is also a fan of white space, which he says is essential for design. White space can help direct the viewer’s eyes to the focal point and what’s truly important in a marketer’s message. “White space is a requirement for all design,” McWade says. “You can't really design without it.”

Unblock It

Too many designs rely on rectangles: a photo block, blocks of types, and blocks of other design elements. McWade encourages designers to quite literally “think outside the box.” A key way to do this, he says, is in cropping photos so that they are able to break out of the rectangular box that is the edge of the photo.

Set Type Boldly

Type can work as a design element itself. “Type is art,” McWade proclaims. He says designers can use type to form a pattern, create initial caps as a visual, and use huge headlines to make words dominate a design. “One way (designers can use type) is to not be timid in our use of type, but to set it boldly,” McWade says.

Use Beautiful Color

In this segment of the video, McWade delivers the clearest explanation of a color wheel the B2B Beat has ever seen. He also makes the case that color can make or break a design. “Color is like magic. We are so attracted to color and so repelled by color we don't like that the coolest design in the world could be presented to us, and if we don't like its color, we don't like it,” he says.

If you’re itching to put all of this design insight to work, you can use it in your content marketing. And to make the best content marketing possible, download the new ebook, The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Content Marketing.