In my years of designing graphics in the development world, I believe that on-the-job experience is far more important than just having the title Graphic Designer. In my own expression of the field, graphic design is the art of communicating with images or text (graphics) by arranging (design) them in such a way that they give an alluring vibe to any written or verbal content.
In the development world, the art of arranging text and images in an artistic manner can convey the intended message in one glance. Unlike traditional art, which involves the artist expressing their personality in their art for whoever resonates with their work, the graphic designer has to constantly look outside themselves. Since the designer’s art is created for public consumption, their content has to be based solely on what the target audience will relate to. That is why, especially for graphic design in development work, every little detail matters because there is so much to consider outside oneself.
Over the years, I have found that most people respond faster to images than to a lot of words; hence, I prefer my designs to have more holistic images and few words. This can be a major advantage in design, as one image alone can speak volumes and perfectly deliver the message. However, this also posed a disadvantage for me in my first months in development design; that one image that speaks volumes, can also be interpreted in many different ways. Depending on who is looking at it, it can have different meanings for different people.
An example is the icon used to represent hospitals; this symbol is shaped in the form of a cross. The symbol used to represent churches is also shaped in the form of a cross. Designing health Information, Education, and Communication (IEC) materials with a cross symbol that represents a hospital might attract a church goer who is not in the target audience because he or she resonates with the cross symbol. However, a non-Christian who is in the target audience, seeing the same flyer, might have a bias towards the flyer because his or her religion doesn’t resonate with the cross, so he or she ignores the flyer and thereby misses the whole message. This is where studying your target audience plays a huge role in selecting the types of graphics used. Culture, demography, age, race, gender, religion, or even the social standing of your target audience play a huge role in the type of design to be disseminated. Even the type of font matters! For instance if the age group of my target audience are between 5 years to 15 years old, also known as children or adolescents, using childlike graphics or cartoons would keep their attention and allow them to absorb the message. Using adult characters might give the perception of the message as too serious, and thus result in the target audience ignoring the message.Color, I’ve also come to experience, is a huge factor to consider in designing for a diverse target audience. I once went to a health-themed conference where one of the stands had IEC materials on breast cancer. Their flyers, and basically all their merchandise, were pink in color. Because pink is perceived as a feminine color, the stand attracted a lot of women, who picked up flyers and perused their content. You can say this was successful marketing, as women were their major target audience—but I didn’t see it that way. The fact that no male conference-attendee approached the stand, even though one of the stand attendants was male, tells me that they missed an important opportunity. Women are more susceptible to breast cancer, but by directing their materials only to female audiences, that organization made it gender restrictive. By doing that they lost out on educating the countless men with wives, sisters, mothers, daughters and even friends.
The experiences I shared above and countless others are what shaped me as a graphic designer in the development world. They have guided me, not only in making visually appealing content, but also disseminating relevant information in the best manner possible, to diverse audiences. It’s all about the details.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Husseina Bakori has 8 years of experience in communication. As a development worker, she has provided communication support to the UNICEF Reading and Numeracy Activity Project (RANA), the Sickle Cell Aid Foundation (SCAF) and the Institutes for Humanitarian Studies and Development (IHSD). She brings expertise in graphics design, creative writing, website and social media management.