Form vs. Function: Getting Your Designer To Make an Ugly Graphic with “Stickers”


The world of graphic design can be a pretty fickle space. Most people who go into the area are artists at heart, and have spent years honing their aesthetic to perfection. Over the years I’ve worked with quite a few extremely talented designers – but in working with them there’s one area where I’ve gotten more pushback than anything else … and that’s when I ask them to make their images a little uglier.

Now when I say “ugly” I don’t necessarily mean that it looks too pretty, but instead I’m referring to instances where the design is so perfect and flawless that it blends directly into the rest of the project. In particular, this matters when working on call-to-action promotions or advertisements. The issue you run into with these types of assets is that they are meant to be noticed – meaning they are meant to stick out. Sometimes even like a sore thumb.

A classic example of this is the “sale” promotion. Many times in the past we’ve run into problems where a promotion for a sale on a specific product has a great creative asset put together by our team, but the “sale” portion of the creative is made to match the rest of the project too closely. In these cases I’ve gotten into near arguments about trying to get the designer to make the “sale” stick out more. After all, from the marketing and promotions angle, the whole point of the promotion is to get people to see it and take action (i.e. click, or go to the store, etc). The problem is, many designers hesitate at this, as it breaks the aesthetic.

The way I’ve learned to deal with this is the take the “sticker” approach, by which I mean the designer puts together creative for the product being promoted, but without the “sale” call-to-action. Then, we take the old approach from brick and mortar and put a “sticker” on the artwork with the sale. (By “sticker” I basically mean an additional layer that gets placed on top of the creative).

If your designer can’t bring themselves to make their work “ugly,” put a sticker on it.

Obviously this still doesn’t make the designers completely happy, but it does take them somewhat out of the equation. I’ve found that designers are happier when providing a quality asset, and then at the point where they relinquish control, the sales and promotion team takes over and can then add their extra “sticker” layer on top. Yes, it might be an “uglier” end product, but the designer hasn’t had to try to force themselves to alter their designs to match an aesthetic that may not come naturally – and they take pride in the product they delivered.

Invite your designers to also have a hand in designing the “sticker” assets.

One additional trick I’ve learned with this is that it can be very helpful to invite your designers to also have a hand in designing the “sticker” assets. Make it clear what the sticker is for – to call-to-action and to go on any promotional asset you have. By divorcing the “sticker” from the individual promotions you are able to get a design that still matches your brand appropriately, is up to standards that both your marketing team and your design team are happy with, and that can be easily leveraged going forward on any future assets you receive from your design team.

Just remember, when it comes to promotions, the point is usually to have something that stands out. It can be tempting to make your designs integrate nicely into the overall promotion, but in many instances all you’ll end up with is a pretty picture that’s nice to look at, but ultimately doesn’t do anything. In marketing, you generally want people to take action – and if not action, at least take notice.

If your design team has a hard time allowing themselves to make promotional designs that stand out from the rest of a project, try the sticker approach. It’s worked for me in the past.

Of course if you can find a designer who can deliver the right aesthetic and also understands how to integrate call-to-action / function into design, that’s a better approach – but if you’re working with a designer who you just adore, but can’t bring themselves to “uglify” their work, the sticker approach can work wonders.

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One thought on “Form vs. Function: Getting Your Designer To Make an Ugly Graphic with “Stickers”

  1. Ultimately, if your work looks pretty, but doesn’t accomplish what it’s supposed to do, then it failed. You’re a designer, not an artist. You’re supposed to design for the job at hand. This means the target audience, and the desired outcome, whoever and whatever those are. It’s easy to get caught up on what you personally think looks good, but you have to separate your subjective design preferences from your objective design principles and the actual design goal.

    Stickers can be a good solution, but ultimately they should fit with the rest of your work, while still standing out and catching the eye. There’s a difference between incorporating stickers into your solution, and rescuing a design that doesn’t work by using a sticker.

    The point of an ad is to be noticed.
    Balancing beauty with function is essentially the definition of design, and if your work doesn’t do that, then it’s not done yet.

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