1 May 2019

The importance of good design

GOOD DESIGN is the difference between telling someone and showing them. It can be the difference between informing your audience or convincing them. A carefully composed image, an effectively executed graphic concept or a thoughtfully constructed layout can convert worthy content into memorable messages.

We sat down with Campbell van Venrooy, a graphic designer with more than 20 years’ experience delivering compelling visual design solutions for major public and private organisations in Australia, New Zealand and around the world. He is also the Creative Director of FIRST Advisers’ in house design studio, FIRST Creative.

Why do you believe good design is important?

Visual communication design is important. For a company it is about the impression they want to make whenever they come in contact with people. The successful execution of design is when it is done in such a way that the initial reaction to it is positive. It is really about creating a good first impression to engage an audience.

What does it take to make that good first impression?

What often happens with corporate communication is that people put a lot of focus on the message they are trying to get out. Clearly that is important but if it is not presented in an interesting way then it may not get noticed. So we try to think about what are we going to use to get people’s attention, get them to engage with the content and read on.

It is also true however that design doesn’t work by itself. Pictures can look good and they might well “say a thousand words” but to communicate effectively they need to work in conjunction with language. So, good content is brought to life through the interaction of design and a clear verbal narrative.

Having worked for a number of different agencies, the difference I have found with FIRST Advisers is that clients get the benefit of working with a team who collaborate in driving powerful communications centred around both content and visuals. The creative team works in conjunction with our investor relations and corporate communications specialists to produce design work that is made stronger through the narrative. So, it’s a marriage of language and creative to release the power of both.

What are the tools that make good design in the context of Investor relations and Corporate Communications?

Graphic design is really about taking different elements and presenting them in a manner that holds people’s attention. It is not just about taking images and type and shuffling them around on the page. It’s about using graphic design and visual techniques to reveal key messages, facts or statistics. We might use pull out headlines, highlight extracts from the text, or convert key financials into charts or graphs to grab people’s attention and encourage them to engage with the content and read on.

At the most basic level, annual reports are books and books are meant to be read. The ones that get read will be designed and written with this in mind.

A lot of Investor relations content is data driven for a data hungry audience. So how does design fit, when it is just about numbers and information?

People tell you that financial analysts are only interested in numbers. However a study by accounting firm EY revealed that analysts are actually interested in a host of non-financial factors when assessing a company’s strength. So for us, its about combining the narrative around strategy and competitive advantage with the financials. We look at the key factors driving the business and highlight them in an interesting way, whether it be charts and graphs, or incorporating them into infographics, using colour and/or images, plus juxtaposing large and small type. The objective is to bring to the fore those facts that the company considers are important for readers to focus on, otherwise there is the risk that each page becomes indistinguishable from the next.

And can you apply the same thinking to some of the more rigid communication around corporate actions, where the layout and content is pretty strictly prescribed?

Most of those documents are statutory documents. They are locked into reporting or recording information in the way that it is prescribed by the Corporations Act. This particularly applies to takeovers and mergers, IPOs and capital raisings.

To create engagement the most important part of these documents is the front section.The challenge is to use design to get the audience to actually look at the document, in the first place, and then to read the first few pages. Those pages should give them a feel for what it is all about and why they should go on to read the next couple of pages, and the next… It is a matter of using typography, treatment of colour, charts and infographics in a way that makes the story presentable, easy to read and gets the key information out in that short window of opportunity the company has to capture their interest and attention.

Does taking the time to get design right really add value or is it simply window dressing?

It definitely is not window dressing. Design adds value in two ways. The first of which is presenting a company’s story in a compelling and accessible way that allows the audience to gain a clear understanding of the core messages. The second is the design elements can be used in other items, so your communications collateral is aligned, and the audience has a consistent experience of the company’s brand.

If there is no effort put into designing the content you want people to read, it will be very evident, and may give the impression taking the time to communicate effectively with investors is not a priority. I think we all recognise brands that put in the effort and that reflects positively on those companies.

And what, for you, are projects that reflect positively on you?

Early in my career I was an enthusiastic printmaker. A number of my prints have been exhibited in the National Art Gallery of New Zealand and several galleries across Sydney. More recently, between 2014 and 2018, I designed and typeset a four-volume set of books for the Ku-ring-gai Historical Society. The set is called “Rallying the troops: A Word War I commemoration and Vol II won the Mander Jones Award from the Australian Society of Archivist for the best publication to use, feature or interpret Australian archives.


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