Why the arts need graphic snobs

Yesterday afternoon I received a poster, via email, from another arts organisation and we wonder why the arts isn’t always taken seriously.

The percentage of arts funding that gets spent on marketing is tiny compared to most companies selling things. I checked and in 2012 Unilever spent 16.75% of its turnover on advertising. Culturapedia’s equivalent was more like 2%.

Lancashire’s arts companies can’t afford to engage the likes of Saatchi & Saatchi but we need to be sooo careful not to undersell ourselves.

Marketing is a big field and much bigger than whatever print we choose to put out there but this is a good starting point and indicator of the quality of everything else. We are forced by economics to multitask and design things in house but need to be careful of false economies. For example we’ve found that online printing companies are cheaper than photocopying.

Most computers come with a package that allows us to design things. They also come with a myriad of fonts, naff templates and things like drop shadows. Most of these fonts have their place, (apart from comic sans) but not on the same poster. Likewise drop shadows have been used effectively in the past – by professionals.

We are supposed to be the creative industries – creative people. If we’re not trained graphic designers the maxim should be KISS, (keep it simple stupid).

We also have a tendency to put too much information onto our print. Thinking that the more information the more likely people are to read it. If anything this can tend to put people off. When was the last time you read a paragraph of text on a poster?

A consequence of Unilever’s $8.6 billion annual advertising spend is that we know what Persil is and what it does. They can keep it minimal and just remind us that it’s an aspirational product on the supermarket shelves. We in the arts don’t quite have that brand penetration and need to give a bit more context but lets not overdo it.

2015 Persil advert

2015 Persil advert

We’ve got a box at Culturapedia of really bad examples – things that have come from theatre companies trying to get onto the Spot On network.

Here are my top ten don’ts

  • Do we really need to know that the play was directed by someone we’ve never heard of or that the lighting was designed by someone else that we wouldn’t know from Adam?
  • Photos should at least be in focus and say something relevant to the product.
  • Script typefaces should be legible and used sparingly (if you must use them)
  • Date time and venue are really quite important – not for the back or in a 5mm strip at the bottom
  • Use a maximum of two typefaces
  • Clip art is very difficult to use without it looking like clip art
  • Stick to standard sizes. Poster sites and leaflet racks are designed for standard paper sizes.
  • Use contrast – don’t use dark purple writing on a black background.
  • Don’t use empty words like unique, innovative or dynamic. Remember less text is better
  • Most online design templates are designed for coffee mornings and WI fetes – not professional arts activity.

If you can, get a professional to design it for you – beware false economies. It may cost you a bit but you may well get more people there.

This is where readers will point out really bad publicity that has come from Culturapedia – ah well, none of us are perfect.