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Med Students and Manufacturers Are Studying Visual Design. Should Content Marketers?

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If the shift to visual marketing is causing you some anxiety and making you consider whether it’s time to take a design class, you’re not alone. Recently, I was asked to develop the storyline for an interactive parallax website that included infographics, videos, animations, and more. Even though I’ve written visual marketing content and video scripts for a long time, this project had me stumped.

I couldn’t even visualize what the end product would look like. How could I put together a storyline that would draw in audiences, while also giving the army of designers, videographers, photographers, and creative directors the guidance they needed to how to bring things to life? It’s becoming increasingly clear in a wide variety of client engagement that in order to be effective communicators in today’s environment, marketers and writers—and maybe any professional—should consider a design class to help them tune into effective visual-focused marketing.

Why the Shift to Design Matters

There are moments in every field that signal a forking path. If you upgrade your skills and learn to think in new ways, you’ll stay on trend and be able to keep your work up to the highest bar in your industry. However, if you reject the new technology or new way of doing traditional tasks, you risk falling behind and letting your skills become outdated. For marketers, writers, and other creatives, the shift to more visual formats is one of those moments.

Content marketing is becoming increasingly visual, and many marketers don’t come from a visual background. Developing the skills needed to bring together words and images in a compelling way is more than mastering color wheels or looking at examples of good copy design. It’s about developing a fundamental set of skills that underlie our ability to perceive visuals in a meaningful way and apply that perception intelligently. Even if your plate already seems full, or this need is tangential to what you’re working on right now, I’d argue that it’s time to think ahead. I’m already seeing more requests that require visual design knowledge, and on the whole, I expect this need to increase exponentially in the next year or two.

Doctors and Cops Are Taking Design Classes. Should You?

Image attribution: William Bout

Maybe It’s Time to Take a Design Class

Could design classes be the missing key to mastering next-gen multimedia content? Fast Company recently published a fascinating piece on how doctors, police officers, and other non-design professionals are studying visual media to improve their job performance. Here’s a closer look at five different ways to approach your own visual education, with an eye toward improving your design sense and your career.

Focus on visual analysis

As Fast Company points out, the University of Pennsylvania found that art observation classes helped doctors with their visual analysis. That matters when you’re looking at x-rays or other advanced images for minute cancer cells or micro-fractures. The same is true for marketers and writers. The interplay of the visual and written is subtle within marketing campaigns. Sharper visual analysis skills will help you make better decisions about campaigns, write with visual outcomes in mind, and communicate effectively in cross-functional teams that include creative directors and designers.

Invest in expanding your imagination

Consider reading books, taking classes, or working on projects that encourage you to expand your creativity and imagination. Design and visuals bring a whole new level of expression to your work. Challenge yourself to learn the fundamentals of design, or to take part a digital art class, photography workshop, or painting experience. Learn in a low-pressure environment how tapping into your visual side brings new dimension to your work.

Learn how to communicate with designers

Not long ago, I was invited to sit in on a training that a client’s in-house design agency sponsored for the writers, marketers, and sales people who were requesting their support to create collateral. The title of the event was literally “How to Talk to a Designer 101.” During the event, we learned the importance of:

  • Understanding basic design terminology and concepts;
  • Explaining what our goals and asking the designer for the best options for communicating those principles visually;
  • Building trust with the designers we collaborate with to result in a better end product;
  • Learning how to communicate what you’re looking for, including using examples; and
  • Being precise in the way that you ask for specific deliverables or give feedback. If you’ve ever been guilty of saying, “There’s just something I don’t like about this,” then it’s time to think about cultivating this skill.

Expand your knowledge of digital design platforms

Increasingly, non-designers are expected to have a basic familiarity with and ability to use tools such as Photoshop, Illustrator, and Dreamweaver. While you may never design a full website or do a complete brochure layout, understanding how to use these tools at a basic level gives you more flexibility. In addition, staying up to date on what design platforms are capable of doing can help you imagine new possibilities for the messages you’re trying to bring to your audience.

Follow visual trends

Another way to build your visual marketing intelligence is simply following trends. For example, do you know from year to year what types of logos companies are shifting toward, or how digital design trends are informing website design? Understanding visual marketing directions can help ensure that your communications are staying current, help you experiment with new formats, and even inspire you to eschew a trend and take your brand in a different direction from the rest of your industry.

Visual marketing is increasingly shaping the way that brands communicate with their audiences—and as a result, it’s playing an ever-larger role in the careers of marketers and writers. Don’t let yourself fall behind. Take a design class, learn a new visual software platform, and take some time to follow the latest trends. Being able to help your brand communicate across visual platforms will soon be a central theme in every marketer’s job.

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Featured image attribution: Clem Onojeghuo

Liz Alton is a technology and marketing writer, and content strategist, for Fortune 500 brands and creative agencies. Her specialties include marketing, technology, B2B, big data/analytics, cloud, and mobility. She's worked with clients including Adobe, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Twitter, ADP, and Google. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and an MBA. She is currently pursuing a master’s in journalism from Harvard University.

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