Graphic design in context

My second year architecture studio prof once suggested we take our sleeping bags to the plot we designed for and spend the night there. The point was to get to know the environment as well as possible.

It’s the time of year when I begin prepping for ads in Christian college newspapers — and I actually have the budget for a small magazine ad this year as well. When I start looking through the publications we regularly advertise in I’m amazed at the designs companies and organizations run.

I almost hate to post this; it feels like I’m giving away a secret. But it seems to me that designs in the aforementioned types of publications don’t pay any attention to where their ad will end up. And I’m not just talking about poorly designed fare.

Granted, in the case of newspaper ads a lot of the design is submitted to the newspapers by people who may or may not have any credentials. But when you pay out the nose for magazine ads, don’t you want the thing to stand out?

As a case study, consider Ketel One’s magazine campaign:

The above ad ran in Sports Illustrated. Perhaps some people can’t stomach the idea of such a simple design on an entire page — a page that probably cost them around $180,000 (judging by SI’s current media kit). But it’s a stellar campaign. These are one of the very few ads I rememeber after flipping through a magazine (others include Kohler and Absolut Vodka).

Ketel One’s ads stand out because of the white space, something I’ve always thought to be vastly unconsidered in most modern design. However, use of white space is not the end-all for newspaper or magazine design; it just works in most places now because most other design is so busy.

Perhaps I’m more attuned to this since I don’t just do design — I’m also the guy in our little office who oversees all of the marketing. But I’m hoping this isn’t the case. I hope designers take into account the environment their designs will inhabit.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

One Response to Graphic design in context

  1. Pingback: Counterintuitive ad design « The Aesthetic Elevator

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