Counterintuitive ad design

This is a follow-up to the Graphic Design in Context entry from February.

I do the marketing and graphic design for a small web company (a mission mobilizing non-profit). This is my first year helping them out full-time (I’ve been involved since 2002).

I didn’t study marketing in college. I studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics during my six year university tour towards a BFA, so I’ve had to learn along the way. I feel competent in my position now — though by no means an expert — and in fact quite enjoy what I do.

Now that I am full-time I’m trying to establish an actual and intentional campaign. The first thing I did was to peruse publications of all kinds, including those we advertise in and those we don’t. I took stock of what I remember from magazines and tried to pick people’s brains to discover what they remember. Based on my observations, I decided a lot of ads are overdesigned (see number 4). Very few designs seemed to consider negative space (with the exception I clearly noted in the aforementioned post on context).

Thus, use of white space seemed a logical approach to our own campaign:

Relevant Leader final 2

It may not be perfect yet, but we believe it meets our marketing goals.

Of the six times I’ve submitted some iteration of this ad in 2007, three have had “issues” (and two I haven’t heard back from yet). An ad submitted to a college newspaper used so much white space the pressmen thought it a mistake on the part of the page builder and held up the presses. Another college paper centered the content, thereby cropping the name of our organization out of the ad. And today, the publisher of a small professional journal told my ad sales lady at the company that he felt “the ad artwork submitted doesn’t make use of the space allotted.” While I’m very grateful for the good customer service of this last publication, all of this is very amusing to me.

Admittedly, the design of these ads follow my own personal minimalist aesthetic, but I’m not the only one seeing and critiquing these designs before they fly away to various venues. Is the idea so novel, or so bad?


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 Counterintuitive ad design

  1. Pingback: Design: A branding faux pas « The Aesthetic Elevator

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