Part 3 on the Elements of Good Design

Amnesty International - Soccer Ball Ad for Puerto Rico 2008
Coke vs. Pepsi – a familiar battle, no?

(No, I’m not asking you to draw a connection between soccer and these cola brands.)

Last year Pepsi didn’t run a single ad in the Super Bowl. This year they did, along with arch rival, Coke. Turns out Pepsi got a big surprise last year: Social media was supposed to be the be-all, end-all, right? Pepsi poured half their advertising budget into social media, abandoning the lion’s share of traditional advertising, poo-pooing making ‘impressions’ on the market as a valuable tool.

They may have made a big splash online, but then they lost 5% of their market share, something akin to half a billion dollars in sales. Ouch! It got worse than that, but I’ll move on to my point: Traditional media – billboards, print ads, postcards, signs on buses and benches – still works.

You, too, may be counting on the success of your ad in a local magazine, on the backs of grocery carts, or even on those mobile billboard trucks to build ‘impressions’ on your target market’s psyche. How do you know if your display ad is powerful enough to penetrate your market’s subconscious mind?

Start with a Good Ad

In the first part of this series on elements of good design, we examined the importance of light and movement in a display ad. (Without the former you can’t see the latter.) In the second part, we reviewed the contributions of tension and balance within a display ad’s design success.

Of equal importance to these elements is Value. This is a measurement of light and dark (not a perception of the ‘value’ of a product’s worth to the customer). It is literally how much white or black is present within any given color and throughout the entire ad. It can be used to draw focus to a specific area of a print ad as well as heighten contrast for greater attention.

When lightening a color towards pure white, the process is referred to as ‘tinting.’ When darkening a color towards complete black, it is referred to as ‘increasing the value.’
Volkswagen Ad - Domino Parts

How Your Ad’s Value Levels Affect Its Success

As a business owner, what do you need to know about how value affects the number of impressions your ad may make on your market? Poor color and light values in a display ad can make your ad practically invisible to potential viewers. Ads with the best Value Levels draw the eye away from your competition’s ad – and everything else on the page. This Volkswagen ad is heavily tinted towards nearly all-white values, drawing a great deal of focus.

  • Extreme light changes make the eye dilate or contract. If this Volkswagen ad above were yours in a publication filled with color ads, it may stand out much more, contrasting with the darker contents of its surroundings.
  • In this particular ad above, there is so little text that the space is highly inviting to the eye as a place to rest. Imagine this ad next to a long story in the New Yorker; it’s a relief against all the surrounding text.
  • Value affects the viewer’s feelings about the content of an image. White is considered friendly, open, relaxed and comforting.

Henkel Perlana Sweater Ad

The two above ads are about as far apart in value as they can get in color value. The ad above makes highly creative use of the benefits of this laundry product. In fact, there’s a whole series of ‘black animals ads’ by this manufacturer which are stunning. (This is also where a superb product stylist earns her paycheck manipulating this sweater into faces!) Dark colors, or black, trigger completely different feelings and reactions from the viewer:

  • Dark or heavy black value ads pull the viewer in using intrigue as the prime tool. We simply can’t see the details very easily. We have to work for it.
  • We humans are a curious lot, wanting to investigate what we can’t see in a dark room or corner.
  • Black can convey mystery, depth, evil, but also elegance, chocolate and richness.
  • A tip from a designer: Ads such as the above require great skill on the part of the photographer as well as the graphic designer, as well as working directly with the graphics department that will be publishing your final ad. It is crucial to ensure the light and dark values will be reproduced accurately by the publisher so that your ad doesn’t print looking like a muddy mess.

Lastly, let’s take a look at what happens when light and dark intersect in one, high-contrast print ad.
Harry Potter Movie Poster

  • Contrasting light and dark in the extremes produces a sense of drama.
  • Manipulation of brighter areas draw the eye to the desired focal point.

Overall, the heightened values provide a sense of tension, as one might see when a major storm front comes to town. And the cool, blue hue throughout gives the impression of nighttime and a touch of evil. This poster did a terrific job of driving fans into the theaters.

How can you use value (and contrast) in your own display ads to improve your customer ‘impressions’ and overall customer conversion? Suggestion: always consider where your ad will be placed — surrounded by a) lots of high contrast color, b) a lengthy text article, or c) lots of empty white or black space? Get the most ‘value’ out of adjusting your ad’s color values when you investigate what will be around it on the page.

Tips & Tidbits on Great Design

If you’re curious to see more great print ads, here are a few sites to check out. They’re all showing stellar work!

21 Great and Inspiring Print Ads
30 Hilarious Print Ads
30 Inspirational Print Ads
Great Ads Blog

65 Great Creative Print Ads
30 Great Print Ads That Tell a Visual Story
50 Awesome Print Ads
AdverBlog – Great Ads
40 Brilliantly Photoshopped Ads
30 Funny Print Ads
30 Coolest Minimalist Print Ads
50 Great Print Ads

And if you’re really curious to learn more about the elements of good design, here are some great, quick read resources:

Elements of Good Design – John Lovett
Principles and Elements of Good Design
Elements of Design
Basic Graphic Design Elements
Principles of Design Guide – Visual Language of Good Communications