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Monthly Dose of Design: Introducing Design Fundamentals For Researchers

New to design? We're bringing back the Monthly Dose of Design series. Get caught up with the fundamentals for market researchers and make your work stand out.

The visual design of your proposals, discussion guides, questionnaires and reports is probably one of the later aspects you consider after methodology and content.

However, here at Northstar, our philosophy is that design has the power to positively disrupt, inspire and elevate research within organisations and therefore should in fact be a primary consideration. We believe in ‘Interpretative visualisation’ meaning the look and feel of our deliverables start to tell the story before any word is readFrom ensuring proposals resonate with clients, to communicating discussion guides clearly to international moderators, to engaging participants with questionnaires and exciting clients with insight presentations, design can enable a better research experience for everyone involved.

Resultantly, we’d like to share 10 design fundamentals that all researchers can use to enhance their work.

Planning Fundamentals

Do Your Visual Research
Create a moodboard embodying the look and feel of your upcoming document that includes colour palettes, visual styling, and font styles. Most importantly keep it consistent with your research’s theme.

Purposeful Design
Make sure you can explain why you have done what you have done visually, and there is a reason behind every visual or graphic element you use in your document. A simplistic layout is more visually appealing and easier to navigate than a chaotic one. White spaces are fine when well placed –  there is no need to pack a page with unnecessary design elements. Then you can try to replicate your inspiration through the layout, alignment, image styling, graphic elements and typography.

Build a Content Hierarchy
Once all your content is finalised, the first thing to do is establish what are the primary and secondary points of information you are trying to communicate for each section. The primary points will become the most visually engaging features in your document through clever and considered use of contrasting colour palettes, scale and different font weights.

Setting up a mock content page with all titles, subtitles and key points within each section helps improve in the planning of design. This allows you to easily view information such as consistency of title naming, quantity of pages needed and space allocation for content

Layout Fundamentals

Stretch Your Content Out
There is nothing worse than looking at a document that is overloaded with text. It overpowers your audience and makes your content difficult to understand. Spread your content out across multiple pages or slides so that it’s easier for your audience to understand, and so it can speak for itself when you aren’t there.

Less is More
Minimalism is your best friend and will help you communicate your content clearly, concisely and quickly. Keep your layout simple, utilise white space, and make sure your elements have enough room to breathe and are making the intended impact.

The benefits of minimalism also applies to your copy. Having a single word or short phase on a single page sometimes is much more effective in delivering a message.

Stay Aligned
To make sure your content and imagery doesn’t look like it has gone wild on the page, give your document alignment rules and margins so that it encourages structure throughout. Margins are some of the best rules to abide by – enforcing a “no-text zone” within an allocated distance from the edge of the page. This allows your document to have its contents neatly placed in the centre and prevents text being too close to the edge of the page and being hard to read.

Font Fundamentals

Limit Font Usage
Choose fonts that are clear and legible to read. What is the point in delivering your finished content in 5 different fonts that no one can read? Having 2 or less fonts also helps simplify design and makes it easy on the eyes to follow through a document.

Use Fonts With Variety
When choosing a font, choose one that has a lot of variations. For example, thin, light, semi-bold, condensed and italic. This easily supports your hierarchy of information that allows you to easily distinguish importance. Having a large font family helps you create new sub categories easily without the need for another typeface – helping you create a consistency in your design.

Colour Fundamentals

Use Contrasting Colours
Colour can be the S.O.S that your document needs. Create a complimentary colour palette that will create contrast in your document, and help you create hierarchy by pulling out key points of information. Use different tones of your colour palette throughout your document to keep it consistent yet still visually appealing by adjusting the brightness.

Managing Colour and Text
With text, imagery and innovative colour palettes, a rule to remember is light text belongs on a dark background and dark text belongs on a light background. Also, thinner fonts generally need to be in stronger contrast, as they can become hard to read, if you want to use a thinner font in a lighter colour, try making it a slightly thicker variation –  e.g. From light to regular.

What’s next…
Our next post will show you the rules of layout and copy presentation in discussion guide design, transforming it from a jumble sale of timings, objectives, and questions, into a clean crisp document that any moderator or client can make sense of.

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