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the 3c method for design evaluation: understanding the context and quality of content in the project - part 1

Breaking down the process of evaluating a developing design into a system of questions.

Evaluation Complexity

The effectiveness of a design is often evaluated based on the final result. However, there are many introductory steps between the brief and the final solution that a designer receives while diving into the product. They immerse themselves in new meanings, patterns, and cause-and-effect relationships. On the one hand, this helps the designer speak the same language as the client and find their visual insights. On the other hand, there is a risk of getting confused when choosing from a large number of cool solutions. Trying to find their own selection principle for the most successful concepts, designers rely on observation, creative mechanics, or the power of Pinterest algorithms. All of this can work separately and together, but the question remains the same: how can you evaluate your idea according to the task requirements and come up with a non-trivial solution among all the diversity of techniques? Today we will break down the Method 3K into specific questions, which is designed to balance effectiveness and creativity.

Questions to Ask Yourself

The quality of a concept heavily depends on the questions we ask ourselves during the creation process. This is a super basic thing, understanding of which can make you close this article and start googling "how to ask the right questions." If today you are looking for "where to find inspiration," then the main thing that will be in your concept is the reproduction of the visual that inspired you, which can also be done, but have you considered all aspects of the task in this way? If you are a creative guru and use the metaphor technique so skillfully that you have earned the nickname Graphic Poet, then you probably already have a pool of questions designed to break down the properties of the product into comparative images.

In each of these cases, you have several questions:

  • - You came up with an idea, but is it worth developing?
  • - The idea is fresh and bold, but how do you defend it to the client or internal team?
  • - The idea perfectly meets the brief, but how creative is it?

Team Questions

Communication within the team is the second factor in the success of design concepts. Delegating implementation can be a formality with a specification, or it can be built on the desire to convey the depth of the idea to the designer and literally infect them with their vision. The first option suffers from the mechanical execution of ideas that are not their own, while the second is often a chaotic process and heavily depends on the amount of thought fuel from the director.

Here we have different questions:

 
  • — the idea was born, but how to convey my vision to the team?
  • — my colleagues implemented the ideas, but how to give feedback for improvement so that everyone understands and doesn't undermine inspiration?
  • — the idea needs significant refinement, but how not to spend a ton of time on comments?

Let's figure out how to solve these problems.

3С Method

 

In the distant 2017, Sergey Kulinkovich, the art director of Art. Lebedev Studio, shared how he distinguishes good design from mediocre design. The method differs by a systematic approach to evaluation and requires an understanding of three basic things: Context, Content, and Contrast. Hence the name "3C".

According to the method, the best works have all three parameters demonstrated exceptionally, while unsuccessful ones lack one or even all "Сs".

 

However, the lecture provides only introductory knowledge of how this approach works. How can we apply it in everyday practice when an art director needs to evaluate concepts for several projects and give a clear creative brief, and the designer needs to draw up valid concept options and reject weak ones independently?

Here, the skill of asking questions comes to our aid. More specifically, we will help with their formulation.

Context

Determines how well-designed visuals align with business objectives, target audience preferences, and industry-specific requirements.

 

When selecting colors for a palette builder or choosing a warehouse worker's nationality for a logistics advertisement, we always consider not only the brief but also the context. Let's break down this abstract concept into simple questions.

Questions to immerse yourself in context:

 

1) Why is this design being created?

 

It is important to understand the actual tasks that the design, especially graphic design, is solving. You cannot increase a startup's sales through a beautiful logo, but you can organize and systematize the design across a group of companies.

 

2) What should the viewer understand upon seeing the design?

 

Here, we reveal practical information about the brand: price segment, market experience, physical product properties, etc. Imagine the design of a company that sells high-priced 3D printers from Germany. It will clearly differ from the design of 3D printers from China with an affordable price.

3) What should the viewer feel when interacting with design?

 

Evaluate what emotions the brand conveys and consider them when developing graphics. Fluffy and cute companies may look vanilla, while confident and expert ones stand out with strictness and restrained style.

4) How will the design live in the real world after production?

 

This is not only about technical requirements for layouts, but about how long the viewer will interact with your design and from what distance. Billboards are overloaded with fonts, while advertising posts on Instagram do not contain them at all, as it is more effective for the user.

5) Who is the core of the product's target audience? What is their information field?

 

Here, the second part of the question itself suggests that it is necessary to understand which brands your target audience uses and what content they watch in their feeds. If we design a clothing brand for those who want to look younger in their old age, then we look at the target audience's age not as the number of gray hairs, but as the need to buy paint to look younger, and as a result, we take the aesthetics of similar cosmetics products.

To develop an understanding of the context and find increasingly complex interrelationships, there is one piece of advice expressed in many formats: be curious - read, attend events, watch movies, try to learn skills and languages, travel, communicate with people of other professions. In short, go beyond the graphics editors and the workplace.

 

Content

Shows how accurately selected visual techniques solve Context tasks and how qualitatively the design is executed at the technical level.

 

If the leading pharmaceutical manufacturer implements 3D elements in its style, then the quality and detail of the models greatly determines our attitude towards its solidity and level of progressiveness.

Questions for checking the quality of content:

 

1) Which style/combination of styles will accurately convey the necessary emotion and advantages of the product? Why?

 

One needs to master different styles to better convey the context of the task. Apple's minimalism once distinguished the company as being on another level, while the post-apocalyptic style of Burning Man is what can identify where holiday photos were taken.

2) Which colors will accurately convey the necessary emotion and advantages of the product? Why?

 

Color strongly influences the mood of a brand. A green-purple mobile operator and a red one convey different messages, and we will never mistake them.

3) Which fonts will accurately convey the necessary emotion and advantages of the product? Why?

 

Typography often determines the character of a message. Nike bought only one font style from the entire Futura family because they are confident that it reflects the context they need. Be like Nike and turn your font into the voice of your brand.

4) Which images will accurately convey the necessary emotion and advantages of the product? Why?

 

Colors and fonts are abstractions that everyone can interpret in their own way, which is why more specific images are often required to accurately convey a brand's message. When a country cottage uses textures of nature and beautiful views, we easily understand the emphasis on naturalness and authenticity. But when we see many photos of people, cozy gatherings, and family celebrations in the same cottage community, it clearly hints at creating a community and friendship with neighbors.

5) What type of people will convey the necessary emotion and product benefits most accurately? Why?

 

Using people significantly enhances any concept. But only the "right" people. Age, nationality, facial features, emotion, pose in the photo, the hero's hackneyedness on the stacks, style in clothes - all this needs to be taken into account to strengthen the concept. The grunge cosmetics brand About-Face is supported by models with tousled hair and strange poses, and Max Factor broadcasts classic sexuality of top models.

6) How can the developed style be scaled to different carriers? When developing the current concept, we always take into account how it will be revealed on all future media. An idea that works well only in the context of a poster will be weak today.

7) Have I followed the accuracy in details (alignment, neat joints, smooth lines, etc.)?

 

Well, that's the basics. Here we develop our inner art director and fiercely polish hard skills. A clean layout will tell about your professionalism.

8) Have I integrated photos into layouts with quality: correct shadow, smooth cropping, color correction done?

 

Realism of photo content is the second pillar in the toolkit of a designer. Intuitively, we sometimes look at a layout and understand that it is weak, but in fact, the issue often lies in the correctness of the effects. We download retouching software so that no one ever learns how to correctly create reflections in water.

 

Content is the face of a specialist. It shows what kind of practitioner you are and how many hours you have spent reproducing the work of masters, how much time you have spent watching educational videos, and how much you have invested in design and related courses. If it's easy to develop Context just by contemplating and experiencing, then to improve your Content, you need to study hard and practice.

 

Not a Magic Pill

This pool of questions is not intended to be an absolute panacea for evaluating design, but it can become a starting point for a systematic approach in your work. Develop your internal critic and expand this list - after all, this method primarily improves the skill of asking precise questions.

The breakdown of the 3C Method doesn't end here, but we will discuss the two types of Contrast - Local and Global - in the next part of the article.

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