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“What’s Your Takeaway?”

By Burkey Belser
May 18, 2009
“What’s Your Takeaway?”

We were chatting in our studio the other day about art direction.

The question in front of us was how to give direction in a way that helps designers or writers correct the work by themselves. But I realized the conversation also applies to professional services proposals and pitches. It applies to a consultant’s recommendations to her client’s board and certainly, a litigator’s argument before a jury.

Art direction seeks to help the creative team focus their attention on the white line in the middle of the road. It’s so easy to drive off into the bushes. Even the simplest lapse in understanding will send the communication approach careening over the cliff. It never ceases to amaze me. But, as a result, I keenly feel my responsibility to give adequate and appropriate art direction.

Our design team has all heard me drone on about the three stages of design: great idea, great design and great execution. We do all three before a piece goes out the door, but not without some serious emotional cost in our creative environment. Could there be an easier way than our process currently allows? I’d like to suggest it may lie in asking yourself a simple question that allows you to art direct yourself: “What’s your takeaway?”

What’s your takeaway?
In other words, before you present a creative or any kind of idea to anyone, print out the work full size, lay it out before you and verbally (yes, out loud) ask, “What’s your takeaway? You’ve got three seconds.”

Every designer has to gain perspective on their own work. It’s central to growth as a designer. Well, here’s a very good start. Seems to me, all the problems with a piece show up upon asking this simple question “What’s your takeaway.” The most common problems with work in development are (1) it’s off-message (even slightly is off too far; check your brand platform) or (2) the message is not visible—literally; that is, it doesn’t jump out at you and grab you in the throat. Off-message? That’s usually a problem with the headline and visual solution. Once again, review the work with the big picture in mind. We go through this all the time. We have had creative concepts NEAR the message but we struggled to get dead on. If you were to look at some of the versions along the way, you could see the problem immediately. Close, but no cigar. So, we do this same analytical exercise again and again with our work. What's your takeaway? Well, what's it supposed to be? If you don't know, you're not ready to design anything.

We recommend you apply the same discipline in evaluating all your communications—in print, online or in person.