Design is based on a grid system. Even though, the framework is not visible to the naked eye, designers need a foundation point before they can begin pushing pixels around a canvas. Once a designer understands the confines of their grid system, their trained eye beings to see relationships form between the ingredients of symmetry, proportion, and harmony. Aristotle referred to the harmonious state between ingredients as the Golden Mean.

Centuries later, building upon the tenets of Aristotle, Tim Brown CEO of IDEO coined the phrase “design thinking,” which is the “discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.”

Organizations still holding on to the belief that a design departments only function is to “makes things look pretty” should revise that notion and recognize that design is no longer just about the aesthetics. Instead, design is a holistic representation of brand value.

Don Draper, from Mad Men, even though he is a fictitious television character, defines what it means to be a  “Creative.” Armed with a unique skill set, Don is able to balance both strategic thinking and design thinking in order to satisfy both the needs of the agencies clients and the demanding needs of his Accounts Executives. In one episode, Don eloquently summarizes the plight of the Creative field by stating, “Creative – the least important, most important thing there is.”

Today, an individual like Don Draper with the depth of skills in a (vertical) single field (Advertising), but who is also able to collaborate (horizontally) with multiple fields (Marketing/PR/Internal Communications/Development/Sales) would possess a T-shaped skill set. Marty Neumeier, author of The Brand Gap, further refers to such individuals who can strategize with the chief and inspire creativity from the troops as “Chief Brand Officers.”

Design can only cover up so much, and marketer’s should not walk away from the creative process. Walking way forms a silo. Instead, teams should form a structured collaboration unit around the practice of “design thinking.” Since the heart of IMC is based around a brand’s customers, an understanding of the foundational principles of design (hierarchy, retouching, white space, typography, and color), is necessary for marketers to develop their design eye when implementing creative strategy.



Hierarchy is an organization process of meaning. Designers use retouching, white space, typography, and color to establish hierarchy within a layout. Without visual hierarchy, content would not be engaging or memorable. Think of hierarchy in terms of stair steps, where the most relevant content is placed at the top.


A computer is just a tool to realize an already vetted concept. Before a layout is even shared outside of the creative circle, a certain amount of retouching is necessary to enhance content beyond the roughing-out stage. With the help of the Adobe Creative Suite, Creatives have the tools necessary to mask, scale, and crop out unnecessary elements from their layouts. As the design process evolves, layer upon layers of revisions shape a working layout.


Negative space, otherwise known by Creatives as white space, is a design tool, which when appropriately used allows visuals the opportunity to breathe. Instead, of clunking up white space with unnecessary space fillers, like a dot whack filled with marketing text, think about if the customer would feel overstimulated with the lack of space. Less is almost always more.


Typography sets the spoken tone in a composition. A sans serif font (without serif feet), like Arial, reads much easier for body copy than a serif font (with serif feet), like Times New Roman. A layout should never have more than two or three fonts within a layout. Too many fonts create visual competition, resulting in a poor customer experience.

Font size is also a strong consideration designers make as they craft their layouts.  Depending on the demographic of the audience, the font size might need to be adjusted accordingly. If more visual space is needed, typographic tricks, such as leading (space between lines) and kerning (space between letters) could be leveraged.


Color is a powerful medium of influence. Each color within the color wheel evokes a subjective response from a viewer. Any chosen scheme within a layout should be tested against established color theories. Warm tones, like red, orange, or yellow evoke feelings of passion, happiness and energy. Cool tones, on the other hand, like blue evoke a sense of a calm.  Understanding color theory is a powerful design principle because a brand is forever defined by the chosen tones.

If Don Draper stepped into an advertising agency on Park Avenue today, he would find that telling customers what they want is no longer an option. Don would have to adopt and leverage the principles of Integrated Marketing (IMC) in order to think holistically about the customer experience across all forms of media including digital.

Despite the fact that the marketing communication landscape is always changing, the principles of design no matter what the medium remain the same. By developing a designer’s eye, marketer’s can keep pace with the ever-changing aesthetic needs of their customers.