One of the single most important factors to consider for any form of successful communication is a clear understanding of your audience. Pick any topic. Imagine how you would discuss this topic with a group of kindergartners, your best friends, a group of strangers, your parents, or your significant other. Obviously, your approach would vary depending on the group even though the topic remains the same.
Part of why your approach differs is because you know, or assume, some general facts about your audience group. You are familiar with them somehow that leads you to talk in a way that is tailored or customized to that group.
This is very similar to what designers do when creating an effective form of visual communication. The difficulty arrises in that the audience groups that a designer is trying to reach are typically quite large and also that the designer is rarely a member of that group herself.
So, to solve this difficulty, the designer (or a marketing firm) must do some research or demographic study to find out information that characterizes the intended or target audience. The trick is to find information that will help the designer make some design decisions that will likely be appealing to that specific audience. Some examples of these design decisions include;
- color and typeface choices,
- slogan or tagline wording/grammar,
- level of abstraction/realism,
- choice of media,
- choices of location/placement,
- use of symbols/metaphor,
- visual references to people, places, or things, and
- overall visual style.
In order to make intelligent and effective design decisions—such as those listed above—the designer must first follow a research process that involves a wide range of different kinds of information gathering. The designer should carefully consider which kinds of information will yield the most helpful information for each given design problem. Some areas that would be quite helpful in one design problem might be totally unhelpful in another. Some examples of these include;
- Lifestyle Choices (leisure, tech, sporting/athletic, family, vacation location, purchasing, etc.)
- Urban/Rural (Metropolitan, Medium-sized City, Small Town, Suburban, Country)
- Education Level (High school grad, Undergraduate Degree, Graduate Degree, Doctorate, etc.)
- Income Range (minimum wage, 50K–80K, 150K–300K, etc.)
- Occupation (unemployed, part-time, multiple jobs, blue-collar, white-collar, business, entertainment, tourist, etc.)
- Specific Geographic Location (City, Neighborhood, State, Country, etc.)
- Age Range (Teen, College Age, Baby Boomer, Gen-X, Millinial, 30-50, Retiree, etc.)
It is important to understand that one of the areas that is most commonly chosen but rarely yields helpful, or unique, information is age range. Instead, look for areas that will give more specific characteristics of the group you are trying to reach. Do not depend on generalized assumptions about age to be very helpful.
It is equally important to realize that people of all ages, income and educational levels, regardless of occupation or where they live make the majority of their decisions based on their personal lifestyle choices. This fact is vital in discovering what visual approach will be most effective in reaching any audience. So, research questions that tell you what kind of things your audience buys, what kind of car, how they dress, where they might vacation, if they have a family, etc. will help you to understand the type of lifestyle they are choosing. It is to your advantage to tailor your design message with this lifestyle in mind.
Ultimately, your client, with your help, is targeting an audience because they want to increase their business. You are there to help in this by creating a visual message that has been customized to appeal specifically to that group of people—the target audience.