Even if you didn’t watch the 89th Academy Awards show this past Sunday night, you’ve no doubt seen and/or heard about the “Best Picture Fiasco.” You know, the one where Warren Beatty looked like a deer in headlights while Faye Dunaway enthusiastically called out the wrong movie? Yeah that.

Based on what we know of the design of the winners’ announcement cards, here is what the actor and actress were probably looking at:

Is it any wonder why Beatty looked confused as heck and Dunaway wasn’t able to distinguish that what she was reading was, in fact, incorrect?

If we overlook the fact the presenters were given the wrong envelope to begin with, this entire fiasco could have been easily solved with proper design principles. In fact, Fast Company Design recently published an article where designer Brandon Jameson demonstrated this exact fact by redesigning the card. Even though it focused specifically on typography, the article ultimately proved how a bulletproof design can help prevent human error.

The article mentions pointers that not only apply to the Oscars’ design, but can also be applied to practical applications such as your law firm’s website, business card, and any other marketing materials that you will ever design.

Here are three main takeaways from the Oscars’ fiasco that you can apply to your law firm’s marketing materials:

1. Respect the hierarchy.

In any well-executed design, the principle of hierarchy is used to lead the viewer through different elements in order of significance. Western culture tends to read from the top to the bottom and from left to right. However, the designer of the Oscars cards obviously didn’t get the memo. The first element at the top of the card (and the largest, I might add!) is the Oscars logo. It’s the first element your eye looks at and it’s completely unnecessary.  Compare this with the category name, one of the most important pieces of information, which is down at the bottom in a small, italicized font.

If you replicated this design on, let’s say, your business card, it might look something like this:

Yikes.

Remember that with any piece of marketing that you design for your firm, it’s important to make sure that you express your type and images starting from the most important to the least important information.

So, let’s re-do this business card with just the principles of hierarchy in mind. Even if all elements were kept the same size, we’d have something that looks like this:

Now, at least, the first thing you’ll see from the top is the lawyer’s name. Baby steps!


2. Emphasize the important stuff.

Now let’s talk about dominance and emphasis. Dominance is created by contrasting size, positioning, color, style or shape. The ultimate goal: To create a focal point that the eye is automatically drawn to. Then your hierarchy can take over and lead the eye the rest of the way.

On the Oscar card, the largest element is the Oscars logo. I don’t know about you, but I personally would not consider that to be the most important element on that card. Um, I don’t know…maybe the name of the winner? Hell, even the category name deserves to stand out more than the logo in this case.

You’ll also notice that on the Oscars card, both the name of the winner and the name of the movie are both bolded and written in the same font and the same size. This is a prime example of the old phrase “If you emphasize everything, you emphasize nothing.” There’s no distinction here.

Let’s apply some principles of emphasis and dominance to our business card.

We probably want to emphasize the lawyer’s name. We can do that by simply changing its size. We can also use spacing and alignment to arrange the phone number, email, and logo to make the design flow better. Let’s see what the card looks like now:

Still not perfect, but we’re getting there.

3. Color is your friend.

Color is a very powerful tool. While the Oscar cards were printed in black ink on white paper, a pop of color might have helped presenters better process the information they were looking at. Even using tinted versions of colors would be enough to add contrast and ultimately create a sense of dominance in the design.

Let’s work with what we’ve got. If we simply lighten the text of the phone number, email, and logo, we could put more emphasis on the lawyer’s name and create an even better hierarchy on the card:


I am not saying that this card design is perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s certainly a lot better than where it started. I could go on and on about the other principles and elements of design—particularly typography—but you can see how just these three alone can help your design work. They certainly could have saved the Oscars.

 

Lisa Pansini is the Marketing Design Manager and lead designer for Rocket Matter,LLC. She is also an award-winning illustrator and author of the children’s book Blue Goes to Buffalo