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understanding graphic design

Understanding Graphic Design: Advice and Insight from the Pros (Part 1)

AMA Baltimore
April 10, 2019 |
8 minute read

Graphic design is at the heart of marketing. It brings together all of the data, strategy, buyer personas, and campaign goals. With more and more content competing for customers’ attention, it is essential that our campaigns stand out. What do marketers need to know about graphic design and how can we work productively with designers to accomplish our goals?

We talked to six local design pros to get their input on how design can be a game-changer and how marketers and designers can build relationships to develop and execute winning campaigns.

Panel of Experts:

  • Emily Goldstein, Principal, M Design
  • Julie Kostic, Creative Director, JK Creative
  • Kendall Ludwig, President and Principal Designer, CurlyRed
  • Paul Bianco, Owner, ORANGEHAT
  • Jen Kozak, Principal Creative and Founder, KLUTCH
  • Joe Natoli, Independent UX Consultant, Give Good UX


Emily Goldstein: Design is the end result of the marketing research process. Marketing strategists look at the business problem to be solved, identify the audience, develop messaging, and consider positioning. All of this information goes into a funnel and what comes out is the visual component that will solve the business problem. There is a reason behind everything visual decision we make, every color and shape, that relates back to the original business problem. Otherwise, our work would just be decoration.

Julie Kostic: You are trying to sell an idea and visuals are part of the story. Higher quality design will give a better view of the product. It’s how the human brain works.

Kendall Ludwig: Design is usable art. When you are trying to reach an audience, the more visually appealing you are, the more likely your audience is to interact.

Paul Bianco: When you are putting together a marketing campaign or solving a marketing problem, the strategy is the skeleton. The design fills out the body – it executes the brand vision, brings the emotion and tells the story.

Jen Kozak: I’m sure we’ve all seen a bad television commercial and thought, who wrote this, they should be embarrassed. Bad television commercials send a message about the company – the people, their product, their brand.  The same can be said for anything else that is poorly designed – collateral, direct mail, invitations, catalogs and more. Conversely, when something is designed well, it also speaks in a very powerful way about your brand – you know it when you see it, open it, feel it. Design generates discussion, creates visibility and has the ability to elevate your brand (and also the potential to kill it).

Joe Natoli: Design works hand in hand with content and messaging. The goal of what you see, in print or on screen, is to help communicate and support the content. Every single visual decision a designer makes should be working to reinforce the message you’re trying to get across. It should be helping people focus, perceive, and understand. Otherwise, it’s just decoration.



Emily Goldstein: Visual communication is based on market research. Design is effective when it meets a business goal. Does it do what it was designed to do? Campaign metrics will say whether or not it was successful.

Julie Kostic: The whole package is what draws people in. When you start a project or campaign, you need to meet with the client and understand their mission, style, target audience and channel. Make sure what you produce is the right look and message. And sometimes, it’s about doing something different that wouldn’t be expected in the industry: shaking things up can be effective.

Kendall Ludwig: Overall, is it visually compelling? Typography, imagery, use of white space – they all combine to produce an effective design.

Paul Bianco: Effective design is being able to problem-solve. Good design is subtle, but tells a story and solves a problem. Design provides the emotion for the call to action.

Jen Kozak: Effective design is memorable it creates an emotional response. It should create engagement and make an impression on the prospect/customer. When done in a consistent manner, it creates brand loyalty and can drive sales. Your piece needs to stand out – an unexpected color or material – and be in sync with the message you are sending. Each design is another opportunity to make an impression.

Joe Natoli: A design is effective when it’s appropriate, relevant and relatable to the audience it’s supposed to serve, and when it reflects what the organization or brand is trying to communicate. Design has to serve both purposes in order to be effective.


Emily Goldstein: I consider who the client is, what they’ve asked for and what is the best means for solving their problem. It could be print, digital, 3-D. I ask myself if I need to hire a photographer or a writer. The most important consideration is the end user, the experiencer. I need to determine how we can lead the user through the content in the order in which they need to see it.

Julie Kostic: Step 1 is the exploration phase. I want to learn as much about the client as I can and the strategy behind the campaign. Next is the inspiration phase – I look at what the client’s competitors are doing, then I get out in the world and look for ideas, then sketch the ideas out. I see what makes the most sense and what would be the best path to go down, and try to present multiple options to the client. Once the client chooses, we move into the project phase where the creative is produced and the client and I go back and forth with edits until the project is complete.

Kendall Ludwig: I start by having a conversation with the client to get a sense of who they are and what they are trying to convey. We look at designs and I can find out what resonates with them. Then I sketch a bunch of ideas – I might work through 50-100 ideas for a single project. If I get stuck and need inspiration, I’ll take a break, walk outside and look at nature, go to museums or listen to music. But most of the ideas come directly from my conversations with the client. I take the words they’ve told me. If they have branding in place, I’ll use that and pull from that style.

Paul Bianco: I ask questions to learn the why. I want to know how the design will fit into the strategy and goals so that I can offer some options on what will work for the brand. Ideas come from anywhere and to get the best ideas, you need a collaborative effort between the designer and the client. The more questions we can ask, the better the design we’ll end up with.

Jen Kozak: A great creative process begins with a complete understanding of the product or service you are creating materials for. Not only should you understand the brand vision and desired outcomes, but also the full process for which the materials will be used across all platforms: print, digital and audio. All the key stakeholders & decision makers must be in the room when having these discussions. The #1 killer to good creative is needing to get approval from someone who wasn’t in the original discussion. If they’re not in the room, sharing their insights, key message points, intended audience, etc., from the start, you can guarantee there’s going to be a disconnect from their expectations to what you created. Once you have all your information, the creativity and inspiration come in. I’ll look at paper samples, nature, it depends on the project. But always, the design needs to align with all of the campaign objectives and goals.

Joe Natoli: For me, that starts with the business. I want to know what their goal is – what do they want people to do? Make a call, download an app, sign up for a newsletter? What’s the very next thing you want someone to do once they see this? Next, I try to find the sweet spot between what the organization needs to get across and what the audience expects to hear or learn or do. Research is essential to determine both; design without research is just decoration. While I might look at how other companies in the industry communicate, I don’t spend time looking at other designers’ work – all you will find there is someone else’s solution to someone else’s problem. At the end of the day, design is about applying the principles you know to the situation at hand – your client, your audience, your topic.


AMA Baltimore

The American Marketing Association Baltimore Chapter (AMA Baltimore) is Maryland’s leading provider of networking, educational programming, and resources for marketing professionals. AMA Baltimore provides extensive opportunities for marketers to expand their networks, grow professionally and learn about current industry trends.
The American Marketing Association Baltimore Chapter (AMA Baltimore) is Maryland’s leading provider of networking, educational programming, and resources for marketing professionals. AMA Baltimore provides extensive opportunities for marketers to expand their networks, grow professionally and learn about current industry trends.


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