When I was in college, the first design class I took was called “Interactive Media 1”. We built powerpoints and dynamic PDF files. We watched informational videos about the start of the internet and how digital media has changed. But the core of the class was centered around ingraining the 4 basic design principles deep into our heads:

Contrast, Repetition, Proximity, and Alignment.

My professor told us to never forget C.A.R.P. (Or as the students of course lovingly renamed it – C.R.A.P.) because it would be the core of our design process from this point forward. The class served its purpose, because still to this day I do a quick run through in my head when I am designing, making sure I am following through on these 4 principles. Often the choices to follow them now are subconscious and my designs are better for it.

After being in the job field for a few years, and especially since starting Stratos, I started to pick up on patterns and choices we were making in our business. Turns out we were not only utilizing the 4 design principles often in our visual projects, but also applying them to our marketing as a whole. It has benefited us and I think it will benefit you as well.

So here it is. An explanation of C.R.A.P. and why you should apply it to your marketing and business.

(All definitions and images provided byUS Design Collective and UX Design 360)

Contrast

Contrast in the context of visual design can be defined as a difference between two or more elements in a composition. The more the difference between the elements, the greater they are easy to compare and comprehend and that’s when they are said to have contrasted with each other.

One example of contrast in design that we see all day every day – is contrast in color. White pages with black text. Detailed photos next to a blank space. A yellow logo on a dark green backdrop. By choosing contrasting elements, it makes the emphasis of our piece POP. 

In marketing, you want YOUR business message to be the emphasis and for YOUR business to pop more than any other. The way to do this is to really focus on what you do better than anyone else and run with it.

  • What sets you apart from your competitors? 
  • What makes your products or services unique? 
  • What can you offer that no one else can? 

When planning your marketing strategies don’t forget to ask these questions and highlight the answers. They will give you the contrast you need to outshine your competitors.

Repetition

Repetition can be defined as a similarity between two or more elements in a composition. The more the sameness between the elements, the greater the probability of them appearing as part of one group. 

In design we repeat the same fonts, the same colors, the same imagery. We build our brands off the idea that repetition brings familiarity, and familiarity will bring us clients. 

But it is not just visual brand elements we need to be repeating. Our voice as a brand also needs to repeat itself. Everything we say, everything we post, and all of our messaging needs that common thread that makes our clients and leads go,  “Ah Ha! That sounds familiar.” It is really helpful to both your messaging (and your workflow) to rework your used copy and then to share it again and again. Use a common style in your writing and don’t be afraid to say the same idea multiple ways. That repetition in your marketing will not only add clarity but boost the volume of your voice above the others.

Alignment

The alignment principle states that multiple objects are said to be aligned when they are placed such that their left or right edges, or center-lines line up on a common position. The goal here is to bring unity in the branding and informing users that both the elements are part of the same design.

Alignment is actually one of the most common areas I see new designers slip up in. We are trained to naturally line up our text, but it’s not only the copy on a piece that needs to be aligned. Every shape, image, icon, title (even the blank spaces!) should all be aligned with something else. If an element is left floating and unaligned, it is assumed that it does not belong with the rest. It is literally unconnected from the rest of the design.

How does this relate back to marketing? Think for a moment of your business values. 

Your values are your core, and what everything else in your businesses should align with. For example at Stratos we uphold the value of being trustworthy. We implement this in every step of our marketing and day to day tasks. From hiring new staff, to how we treat clients, to how we market ourselves. You can dissect any of our processes and be able to trace it right back to that core value – trustworthy.

If a piece of your marketing (or even SOPs!) is not working or seems disconnected – I encourage you to go back to the basics and check it’s alignment with your values and goals. It should be easy for a third party to connect your why with your how. This will bring further clarity to your message and to your marketing. 

Proximity

The principle of proximity states that things that are close together appear to be more related than things that are spaced farther apart.

Simple enough. We see a woman standing next to a child and conclude it’s her son. We see a cookie sitting next to our sibling, we imply they are planning on eating it. We see a person petting a dog, and make the assumption they enjoy animals. Closeness, or proximity, can realy a lot of unspoken communication.

For examples in design, we use paragraph breaks to group bits of text we want to read together and we put captions close to the image they belong with.

So now I am going to ask you – what or who is in close proximity to your business. Who do you highlight? What sources do you share from? Whose accounts are you engaging with? Whose marketing are you pulling from for inspiration? 

The answers to these questions speak volumes about your business. It’s unspoken marketing. They say keep your enemies close, but in this analogy, I would keep your friends and heroes closer. Future clients can adn do look into this with just a click of a button. They see what other businesses support yours and make snap judgments based on the answers. Surround yourself in good company and you will reap the rewards.


Take Home Points:

Highlight what brings Contrast between other businesses to stand out.

Both visually and in your voice, Repetition provides familiarity.

Align your actions with core values to unify your message.

Keep in close Proximity to other businesses and people you uphold.


About the Author:

Savannah Guthrie is a Developer and Designer at Stratos Creative Marketing

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