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Behind the Scenes: Ad Design


It's true, good ad design is intentional ad design.

I love building ads. They bring together five of my favorite things; design, marketing strategy, creativity, photography (sometimes), and most importantly story telling. There's a lot that goes into an ad and there are specific reasons for each element. So if you're curious what goes into building an ad, or why I do things a specific way, keep reading...


Let's start from the beginning, when a client contacts me about an ad design the first thing I do is establish an audience and a purpose. This means assessing who the client is and what they're marketing. In my world, most of the time the answer is cows. There are lots of people with lots of cows, so I need to ask, "What makes this situation unique?"



What are the overall goals of the operation? What sets them apart from the norm? What's really great about their place? What's really great about their cattle? Are they marketing bulls or females? Are they marketing specific animals for an upcoming sale, semen, or their overall genetics? Who are they marketing to? What part of the country are they in? Are we marketing to commercial cattlemen who want to see performance? Or to purebred/seed stock guys who will be interested in bloodlines as well as performance? Do we have good photos? What do we want people to feel when they look at this ad? What colors represent the feel of this individual or the message we're sharing? I could go on, but you get the point. There are hundreds of questions I ask myself and the producer before I ever put anything on paper (or screen).



Some ads are about telling a story.

This isn't a interrogation. It's a casual conversation, and if possible, a visit to their place to learn a little more about who they are and what they have to offer.


Once I've collected all the needed

information, I start sketching. Sometimes this means pen on paper sketching, but other times I go straight to the computer and start mapping out design concepts. I then start building the ad piece by piece. I create a unique background, set photos, and select the perfect color shades and fonts to convey the right message. Some designs require the creation of individual elements in separate programs. I bring together intriguing yet concise wording to convey their message. Hours go into each ad design before the client sees the first mock up.


Nine times out of ten, the client loves the first mock up and we go straight to plugging in final information and polishing content. But, occasionally my vision isn't quite their vision and the process starts over again until we have a design they're absolutely happy with.


During the design process, I often communicate with clients via text message or Facebook Messenger, which is super handy, but can create issues... For example, I may send a text message with an image of an ad design mock with a large watermark. The client approves of the design. The client then screenshots the design and emails it to the printer. That's a big problem for everyone. The client. Me as the designer. And the printer.



When traveling to take photos isn't an option, I handle the design work and add the client's photos.

Why? Because that image was already formatted and compressed for a text message as a preview with a large watermark on it... Then it was screenshot... Basically, it's an extremely low-resolution image intended only as a preview for the client. When printed it's going to be fuzzy, poorly colored, and just downright unprofessional.


Which is why after the client's approval, I send high-resolution files formatted for each different use via email or flash drive. If the client wants to print fliers, I'll send them a PDF file formatted for a home printer. If they'd like to use the ad on social media, they'll receive the ad as a PNG file formatted for social media dimensions and screen display. If they're running the ad in a publication, I will communicate directly with the publication to ensure their ad is formatted correctly for that publication. If this is a display item like a banner, I'll communicate directly with the printer to ensure quality.Typically, I'll provide at least one social media and one print version for each initial ad design.Then after the initial ad design for the initial purpose, I will reformat the ad for any possible use or with any additional information for an hourly fee.



Simplicity is key.

Formatting a design for its purpose is no small task. Each element must be color corrected and ensured to be in the same color space. Bleeds and live space must be determined. Text must be edited and reviewed thoroughly, then converted to outlines. Images must be edited, color corrected, set to the correct PPI and ensured to not be distorted. The file must be formatted specifically for its use which means there is a long list of minute details that I run through before publishing an ad. And sometimes, some little small thing may still slip through the cracks because I'm a human. That's where the client's final review comes in, I strongly encourage clients to truly review the design, rather than just glancing over it.


Building an ad is more than coming up with a catchy phrase. It's more than picking pretty colors or capturing a pretty image. It's knowing people. It's knowing the product. It's knowing and developing their audience. It's good design principles, practices and theory. It's creativity and thinking outside the box. It's marketing strategy. It's knowing the technical side and properly formatting each piece for its purpose. It's hours of work that ultimately results in a true piece of art that accomplishes my client's goals. And that's what I love about building ads.

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Emily E. Pendergrass

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