All you need to know

Here’s a top tip: Sometimes the best way to create distinctive work is to be totally counter-intuitive.

If you have a brilliant photograph, how about making it really small? Not big. Or how about making the body copy massive or a headline tiny? Or no headline at all? Or instead of having just one picture, have lots of pictures? Or no picture at all? Or loads of white space? Or change the white space to black space? Etc.

You can be sure that few other art directors will be that adventurous. Too many of them stop at the clever concept. They forget to present that concept in an interesting way. But if you can pull it off, and then persuade your shocked creative director and then the shocked account person and planner and then the shocked client and the shocked client’s boss … then your work may really stand out.

The best way to avoid the awkward, stunned silence at the ‘ta da’ moment when the layout is finally revealed is what I call ‘expectation management’. If you’re thinking of doing something visually out of the ordinary, maybe mention that to the client a few days before the big presentation. And show some examples where other people have done other unexpected things to make their work more noticable. If you can gently lead people into a place where they’re actually expecting something unusual then you’ve got a chance of them buying it. Best of luck.

Of course it’s easier to sell this stuff if you’re also the client, as was the case with this great poster by Alan Fletcher. Conventional wisdom tells us that posters should have as few words on them as possible. Yet he put a whopping 181 words on his poster to advertise a talk by Mario Bellini. Mad. But brilliant. He elegantly achieved the near impossible task of creating a design that is both beautifully minimal yet full of information. Typography as illustration. In this example, a picture of a man talking. Not made from near-illegible expressive typography, but just a single sans serif (Helvetica), one weight, one point size. Sweet.

So the poster is on the one hand really simple – just a picture of a man talking. Yet on the other hand it contains every detail that even the most demanding client would insist on – in caps and in extra bold. Very clever indeed. It’s all there. Phone number, opening times, full address, date, ticket price. Even a fax number. Oh, and a pretty detailed biography of the speaker. Absolutely nothing else needed.

Especially a logo. Or even worse, a nasty rash of sponsor logos. Something that would ruin the effect. Dragging the communication back down towards all the other messy, invisible posters mumbling for our attention. If the viewer cares about a talk by Mario Bellini, they will find all the information they need. And if they don’t care, no amount of ugliness will make them care more.

The client here was Pentagram and the talk was at the Design Museum. The copy tells us this. Sticking Pentagram and Design Museum logos in one of the top corners would simply have been corporate vanity. And corporate vandalism.

Paul Belford is the founder of advertising, graphic design and digital agency Paul Belford Ltd, based in London. He tweets from @belford_paul. See