Say Yes—Visual Engagement

By January 17, 2019Something to Say

My partner Tom and I recently had an amazing experience at a local restaurant. Although our server was only 19 years old, she had already learned how to provide superior customer service. She made us feel comfortable, yet she was completely in control of everything that was happening. We felt instinctively that she would take care of anything we needed. She was friendly and talkative, but without going too far. She knew when to check in on us, and when to leave us alone. We were in the palm of her hand, and it made the evening special.

Urban Grill

That waitress could have a promising career if she ever decides to go into marketing, because a well-designed communication piece — whether it be a poster, an ad, a website, or what have you — essentially guides the viewer in the same way. Done right, this journey creates engagement, the holy grail of customer interaction, from beginning to end.


Engagement in the marketing sense is a term that covers a lot of ground. It’s a mix of interest, trust, affinity, interaction, loyalty, respect, and even attraction. Viewers who are engaged are no longer “cold” leads. They’re prospects who feel understood, and thus more willing to listen to your message — at least for a few seconds.

From a visual perspective, designing for engagement is a process that puts the reader at ease in a way that leads them from one piece of information to the next. The key thing is to make the process both intriguing and effortless. A good designer knows how to encourage viewers to start looking at the information they need first, then to carefully lead them down a predetermined path, adding more detail at each step.

While attracting attention is a critical part of this process, it’s just the beginning. True engagement is getting someone to stay for the whole message, and ideally, to act on it in the desired way.


When a viewer encounters a new marketing piece for the first time, their level of engagement can ascend through as many as four stages — if you can keep them involved.

1. Attracting Interest

You have about five seconds to grab a viewer’s interest. This stage is critical, because it’s game over if you fail any of the following tests:

  • In the first second, you have to meet a bare minimum of professionalism. If you’ve slapped a zillion different fonts on the piece, you probably won’t get any further than this.
  • During the next two seconds, you have the chance to create a connection with your imagery and type treatment. Is it compelling, surprising, or creative?
  • If so, you’ll earn another two seconds for a lightning-fast evaluation of your content. Is it relevant to the reader? Do the visuals you used to grab their attention support the content, or do they seem disconnected? Most importantly, does the viewer feel understood?
Brochure cover design

In the design of a brochure for the More Rooms More Love campaign for Ronald McDonald House Cincinnati (to raise money for a major expansion that will make them the largest Ronald McDonald House in the world), we were working with a multi-page booklet. The cover needed to be engaging enough to entice the reader to open it up. We kept it simple, and focused on the children.

2. Keeping Attention

Your foot is in the door. Now you need to keep your audience engaged with stuff like humor, or a little surprise, or perhaps a puzzle. Don’t just try to fill space, however. It’s important to continue addressing — or creating — the need or desire you’re going to fulfill. For that to work, you need to know exactly where you’re going (see step 3 below). While the reader has already surrendered to the design on some level, they need to continue trusting that you’re leading them someplace they want or need to go.

Brochure inside spread

When the booklet is opened, the reader finds a quote from a guest parent with another compelling visual. The text on the facing page sets up what this brochure is about, and supports that with relevant infographics.

Campaign brochure inside spread

Several more pages into the brochure, we introduce the first rendering of the expansion.

3. Encouraging Action

Now it’s time to close the loop with a call to action. Here’s where you encourage the audience to do the one specific thing you’ve had in mind all along. Order those concert tickets. Support a mission to feed hungry children. Sign up for our newsletter. Get a free tote bag.

While it seems counter-intuitive, subtlety at this point is often overrated. State the call to action clearly and boldly: “This is our solution and this is how we’ll make you happy and if you do this the world will be a better place.”

Brochure final spread and pocket

The brochure closes with a clear call to action and another guest parent quote. The facing panel is a pocket that can hold supporting materials.

4. Loyalty

The fourth and final stage of engagement is a bit beyond the scope of this post, but it’s worth mentioning as the ultimate goal. If you’ve created — and maintained — a strong relationship with your prospects, you’ll reach a point where you go beyond transactions from the first successful touch. Loyalty generates repeat business or donations. It can also encourage higher levels of involvement, such as larger transactions, volunteering, more data sharing, referrals and so on.

Create a bond strong enough, and engaged supporters will even shun your rivals or competitors, taking pride in the relationship they have with your brand.


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