This past graduation season, I was reminded that “FAIL means ‘first attempt in learning.’” We’ve all heard adages like, “You learn more from your mistakes than your successes,” and, “Thomas Edison found 2,000 ways not to make a lightbulb first.“ Blah, blah, blah. Hasn’t someone figured out a shortcut by now?

Shortcuts make long delays. – Pippin, Lord of the Rings

When it comes to design and marketing initiatives, how can we minimize failure and maximize success? First, establish best practices that help root out potential pitfalls, then hold ourselves and our clients to them. The biggest failures happen when steps are rushed or skipped altogether. Let me share a few #designfails where process was skirted with less-than-ideal results.

Research, or It’s Not About You
According to a 2014 article in Business News Daily, “A leading cause of business failure is not knowing who your product or service is for.” Understanding the target audience is essential. Worse than making no impression, companies risk making a negative one when they get the message wrong.

A few years ago, clothing company Free People launched a video campaign targeting ballet dancers. It made an impact in the ballet community alright, but for all the wrong reasons. Not only were the clothing designs impractical for dancers, some were potentially dangerous. Worse, Free People didn’t hire a real ballet dancer, which the ballet community found outright insulting.

Prototype, or Fake It ‘Til You Make It
Prototyping doesn’t necessarily have to be an elaborate budget-buster. Notes stuck to the wall mapping out a process, or paper mock-ups taped in place can reveal issues that might not surface in a static design comp (draft of the final product).

In 2012, Starbucks designed delivery vans for their Japanese market. Unfortunately, the vans also had sliding doors, which, when the doors opened, condensed the logo down to S UCKS. One wonders if an afternoon in the company parking lot with an actual van and an easel-sized post-it pad might have led to a different design.

Review, or The Devil’s in the Details
When final proofing is rushed, critical mistakes can be made. Most companies have at least one horror story about this. I have one that still make me cringe.

It’s common practice to track ad response by using different phone numbers in each version (which, by the way, is a fantastic process for measuring success). On a particularly rushed job, the proofer compared phone numbers to the list, but didn’t dial them to make sure they redirected to our call center. Two days later, the company president turned up at my desk to find out why one ad featured a phone sex line.

Case Study
For contrast, let me provide one story of success. We created a pro bono poster and corresponding social media infographic for Anaheim’s Emergency Management and Preparedness division. Several counties across the country requested permission to print the poster, as well, and the accompanying infographic went viral in the emergency management community. The project was so successful because the assistant director had done her research — she knew the target audience, where to reach them, and what information she wanted us to convey.

About Your Columnist

Adrienne Grace

Adrienne Grace Headshot, Adrienne Grace, Owner of Vim & Vigor is a featured columnist for Women Lead, the official blog of Connected Women of Influence, where she covers all things print, Web, advertising and package design. Adrienne is an art director and designer with an extensive background as a photo stylist. Adrienne understands how corporations think and operate. Her company Vim & Vigor excels at helping companies craft their brand strategies to create business communications that are clear and memorable.

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