What’s in it for them?

That’s the audience, that’s who ‘them’ is. What’s in it for the audience?

What’s in it for the one person who you will be stopping? What’s in it for the person whose day you are interrupting?

They might be looking for information, but we’re not part of the search. That’s not our process. Our process is to stop them from searching. To say to them ‘you have reached your end’. To interrupt their search.

That’s the best case scenario.

We might be doing something worse.

We might be shoving an idea into their face.

We want our work to be arresting. We want it to stop someone dead in their tracks. We want to use an image or a piece of text or a color that has someone forget what they’re thinking about and pick up a thread we’re throwing at them.

What’s in it for them?

It better be good.

As designers we are drawn to work that is beautiful and clever and interesting. But for it to be any of those things it needs to be more beautiful, more clever, and more interesting than whatever was going through our minds when we struck upon the piece.

I was once on a train listening to a podcast. There was a guy, somewhere in his twenties, sitting opposite, his whole soul wrapped in the closing pages of a mammoth book.

While his movements were minimal, it was clear that nothing short of the earth splitting in two was to steal his attention away.

Then something beautiful happened.

He finished his book, and in less than a couple of seconds he put it back into his bag and picked out what was clearly the sequel. He feverishly read, as if the exchange he had done with his bag was merely the shifting from one chapter to another.

What if I had pushed my way in when he finished the first book, and told him about my amazing new app?

Unless this app was more important, more interesting, more engaging than the book he was reading, he’d be in his right to punch me in the jaw. Any of you who are serious about their reading know this is only fair.

For an idea or thought to be this engaging it must be of extreme value, and few of the thoughts we indulge in are this rich. But that doesn’t mean that a cheaper thought is still one which can be broken.

We can talk about how design is the art of communication, but before it can communicate anything it needs to be worked as the art of distraction. Distraction from what someone was doing, from what they were thinking.

Should the interruption give them something that is worth while, then it isn’t a distraction, it’s a saving grace. It’s an event that the audience member will mentally reward.

Because there was something in the distraction for them. Something worthwhile. Something special. Something they needed or were looking for.

The beauty of design is that it makes understanding or reaching this something easier. We use well laid out type, good imagery, great colours to make it easier to signify to the audience that what we have is what they’re looking for, that what we’re helping our clients offer is going to make things better.

Sometimes that’s a product; other times an idea.

So before you draw a sketch, decide upon a typeface or a grid or whatever-you-do-next, ask yourself a simple question – what’s in it for them?

If your design focuses on this, without getting in the way of it, then the interruption you’re forcing upon the audience will be one which is warmly welcomed.

Never think about this question and you’re offering nothing more than visual spam.

So, again, what’s in it for them?