Creating Image Depth in Marketing Design

Most design work is connected to marketing, whether it be for branding, editorial, or even self-promotional purposes.

In previous articles, we’ve discussed finding target audiences, researching clients, brand building and more. Now let’s move on to the actual design phase. More specifically, adding image depth to your marketing campaign.

HOW Design University and Sessions College recently united to provide students with an even more robust learning experience. One of their newest courses hones in on marketing design. I thought the excerpted lecture below (originally from Lesson 4 of the course) discussing image depth was particularly interesting. Prior to this lesson, the course instructs on concept development, research and different styles of marketing. If you don’t have expertise in those areas, then you should enroll in the course to obtain a comprehensive understanding of marketing design. (If you do have expertise, we would love to see your work! Consider entering into the HOW Promotion & Marketing awards for a chance to be featured on our site and win a free trip to HOW Design Live 2017.)

Developing Image Depth

Not all advertisements or marketing campaigns need image depth and most can do quite well with strong type and composition. But generally, you’re going to need to work with the concept of image depth in at least a basic way to create a truly interesting piece of marketing.

Perhaps a highly developed image depth is what gets the message across in a project, or the lack of depth might do an equally nice job. But you should pay close attention to where your imagery stands in this regard and make these decisions in a very intentional way.

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These ads for a convention center focus on making the venue look appealing to music acts. They rely heavily on layering, Photoshop tricks, background images, color blends, and textures to create the energy of a rock concert. However, the image with the guitar picks feels deceptively simple, while the other seems much more lushly layered and energetic.

A piece of marketing creative can exist anywhere between these two extremes and do well with the delivery of its message. Let’s talk about both extremes, because those are the hardest to master. For the sake of discussion, I will limit the topic to a common example—a standard magazine ad—but these techniques can apply to almost any print, web design, or multimedia marketing piece.

The Extremely Simple Ad

What’s the difference between a blank sheet of white paper and an ad? Depending on the brand, it might not be much. If tons of negative space and minimal execution is appropriate for the product, then by all means this is an approach worth exploring. It’s not hard to imagine a BMW or IBM logo set dead center on a clean, white page with a simple tag line beneath it. And nothing else. It’s not hard to imagine because it’s a page right from the corporate marketing playbook.

This BMW ad doesn't need a lot to sell its wares. The logo itself carries so much brand equity, it's easy to think that this ad could even work without the extensive copywriting. How much could you pare this down before it stops telling the consumer what they really need to know? Click to enlarge.

This BMW ad doesn’t need a lot to sell its wares. The logo itself carries so much brand equity, it’s easy to think that this ad could even work without the extensive copywriting. How much could you pare this down before it stops telling the consumer what they really need to know?

This approach is really easy to pull off for a well-known brand. It reinforces a company’s existing brand image with a simple presentation of a mark and an idea.

The Densely Complex Ad

The opposite of the extremely simple approach is a dense and complex one. This kind of ad seeks to grab the reader’s attention by seeming visually interesting, as compared to the surrounding information. The ad competes with the facing page as well as the other ads in the magazine as the reader flips through.

A winner in the 2015 Promotional Marketing Awards, this stunning piece by Design Army is a great example of a densely complex ad

A winner of the 2015 Promotion & Marketing Awards, this stunning piece by Design Army is a great example of a densely complex ad

In a more complex ad, there will be several layers of information present. Assuming we’ll need a logo, additional information could come in the form of a tagline or slogan, a headline, a paragraph of body copy, a product image, or any number of photos, textures, or treatments designed to simulate a particular environment, surface, or emotional space. The example above includes the game logo, four different screens from the game, a tagline, and many “fine print” details like rating and game system compatibility information.

When working with so many elements, it’s crucial to use your page space effectively. The logo and product photo can’t be the same size. The headline text can’t be the same point size as the body copy beneath it and the body copy text can’t be as large as the headline text. Different design elements and copywriting elements deserve their own space. The reader’s eye needs to walk through the information in a predictable way.

In these simple 2008 Scion ads, the hierarchy is deliberate and very successful. The elements work in unison to grab the reader's attention and then guide them step-by-step through the information at hand.

In these simple 2008 Scion ads, the hierarchy is deliberate and very successful. The elements work in unison to grab the reader’s attention and then guide them step-by-step through the information at hand.

This lateral depth can be layered along with the vertical depth of an ad, the nearly literal layering of information and imagery. I say nearly literal because in most of our design software, the designs are built with a sense of layering. If not with the use of the Layers panel in Photoshop, then with the stacking order in Illustrator using commands like “Bring to Front” or “Send to Back.” Information is accessed in a print piece by tacking the largest and “topmost” stuff first. Then, once this anchor element has been identified, the eye searches for the next level of information. This all happens instantly.


To learn more about image depth in marketing enroll in Marketing Design. This course is a self-paced course that is jam-packed with ridiculously good content. And it includes valuable instructor feedback on class assignments.

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