Lord of the Design Principles: Effective Design to Create an Iconic Image

Throughout earlier posts here we have explored the mediums of design and film. This piece aims to combine the two by evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of design principles used on some of the promotional material from the Lord of the Rings film franchise. Analysis of these strengths and weaknesses will be achieved by exploring the three designs – pictured below – with direct application of specific design principles as outlined by Lidwell, Holden and Butler in Universal principles of design: 125 ways to enhance usability, influence perception, increase appeal, make better design decisions, and teach through design (2010). By reflecting on the composition of the chosen designs, with reference to these principles, this post will seek to provide insight into the importance and benefits of the application of relevant design principles.

The Lord of the Rings promotional material (New Line Cinema, n.d.)

When considering design in any form in any field there are several basic functions that must be met to ensure its success. By this end the most important design principle outlined by Lidwell et al. (2010) in Universal Principles of Design is the hierarchy of needs. The hierarchy itself consists of five equally important levels – starting at the bottom with low-level basic needs, moving through the chain to the highest level at which point, assuming a design reaches it, all five levels have been successfully addressed where necessary. The highest level on the hierarchy of needs, creativity, is where a design can be seen to cover all other levels and inspire an audience to interact with it in different ways (Lidwell et al. 2010, p. 124). Such was the success and popularity of the design, and the franchise in which it was apart, it has become part of a loyal cult following and can be seen referenced in various online circles. An example of the creativity inspired by the chosen design can be seen in the image below which combines the original design with content from Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad universe – an entirely unrelated franchise.


Lord of the Dings (Redbubble, n.d.)

The consistent form of the posters over the life of the franchise is one of the biggest strengths of the Lord of the Rings promotional material. Lidwell et al. (2010) describes aesthetic consistency as enhancing recognition, communicating membership and setting emotional expectations. Given the cult like following of the Lord of the Rings franchise the design does well to maintain it’s form over the course of three films using the same logo font, similar colour schemes and layouts. Given the periods of time between each films release the use of consistency was an effective means to both create a recognisable brand and reinforce to the individual the previous instalments and attempt to have them participate in seeking out and watching the new film – ultimately achieving the key target of a promotional advertising tool.

This example of aesthetic consistency can also be characterised as internal consistency by reinforcing the theory of Lidwell et al. (2010 p. 56) that, “Within any logical grouping elements should be aesthetically and functionally consistent with one another”. This shows the intention of the designer in working to the strengths of consistency to ensure that the brand that they created would be easily recognisable. By actively planning and solidly grounding a recurring design, and ensuring that over a long period of time they remain compliant with both the hierarchy of needs and display a high level of consistency, designers can achieve great success and contribute to the building a cult following from their audience with their work.

While the application of the aforementioned design principles are positive there are still noticeable weaknesses with this, and for that matter any, design. Like all great works of art something as subjective as visual communication can have thousands of varying interpretations – based solely on the understanding of the viewer. Nothing is perfect and, in this case, one identifiable weakness of the basic image and text-based design is the lack of physical interaction and limited capacity for audience engagement. At the time of the franchises release social media was in its infancy and, as can be seen on the posters, websites were included to further promote the films which shows that interactivity had been considered. With the birth of the digital age this weakness has been combated by strategic teams of marketing experts come designers who include external contact points, links and hashtags to drive the audience into immersing themselves in the content.

An example of an interactive film advertisement (Creativebloq.com, n.d.)

While having found strengths and weaknesses in the application of both the hierarchy of needs and the overall consistency perhaps the most effective technique used, and therefor the biggest strength of the chosen design, is the use of Iconic Representation. The use of symbolic icons, in this case the main characters and themes of the films, does well to convey the key parts in the feature to the audience and is a great marker of the intent of the designer to make their creations transcend cultures and appeal to the widest possible target audience.

The only underlying weakness of Iconic Representation is that to those who are unfamiliar with the target of the design, in this case the franchise and actors, they may not be able to make the connection and as a result may not be as impacted by the purpose of the design as others. Fortunately for the designers this weakness is instantaneously offset by the design itself as, even if the audience is not familiar with the subject on first inspection, once they have seen it and are able to make a connection the knowledge gap is already starting to be bridged and if they are intrigued the design provides enough information that they can investigate things further if they so choose.

The quality of examples presented in this analysis show how, when utilised appropriately and executed to a high standard, the influence of design principles can enhance an entire global franchise. The benefits of the application of relevant design theory when building a project are not only limited to a high quality end product but also in contributing to future designs by others. Something that the Lord of the Rings franchise has been able to achieve and why its artwork remains so iconic near 15 years after the release of the final film.



Design Development Case study – Part 4

For the final time this Teaching Period we will be looking at selected design principles with relation to my final presentation and a media artefact from the chosen field. How quickly that time has gone! In this post we will be exploring the application of form following function – having previously touched on the importance of design function in Part 1 – and performance over preference with direct application to both my presentation and a promotional card from Soylent Green (1973).


Lidwell, Holden & Butler (2010) explore the idea of form following function as a guide, by defining it in two broadly defined areas.

  1. Descriptive interpretation – that beauty results from purity of function
  2. Prescriptive interpretation – that aesthetic considerations should be second to functionality (something that ties in nicely with performance over preference)

Lidwell et. al (2010, p. 106) explains that designers should not ask “What aspects of the design should be removed for function” rather encouraging the approach of “What aspects of the design are critical to the success”. In the case of this presentation – as highlighted in the design principles identified in the first three parts – the use of easy to read text, easy to follow layouts and easy to view schematics aim to satisfy the descriptive interpretation of Lidwell et al.’s approach. By doing this the design also simultaneously demonstrates the performance over preference. Initially the final presentation had been earmarked as a long style report which would have been able to easily satisfy (at length) the benefits of the effective use of design principles. Performance wise this would have been sufficient, however, to maximize the overall effect of the presentation it seemed logical to minimize the reading and go for a more visually grounded and stimulating format – which would most likely be the preference of most audience members if given the choice between the two.


Like the ever evolving presentation that is slowly coming together these principals can also be seen in the final artefact of this case study – the promotional card from Soylent Green (1973). As most developed promotional material is uniform to create resonance with audiences and create an instant association with the film industry the function of a promotional card or poster will always follow form. The common form being a title and tagline, an image, and the names of the biggest participants in the feature. The uniformity of this approach also satisfies the criteria of performance over preference as, despite not listing every single detail or plot line (performance), the promotional card gives the audience enough information to make an educated decision on whether or not they want to engage (preference).

While not necessarily evident in the physical content of a design both of these design principles are paramount to ensuring that the maximum result is achieved when presented to the target audience. Regardless of changes to the industry, or the field in which it is applied, this will remain a constant throughout the present and future of design.


Lidwell, W Holden, K & Butler, J 2010, Universal principles of design: 125 ways to enhance usability, influence perception, increase appeal, make better design decisions, and teach through design, Rockport Publishers, Beverly, MA.

Soylent Green 1973, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, United States, Directed by Richard Fleischer

Soylent Green Promotional Card, n.d., image, pinterest.com, viewed January 29th 2017<https://williamcolvin.files.wordpress.com/2017/01/09d4639f843d4b29781e8ccdf5bc2b97.jpg&gt;


Design Development Case Study – Part 3

Past the halfway point and in Part 3 of this case study I plan to; further refine the ideas presented in Part 2, expand on the applications of  learned theories in the development of my presentation and compare them to the promotional material for La La Land (2016).


In Part 2 the scope of the project was narrowed to the design of specific promotional material within the film industry. Further research into which industry association would be requesting this report highlighted the lack of a dedicated body for this particular request. The major industry associations in the area of specialisation is the Australian Academy of Cinema Television Arts (AACTA), a part of the Australian Film Institute, and the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia (MPDAA). While the AACTA is primarily a ceremonial body and the MPDAA operates in conjunction with major industry studios – such as Fox and Paramount. The ideal association making the request would be something similar to the UK’s Film Distributors Association – which appears to operate as the MPDAA does but seemingly offering more support to local and independent distributors –  which may be something that the report could highlight while also suggesting appropriate solutions to ensure greater change in the design practices of members within the Australian industry.

Moving to the application of theory the screenshot from my presentation, captured above, shows a fairly simplistic approach to the design. Furthering the understanding from the last post, which focused on Readability and Accessibility, Haot’s How to Design For Everybody (2014) raises the point that successful design needs to identify the target users and recognise that users are unique – not only when engaging with your design as opposed to another but also when different users engage with the same design – and cater to any number of needs at the same time. This understanding can be applied to both my presentation – which has pinpointed its target audience and attempted to make itself as simple and easy to read and navigate as possible – and the embedded film trailer for La La Land (2016) which attempts to engage with its target audience both visually and most importantly, as it is a musical, musically. The framing of the trailer would be different if the subject was, for instance, a horror film – the use of dramatic effect, mise-en-scene and scary sounds would be out of place against the above mages of this romantic story – and would negatively influence the audience just as the use of unreadable fonts, over the top colour schemes and foreign languages would make my presentation harder to engage with.

Further to making the physical design appealing and easy to follow I have also attempted to take on board the strategies presented by Noursalehi in Everyone Deserves Great Design (n.d)


While constructing a presentation for an association chosen from a particular field may not be as life altering as something which can help a third world society develop by utilising the four principles of great design for everyone – coupled with the above approach – I feel I have a better understanding of how to approach a design that needs to be both professional, technically sound and yet still easily understandable. In a way the practical application of this approach can be seen in the trailer provided as it demonstrates how, when the four principles of great design for everyone are applied, and executed in a way that positively demonstrates the product will be a success. In this instance the trailer could even be considered the third stage – test the design – with the execution occurring at the point of the feature films release.


Australian Academy of Cinema Television Arts 2017, About AFI|AACTA, AACTA.org, viewed 8 January 2017, <http://www.aacta.org/about-us.aspx&gt;

Film Distributors Association 2017, FDA Homepage, Launchingfilms.com, viewed 8 January 2017, <http://launchingfilms.com/&gt;

Haot, R 2014, ‘Lessons learned in public digital design’, Medium, 11 December, viewed 8 January 2017, <https://medium.com/@rachelhaot/how-to-design-for-everybody-4b2870724c4&gt;.

Movieclips Trailers 2016, La La Land Official Trailer – Dreamers (2016) – Ryan Gosling Movie, 25 November 2016, viewed 8 January 2017,<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lu4RHvouJH8&gt;.

Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia 2017, Background to the MPDAA, MPDAA.org.au, viewed 8 January 2017, <http://www.mpdaa.org.au/customers/mpdaa/mpdaa.nsf/Web_AboutUs?ReadForm&gt;

Noursalehi, E n.d., Everyone deserves great design, viewed 8 January 2017, <http://www.everyonedeservesgreatdesign.com/#now&gt;.

Design Development Case Study – Part 2

With part one in the book and some feedback received – thanks for the feedback to those who gave it – I have been reflecting on the content for my presentation it feels like things are slowly starting to move in the right direction. The understanding that I felt I was building on the design principles themselves was reinforced by these positive comments but what everyone wanted to know, and to some extent even I myself was curious having only thrown a few basic ideas around, was how my presentation would actually work.


From early brainstorming the overall content in my presentation will outline the importance of design when conceptualising and releasing promotional materials for the film industry – attempting to demonstrate both good and bad, but most importantly effective, use of design principles from both a visual design and also a marketing perspective citing examples of;

  • Posters
  • Advertising artwork
  • Film covers (for commercial release)
  • Any other promotional material (things that may come to me later – if at all)

The preliminary target audience identified would most likely be studio/production executives and marketing operators tasked with promoting films while the ideas may also be relevant to directors and producers who work closely with all aspects of their projects. Given this audience the need for an engaging visual presentation would be imperative – leading towards the creation of an interactive Prezi, or combination of Prezi and Zoom to allow fluid voice over. Another option, approaching from a more marketing/strategic position, may be a formal business style report with appropriate recommendations and conclusions. The addition of a pamphlet or handout sheet – or even the aforementioned interactive Prezi – highlighting key points may enhance the overall impact of the presentation.

The thought of making something interactive and engaging got me looking at all sorts of weird and wonderful designs over the course of this blog – one of my favourite though was this advertisement for the film Ted (MacFarlane 2012).


When creating an engaging design – be it for a presentation or an advertisement – the ease at which the audience can understand and absorb the content is paramount. For this reason the two most influential design principles from the last three weeks readings are Readability, the degree to which prose can be understood based on the complexity of words and sentences (Lidwell, Holden & Butler, 2010 p. 198), and Accessibility. For a design to be accessible it must be easy for all audiences to understand and use, simple for them to engage with and forgiving enough that any misinterpretations are not detrimental to either the audience or the design (Lidwell et al, 2010). In the case of advertisement above the premise is simple; stand at the urinal with the movie stars and take a picture. The only noticeable downside to this is that the act requires a second person to take the picture. In the social setting of a cinema this works on the presumption that movie goers will be in groups – the only noticeable chance of a set back for an otherwise well planned design. Similarly to this a presentation not properly constructed for the benefit of the audience runs the risk of becoming disengaging and failing to then communicate the point successfully. Given this approach the design principles of Readability and Accessibility will be at the forefront of both the presentations appearance and content.


Lidwell, W Holden, K & Butler, J 2010, Universal principles of design: 125 ways to enhance usability, influence perception, increase appeal, make better design decisions, and teach through design, Rockport Publishers, Beverly, MA.

Ted 2012, Universal Pictures, United States, Directed by Seth MacFarlane

Ted Advertisement, n.d., image, creativebloq.com, viewed November 20th 2016 <https://williamcolvin.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/ce762-p1030690.jpg>

Design Development Case Study – Part 1

For the purpose of this case study the area that I will be looking at is the film industry, specifically, the importance of design when conceptualising and releasing promotional material such as posters and film artwork. To achieve this effectively the discussion will be presented in the form of a formal presentation – the basis of which can be seen in the short preliminary outline below.


When exploring the importance of design using concepts already explored – and with regards to the chosen industry – we need look no further for examples than the promotional material from Spielberg’s classic Jurassic Park (1993) seen below.


Promotional material of any sort is a niche market but particularly for the film industry, given the need to attract the largest possible audience in order to maximize profit,  all designs should be carefully scrutinised with the flexibility-usability tradeoff to ensure that they achieve maximum impact.

Lidwell (2010, p. 102) explains that; “When an audience has a poor understanding of its needs, favor flexible designs to address the broadest possible set of future applications. When designing multiple generations of products, consider the general shift toward specialization as audience needs become more defined.”

Given that the target audience for a film is the general public who may or may not have heard of the product a simple yet engaging design, like the above, does much in the way of flexibility to address the broadest possible set of future applications – but without failing it’s overall usability as a poster.

Similarly this usability can be seen to match the heirachy of needs (Lidwell 2010) on all levels as follows;

Functionality – The design gives a very broad overview of the film

Reliability –  The design is consistent between what is on the poster and what is in the film

Usability –  The design is easy to interpret and engage the audience in a short space of time, reinforcing the lower level functionality.

Proficiency –  The design, through the caption beneath the main image empowers the audience to go on an adventure.

Creativity –  The design work on this piece is simple, but has aged timelessly, and has become so engrained in popular culture that it can be still be seen today – some 23 years later. Perfectly capturing the highest level of the hierarchy of needs.


Lidwell, W Holden, K & Butler, J 2010, Universal principles of design: 125 ways to enhance usability, influence perception, increase appeal, make better design decisions, and teach through design, Rockport Publishers, Beverly, MA.

Jurassic Park Poster, n.d., image, creativebloq.com, viewed November 20th 2016 <http://cdn.mos.cms.futurecdn.net/b72224a5c352c524ddb49e946788ec9f.jpg&gt;