I find that different design projects, particularly in the corporate area, sometimes call for different approach tactics. These days, designers wear many hats, and when working on a project for even small business, you sometimes become photographer, writer, copy editor, an graphic designer all rolled into one. Being that things are so varied these days, I'll cite just one project example, the company newsletter, with possible ways to approach it.
Even small businesses these days realize the value of a company newsletter, and with the convenience of email, they are easily delivered and virtually free because there are no printing or postage costs. So faced with the task of providing the service for generating one, how do you proceed?
Designing From Scratch?
If the company has no predetermined template, get one built. Use the company logo if one is available. Decide on a two or three column format, and stick to it for each issue. Consistency over time adds more credibilty to the corporate look. My own personal choice is a three column format. Be sure that your newsletter is properly titled. It is also beneficial to give prominence to the company name. Also be sure to include the full contact information for the company in the newsletter. I always include full info, comapany name, address, phone, website, and email address, usually at the bottom.
Regarding design elements, keep it as simple as possible. Do not fill your template with needless doodads that will detract from the main message. If a company logo is supplied, do not deviate from it or change it. Unless you are designanated as the logo designer as well, chances are the company paid someone to generate it, or has their own reasons for designing it as they did. If no logo is available, ask for a business card, and see what it looks like. Design something simple that is in step with the look of the business card. Even a simple plain letter monogram on a plain color block will work. Use very simple color accents that are appropriate for the professional look.
Tools for newsletter generation vary. Some that I do are destined for commercial press, so I use Quark, but widely available MS Publisher will work for small email projects. A page layout program is the preferred tool, but in a pinch, even Photoshop will work. I go back to the old Pagemaker days, so I have learned the value of a good page layout program. With a page layout proram you can also adjust your text spacing (like the spacing in between the lines), so if your text is a little sparse, you can adjust the "leading", and the text will fill out the space. And with Adobe Acrobat, your page layout file is easily converted to a universal PDF format. Never send out the native page layout file as your newsletter; people may not have the proper software to open it and read it.
What Is The Message?
If you are very lucky, the company has already decided on the main message and/or title, and possibly even has photos ready for you. If not, this is when your talents come into play. The main piece of information you will need is the title or purpose for sending the newsletter out. If no text has been provided to you, you may have to demand this information (in a polite way, of course). A newsletter without a purpose is just junk mail, and you need to provide some value to the recipient. Otherwise it will wind up in the trash bin. Will the newsletter have company announcements? Will it promote a specific existing product or a new upcoming product? Will it include a promotional offer? The main message is your framework, and if no text or photos are provided, this is the framework you will design from.
The Message Copy
Copy, or text, must be generated to hold the interest of the reader, and, as mentioned before be "on message". When I must generate text for a client, especially if I am on a deadline, I still use plain old paper and pen to begin. I'll take the client notes and generate full coherent sentences from them. When I write them on paper, I usually leave a large amount of space in between sentences, allowing for cross outs and insertions. The advantage of paper, for me, is that someting I may have crossed out may be useful in another part of the message. After I have maybe five "thought lines" written down in a coherent format, I order them in number. Then they go onto the computer so I can expand on things. Building a strong framework makes the base writing go much faster, and you can add your verbal flourishes later as needed and as space allows.
But I'm a Designer, and I Haven't Designed Yet!
The reality in business is, sometimes that's just the way it is. Pretty boring stuff. What is most important is that yiu provide the client with what they need, not with "cool" design fantasies. In the case where the client has supplied photos, your job is almost done for you. Personally, I like to caption photos if they are specific to the business or if they contain important product details. I try and get these captions, at least in a basic form, from the client.
But what if no photos are not supplied? This is where your design skills and aesthetic sense come into play. If your company is, for example, a landscape service, photo selection is pretty easy. Someone gardening, pretty flowers, someone with a garden hose possibly appling chemical treatment to the grounds. Two or a maximum of three photos will do it. But what if your client is an "business consultant"? Wow, that's pretty nebulous, and it's hard to define that type of business activity in a photo. Based on the Main Message of the newsletter, along with your knowledge about your client, you can begin your photo search.
So let's run with that "business" theme, plus the message of "save time and money with our services", and see what we come up with.
Would I use all of these photos? Probably not all in one newsletter. I would just select the best to fit the the corporate look, and maybe include a headshot of the business owner.
The Client is Primary
The lackluster part of being all around "designer" is that sometimes you take on the role of business message developer, where photos and design skills are secondary in the importance of developing the business message. Remember that your client is primary, and sometimes what you think of as the "fun" part of design takes a back seat. And the ability to wear many hats will be your own most valuable asset.