A Designers Guide to “Azz Words”

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| March 26, 2012

If you have worked as a graphic designer for any length of time, you may have heard a few terms thrown around by your clients as they critique your work. You have tried your best to present a well-executed and thoughtfully designed piece and your client says, “It looks nice, but it needs a more, pizzazz. Can you jazz it up a little? I want it to look real snazzy”… meeting adjourned. That’s all of the critical feedback you get to help you produce a second round of comps that will be Pizzazzy, Jazzy and Snazzy.

If you are not familiar with these terms or why anyone would use them to describe art, I hope this little primer will enlighten you and help you understand their deeper meaning. It should also help you count the costs when working with clients who are prone to use such vocabulary. Should you attempt to educate them on the soundness of your professional judgment and good taste? Should you just give them what they want as long as you get paid? Should you not work for them at all? This all depends on your personal tolerance levels, but by the end of this article, you should be better equipped to answer these questions on your own.

When a client wants “Pizzazz”, he or she is usually asking for accents or enhancements to your design that come in the form of sparkles, stars, bursts, arrows or any number of characters that can be found using the Zapf Dingbat font. Less is really less, and your insufficient design will be made complete by adding more stuff to it. You may be asked to include a picture of a cat or a turtle in your logo design. Or maybe die-cut a business card in the shape of your client’s nose. By using such “clever” attention-getters, your client believes that having her piece look like a used car ad is exactly how to get the consumer to act. This can be a great opportunity for you, a trained graphic artist, to express your views on topics of design. You can explain how a properly designed ad can be instrumental in promoting her products in a way that helps her company stand apart from the cluttered announcements of her competitors. By all means, try to inform. But if she still insists on including a picture of her poodle in the ad, she probably doesn’t care. Give her what she wants. Pizzazz pays, and rent is due in a week.

Jazz it Up.
If pizzazz is not enough to make your piece sing, you can “Jazz it up” a little. This is easily accomplished by using jazzy fonts like Dom Casual, Mistral or Brush Script. I actually had someone try to describe a font that he really loved and wanted to use in his ad. When I finally asked, “Do you mean Comic Sans?… he said “Yes!, that’s a really cool font!” I am distressed to say that even my own creation, Papyrus can be used to jazz up any design. Now is the time to try to convince your client that most jazzy fonts are installed on every PC in the world and should never be used under any circumstances; that you have hundreds of beautiful fonts on your Mac and you carefully selected the most appropriate font to make his ad rock. Or, you can use that jazzy font instead, and make your piece both jazzy AND pizzazzy. Don’t forget, a happy client is a happy client and you are still getting paid. By the way, I said no to Comic Sans.

This is my favorite. When pizzazz and jazz still won’t cut it, you can always make it “Snazzy”. Now that page layout and image editing tools are available to everyone with a computer, you, too, can do what everyone else does and instantly apply snazzy “Effects” to any element of your design. If the font does not “pop”, add a “Drop Shadow” with an “Inner Bevel”. Too much white space? Try putting a nice yellow “Outer Glow” around the entire turtle. Using theses resources, the various combinations and possible ways of making snazzy even snazzier are infinite. I always try to educate everyone on the value and beauty of negative space. Even in the realm of music and time, space can speak more powerfully than the things that occupy it. A point in a song where the bass is silent; an open field where only grass grows; that quiet part of the day when you can meditate… these are places and moments of value that are so refreshing and most memorable. But the boss has paid for a full-page add, and to get his money’s worth, a full-page ad must be… well… FULL. Do you want to quit your job yet?

Sometimes it’s difficult for young designers to remember that if you want to make a living in this industry, you have to bend to the will of those who hire you. At times, we develop relationships with clients or management types that respect our training and experience and trust the decisions we make as talented artists. They allow us to do our jobs and to create designs that can be truly effective, truly artistic and maybe even win an award or two. These are the people and positions that we need to seek after and hold on to because such scenarios are rare. There are also environments where the person you work for may be too strong willed and opinionated or more concerned about bottom line profits than allowing your very cool designs to speak like you want them to. These situations are probably more commonplace than we would like, but we need to be patient and grateful for our present job situation while being diligent in seeking a more rewarding place in this industry.

Fortunately, if the latter scenario speaks to you, you can Razzle-Dazzle your boss today with your newfound “Azz Word” skills. Do art on your own time. Think Pizzazz, Jazz and Snazzy at work! With my handy tips, and maybe a little Razzmatazz of your own, can you think of an easier way to make a buck?

Chris is a senior graphic designer and his award-winning work has been featured in Graphic Design USA Magazine’s American InHouse Design Awards annual issues since 2005. He is an Associate Designer at The United States Mint, has designed several original fonts, including the notorious “Papyrus”, and is a freelance artist. (www.costelloart.com)


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