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What Target and My Wife Taught Me About Design

Stephen Palacino March 31, 2021 · 5 min read
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Now that my wife and I are new parents, we find ourselves drinking more coffee and going on dates to Target instead of downtown. Seriously, after our son was born, one of our first dates was to Target…and we may or may not have slept in the parking lot. (Yay for grandparents!) I don’t mind the change, though. We love our son, and between trips for diapers, wipes, and chocolate (for us) I’ve even learned a few things about design along the way. Maybe it’s the sleep deprivation, but I think you’ll agree that the Big Red has some lessons for us all.

Here are three lessons I learned from Target that apply to designers:

1) I Didn’t Know we Needed a Porcelain Owl Cookie Jar, But Apparently We Do.

Translation: Sometimes clients don’t know what they need until they see it. Threshold Cookie Jar There’s something about Target that makes you forget why you’re there. You had a list—or at least you thought you had a list—but then all of a sudden you find yourself perusing the various home aisles wondering how many different animals can be turned into salt and pepper shakers. The answer is of course, all animals. And that’s when you see it (well, your wife sees it): a medium-sized white porcelain owl cookie jar. It’s perfect. And you do like cookies. In fact, you actually make cookies quite often. But are they around long enough to be stored in a cookie jar? No. (That’s probably bad.) But the porcelain owl will solve this. I’ve often found that clients don’t always know what they need until they see it. And the “seeing” here doesn’t need to be literal. Talk to them. Explain your angle. Share a story. As designers, when we become invested in a client’s success, it’s our job to let them see what could be. Clients are usually too busy making amazing “cookies,” that they don’t realize an awesome cookie jar could really help their business. And this is different than hollow upselling. I’m not a fan of that. No, this is about good service. If you make good cookies, put them in a good cookie jar. It’s only right.

2) Print is Not Dead.

Translation: Print is not dead. Threshold Target Mailer That dang Target direct mailer gets me every time. You know the one I’m talking about? It’s the Threshold mailer that shows someone’s perfectly staged home, at golden hour, spotlessly cleaned, with a unicorn in the background, and a million dollars by the fireplace. It’s so beautiful. So nicely printed. When I get it in the mail, I actually think, “Hmm…I wonder what Target is about to show me.” And boy do they show me. No, print is not dead, and it won’t be. But what a brand expects from print is dying—or more appropriately changing. If a brand is looking for a direct response from a semi-regular mailer, it better have a pretty amazing offer…like a free puppy or ice cream. Otherwise, the piece should have a different purpose. The piece should resonate with the audience—not to sell, not to ask, but to relate. If you can relate with your target audience, then they in turn associate your brand as a part of their life. Know your target; know your message. (EW, pun.) And when they’re ready to buy, they’ll think of you. Does this mean I have a unicorn in my living room? No—but I guess it means I’d like to? And when I’m ready, I’ll get it from Target.

3) My Living Room Can Look Better…As Well as My Office…and I Guess My Whole House.

Translation: What’s the one thing you can update that will make a difference? When my wife and I walk down the home section, we’re immediately made aware of how much we can update. Apparently, gold is now a thing…because it looks rich…even though we all know it’s just paint. And white. White everything. Because you have kids and that’s smart. (Confession: My wife and I did buy a white couch. We now have an off-white couch for sale.) I don’t think we have the green eye of envy. No, it’s much more subtle. We’re a family on a budget, so we know we can’t update our entire home. However, when we walk down the aisles, we think, “What’s the one thing we can buy that will make a big difference?” I’ve started to apply this same concept to designs. When I finish a piece, I now allow more time to look, step back and think: if I were to add or change one thing what would it be? When I finish a webpage, I ask myself—What’s the one thing I could do to make this page better? What if I change the photo? What if the text was a bit larger?Even if the client and I like the creative direction, I’ll still take another look. It’s a simple exercise that has helped me break away from designing for the client’s sake to designing for the sake of good design.

How Do These Lessons Resonate With You?

I’ve noticed that the more involved I become as a designer, the more I think about design even when I’m not at the computer (like in the diaper aisle on Black Friday because you forgot to buy them the day before). Good design—and good lessons—are all around us. What about you? What are some tips you’ve learned about design in unexpected places? PS: If you want an off-white couch, let me know. 🙂
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About the Author
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Stephen Palacino

I work with entrepreneurs and small businesses on web design and brand strategies, as well as run business development for a video production agency. When not designing, you'll find me out with my family on a road trip making bad jokes and drinking too much coffee.

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16 Comments
  • This was fantastic and made me laugh out loud. As a designer, Target gets me all the time...especially since usually in my mind, I can afford Target more than some other stores I love with beautifully designed things. Plus, I want to shop there because they have well thought out store designs too. I'm drawn to any storefront that is well designed because it shows they care about first impressions and branding. 6 years ago
  • I love Target, too! In design school we're taught to find inspiration in unusual places and I think ideas about design can be found the same way. For anyone who doesn't think that orange and green look good together, take a look at an orange grove or a pumpkin patch...it just depends on how and where the color combination is used. 6 years ago
  • I really adore Target! awesome post! 6 years ago
  • @Carrie Marcelo Thank you! And yes, my wife will literally say, "We should get this!" And I say...for what? And she'll go..."Um, because look at how nice the branding is!" 6 years ago
  • @victoria willis that's so true about color combinations! 6 years ago
  • "What's the one thing I could change?...." Years ago, my very creative mom encouraged me to think about a project (I was learning to sew at the time) and think of one thing that would make it different than all the others, make it unusual. Best creative advice I've ever gotten and I still apply it to every project. Good job, nice article, go Target! 6 years ago
  • Love #3. What is the one thing I'm not completely happy with that I could improve? If I have the time... lol. 6 years ago
  • Such an engaging, funny, and clever post! You're giving Kevin Whipps a run for his money! ;) 6 years ago
  • @unkskitty "If I have the time" haha. I mean, in an ideal world. You know, a Threshold mailer beautiful world. LOL 6 years ago
  • Thanks @Jenna Teague! I love Kevin Whipps' writing! 6 years ago
  • Caught a quick nap in the carpark ... lol. Totally agree that print is not dead. Great blog! :) 6 years ago
  • Excellent article - lots of fun. Who doesn't love Target! 6 years ago
  • OMG I have that Princess phone -- still works. Miss Northern Telecom aka Nortel! Phones aren't made like they used to ... 6 years ago
  • Nice work. Amazing stuff to know 6 years ago
  • I have this fascination with Terrain. I'm always amazed that a landscaping/lifestyle store can take ordinary things and so tastefully and creatively design an ad I want to KEEP! I wish I knew who did their design... I'm a huge fan! 5 years ago
  • @Bethany Hissong if the Target design team hosted an event...about anything...I'd probably go! :P 5 years ago