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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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