Fundamentals of Design: Purpose

This unit contains four sections. Work through the content in order.

Purpose (Overview)
The Design's Goal
The Intended Audience
The Desired Takeaway

Fundamental #1 — Purpose

Purpose is the most abstract of the fundamentals (meaning it is the only unit of this workshop that will not have visual examples), but it is perhaps the most important.

Purpose isn’t a singular design element (like a font or color). It’s not something you can point to in a design or deliberately add with a click of the button. Instead, purpose is the heart of your design. It is reason for the design to exist in the first place.

Purpose is a message and, in many cases, a call to action.

Consider these examples:

  • The purpose of a book cover is to communicate an aesthetic and mood that matches the story beneath the jacket, while also hinting at the premise/plot and enticing a reader to pick up the book.
  • The purpose of a logo is to communicate the identity of a brand via a symbol, making it immediately recognizable to consumers.
  • The purpose of an ad (in print or on social media) is to communicate a focused message (sale price, release date, etc.) that then drives the consumer to action (purchase, reserve, share, etc)

A good design tells the audience something and then encourages them to take a certain action. Simply put: A design without purpose is just noise.

Because purpose is so integral to good design, it is important to start with this fundamental whenever you tackle a new design project. You can identify your design’s purpose by asking yourself three crucial questions:

  1. What is the goal of this design?
  2. Who is the audience and how will you reach them?
  3. What is the desired takeaway and/or response?

Let’s look at each question a bit closer…

What is the goal?

The goal of most design pieces is almost always a very focused message—some important information that needs to be passed from you to the audience. 

Examples of Focused Goals:

  • You are going on book tour and want to announce the dates/locations
  • You have new blurb for your upcoming book and want to share it
  • Your publisher is running an ebook sale and you want to tell readers about the deal

Whether you’re designing digital graphics (to share online) or print pieces (to share in person), the goal remains same: Tell the audience a specific piece of news or information.

There may be instances where you don’t have a specific piece of news to share and instead want to focus more on your author brand, or perhaps your books as a whole. 

Examples of Broader Goals:

  • You need a website that serves as a home for all info related to you and your book(s)
  • You want physical swag that can boost awareness of a particular title
  • You need a social media header to represent your online identify

In these examples, the goal is less about sharing a specific piece of news and more about boosting visibility and awareness of you, the author, and/or your books. 

Regardless, it is important to know what your goal is when you sit down to work on a new design. Always, always, always identify your goals first. If there’s more than one, that’s fine! Make a list and prioritize it from most important goal to least. Then keep these goals in mind as you work through the rest of your questions.

Who is the audience?

Knowing your goal (message) isn’t enough. You also need to identify who this message is targeting. Different professions, groups, and ages will require different communication approaches.

Your knee-jerk reaction may be to say, “I’m targeting all readers!” but this is rarely true.

For instance, if you write gritty thrillers or horror, you’re likely not looking to reach readers of cozy mysteries or romance. Your genre is a great starting point when trying to determine your audience.

Similarly, consider the age group you write for. You can directly target adult readers without too much trouble. Teens, too. But kids (picture book category up through middle grade) get tricky. While the books are meant for children, it is often hard to reach these children directly. Your design may want to target the gatekeepers of this age group instead (think: parents, teachers, librarians).


How will you reach this audience?

After you identify your audience, you need to figure out how you’ll reach them. What medium will you be designing in? Digital or print? If digital, where? On social media, via a website, a newsletter, etc?

Consider these questions carefully, because the answers will influence your designs.

You may have multiple answers to this question, and that is fine. Some design campaigns you undertake will look to reach an audience in multiple places, in multiple ways. Keep in mind however, that the specs for designing in print are different than the specs for designing for web/digital. (More on this later.)

For now, let’s use some examples to better illustrate this:

Example A:

  • An author wants to announce tour dates / upcoming appearances. After identifying their audience, they decide the best way to reach them is online, via social media and the author’s personal newsletter.
  • The author works digitally to create a social media graphic that can easily be shared on instagram, facebook, etc. That same graphic is then used in their newsletter, with a text version of the appearance schedule listed beneath.

In this example, the author ends up reaching the audience in the digital medium but in multiple places. The author is able to create ONE design that works across all these platforms.


Example B:

  • An author wants to create swag pieces for an upcoming title—a promotional bookmark and a postcard that will have a quote from the novel on it. These are physical pieces. The author will design the products for print.
  • A unique design is made for both the bookmark and the quote card, because both pieces have unique dimensions and goals.
  • After designing the pieces, the author decides to tell readers how they can get these pieces, perhaps through a preorder campaign or at events. This goal will launch another design initiative that will likely follow a path similar to Example A, with digital graphics that can be shared online to spread the news.


Once you’ve identified how and where you’ll reach your audience, it’s time to think about how you want them to react after seeing the design…

What is the desired takeaway?

If your audience takes away only one thing from your design, what should it be? The answer to this question is directly tied to the goal (message) you’ve already identified.

Here are some examples of very focused goals and the desired takeaway for the audience:

GOAL: announce that your book is currently on sale TAKEAWAY: the sale price, the dates the sale runs, where the sale is being offered

GOAL: share blurbs for an upcoming release TAKEAWAY: impressive praise

GOAL: announce a book tour TAKEAWAY: appearance dates, times, and locations

Even if you have a broader goal, something more focused on general promotion, there should still be a takeaway for your design.

GOAL: promotional bookmark swag TAKEAWAY:  general book info (such as cover, release date, praise, etc)


What is the desired response?

In marketing campaigns, a call to action (or CTA) is a written directive that encourages the user to take a specific action. A link or button that says “Buy Now” or “Subscribe Today” are basic examples.

Many of the designs you create as an author will be static graphics for social media or print pieces. They won’t have a traditional CTA. But it is always beneficial to think about what actions, if any, your design is encouraging users to take.

Let’s build off the three examples outlined above:

GOAL: announce that your book is currently on sale TAKEAWAY: the sale price, the dates the sale runs, where the sale is being offered RESPONSE: buy book

GOAL: share blurbs for an upcoming release TAKEAWAY: impressive praise RESPONSE: preorder book or add book on goodreads

GOAL: announce a book tour TAKEAWAY: appearance dates, times, and locations RESPONSE: register for event and/or add event to personal calendar

Again, even with broader goals, there are still responses that you can strive to achieve:

GOAL: promotional bookmark swag  TAKEAWAY:  general book info (such as cover, release date, praise, etc)  RESPONSE: take bookmark home, use while reading or give to friend


Thinking about these things upfront will streamline your design process later. It will also help you identify what information is the most important to communicate, which feeds into the second fundamental, Hierarchy, which we’ll get to in the next unit.

Remember that you cannot create purposeful designs without a goal, or without a desired takeaway/response. If you become stuck while designing, return to these core questions.


Congrats! You’ve finished the first unit. Ready to move on?

Start Unit Two: Hierarchy

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