Merry Chrismahanukwanzus

If you’re a marketer or a business owner, you know it’s important to share a message of “positive celebratory vibes” (a holiday card) with your customers around this time of year. This seemingly simple task can be difficult. Should you say Merry Christmas? Or keep it safe with a Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings? Designing that holiday greeting card may be harder than you think. I’ll tell you exactly what you should do…

Ha. No, I won’t. This post is NOT about helping you figure out how to spread cheer while keeping to your convictions and offending zero people. I have my own strategy which I’ll include towards the end of this article.

The purpose of this post is to explain in a little more depth what each holiday is all about and when it takes place. Here are 4 holidays that occur end-of-the-year-ish.

advent candle graphicChristmas (Christ’s Mass) is celebrated by Christians around the world to remember the birth of Jesus Christ in the year zero. Christmas day – celebrated on December 25th – has been a U.S. federal holiday since 1870. According to Pew Research, 9 in 10 Americans (although not all Christians) celebrate Christmas.

hanukkah candle graphicsHanukkah or Chanukah is an eight-day Jewish celebration that commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, where, Jews rose up against their Greek-Syrian oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt. Hanukkah begins on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar so it typically falls in November or December.

kwanzaa candle graphicsKwanzaa was started by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor of black studies at California State University, in 1966. Following the Watts riots in Los Angeles, Karenga was looking for ways to bring African-Americans together as a community. He founded a cultural organization and began researching African harvest celebrations. He combined several aspects of those celebrations to form Kwanzaa, which means “first fruits” in Swahili.

animal sacrifice graphicWinter Solstice: Cultures around the world often mark the winter solstice – the shortest day and longest night of the year. It usually falls between December 20 and 23 and marks the official start of winter. Ancient Romans would host many celebrations during this time, including Saturnalia, honoring Saturn, the god of agriculture with sacrifices and more. Read more about how other cultures celebrate the winter season

So, which greeting is right for your business? Here’s what I do. Skip it. For my client-base, none of the individual holiday greetings would cover everybody and I find Happy Holidays / Season’s Greetings to be a little bland. Instead, I send a Happy New Years card (like this and this). This is a tradition I observed when I lived in Japan after college. New Years Cards are a big deal in Japan. It’s a little different and it works for me.

So.. um.. good luck and please enjoy this special time we’re having right around this time of year when things start getting colder,

sig

P.S. If you’re into it, Merry Christmas!

Copyright and Design: Who Owns What?

Thanks to social networking and the Internet, finding great design ideas and inspiration has never been easier. On the flip side, technology also make it super easy for someone to steal your work. Literally, a screenshot or a right click to “save image” is all it takes for someone to grab your photo or carefully crafted design.

This also can come into play when you hire a photographer, videographer or graphic designer to create work for your business or on behalf of your client. It’s important to know who owns the work product or copyright, whether the designer can use that work in his portfolio or with other clients.

So, how do you know who owns what?

First, let’s define copyright: A form of protection for “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, architectural, choreographic, graphic, sculptural, and audiovisual creations. Copyright protection does not extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, title, principle, or discovery. In short, whomever creates the work is the author and therefore has the copyright on that work.

The second important term to understand is “work for hire.” An employee who creates something within the scope of her job would not retain the copyright; the employer would be considered the author. If you’re hiring someone as an independent contractor and want to legally retain the rights to the work created, the contract needs to spell that out clearly.

If the work is not made for hire, then the designer retains the copyright. If you, as a business, want to have the copyright, you’ll need to discuss that with the designer and detail that in a contract. You’ll want to specify if the copyright covers the work as it is or if it can be altered or modified. This also could be important if a business wants to ensure a designer doesn’t use a similar design for another client.

When you’re considering hiring a designer, ask about copyright and if the designer feels strongly about retaining the copyright or if he’s OK with a “work for hire” contract. Either way, it’s always good to discuss these legal matters and get decisions in writing. It will surely save time and confusion down the road.

Visit Copyright.gov for details on copyright law, FAQs, information on registering a copyright and more.

Have a great week,

sig

3 Tips for Developing a Great Relationship with a Graphic Designer

In my last blog post, I offered tips for hiring a graphic designer. I outlined five important questions to ask if you’re considering hiring a designer to help with a project, create a company logo or give your marketing materials a makeover.

Once you’ve made your choice, the next step is creating a good working relationship that results in high-quality work. And ideally, you want the experience to be a fun one. 

Here are three tips for creating a good working relationship with a graphic designer:

  1. illustration of workflow chartTrust the process. You’ve hired a graphic designer because you need help. That means you need to let the designer work the process without micromanaging. Absolutely give the designer some direction (logo, brochure, website graphics, etc.) and let him or her know if there are particular colors or fonts that you like or don’t like. Offer some examples of designs you love and hate. Explain how the design will be used so the designer knows the end-use (horizontal, vertical, printed, digital, etc.).

Then, let go.

Trust the designer you’ve hired to create what you need. He or she is the professional with expertise in design, marketing and branding. Just as you hire a CPA to handle your taxes because he’s the expert in accounting, do the same with the graphic designer you’ve brought on to guide your design vision.

  1. Set realistic deadlinillustration of calendar due datees. At the start of a project, work with the designer to establish a deadline for when you need to have the finished project in hand. Make sure you build in time for two or three revisions and backdate your deadlines based on other factors, such as printing schedules. If you need a brochure for an event, for example, allow plenty of time to review the design and get the brochure printed.

Your designer is likely working on several other projects so discuss up front if he or she can meet your deadline schedule. This also means you need to stick to your tasks as well. Don’t wait six days to review the first draft and then complain because the project is off schedule.

  1. Set project parameters at the beginning. Before the first design is sketched, establish the project details. This should include the deadline schedule, the budget/price and the deliverables. illustration of check listBe sure to note how many revisions are included in the price. Designers usually plan for two or three revisions, but beyond that, you may have to pay additional fees.

Make sure you have buy-in from the key decision makers – whether that’s you, marketing VP or the business owner. This helps avoid problems as the project reaches the finish line.

Also, ask the designer what you’ll receive at project completion. If it’s a logo, for example, ask if you’ll get the logo in different sizes and file formats. Find out if you’ll receive a brand standards document outlining the fonts, colors and notes about how the logo should (and shouldn’t) be used.

illustration of telephoneAs with any working relationship, communication is key. Life happens. Things come up. Keep the lines of communication open and be respectful of each other’s time. Some of my best experiences aren’t the ones that have gone perfectly, but the ones where the client is open with me, and we resolve problems together.

Follow these tips and you’ll likely find you have a wonderful new partner in your marketing efforts.

Have a great week,
sig

5 Questions to Ask When Hiring a Graphic Designer

Few small businesses or small marketing agencies have a full-time graphic designer on staff. But there are times when they need a professional to design a new logo, create a brochure or develop a graphic for a special promotion or event. Fortunately, there are plenty of freelance graphic designers available for just these sorts of projects. But how do you choose one? What’s the best way to gauge value, expertise and a fair price?

me pointing to business cardWhat you really need is a man in his late 30s, 6’2” on a good day with a slowly receding hairline.

I joke, of course! Seriously, though, here are five key questions you should ask a potential graphic designer:

1. What’s your level of technical skill and can you provide a portfolio for review?

Designers with less experience might charge less, but can they deliver on exactly what you need? An experienced graphic designer should have a robust portfolio that represents a lot of different projects. This will help you determine if a designer’s style matches what you need for a project.

2. What is your communication style?

Find out if they prefer phone, email, text or carrier pigeon, so you can keep the lines of communication open. Are they quick to respond to questions or concerns? Communication is THE KEY to a successful partnership so make sure they are on board with your preferred methods, too.

3. Can you work my project into your schedule and meet the required deadline?

This is a must. You have deadlines and a project timeline. Other people may be depending on this phase of the project to complete the next steps. You’ll want to be clear about your deadlines and make sure the designer can meet your expectations.

Also, talk through the schedule with the designer to ensure it’s realistic. If you’re expecting to receive a whole new logo and branded materials in one week, that’s not feasible for any designer.

4. What is your pricing structure and what’s included?

Pricing can vary dramatically based on the designer’s level of expertise and the scope of your project. Remember, though, you get what you pay for. If you have a detailed, complex task, you’ll want to find a designer with the experience to deliver.

And, don’t forget to ask what’s included in the project. Many designers build in a certain number of revisions and after that you may have to pay an hourly rate. Ask about the finished project – what file types are provided and in what format.

5. Can you provide three references?

Don’t be afraid to ask for references. Call others who have worked with the designers you’re considering to find out if they did indeed meet the deadline schedule. Ask if they were collaborative and easy to work with. Was the working relationship smooth? Did they deliver?

If you can find a great freelance graphic designer, you’ll have the start of beautiful partnership. It’s likely you’ll need his or her services in the future, so having a reliable designer you can call on will save you time and effort the next time you have a large design project.

So, take your time finding someone who is a good fit for your business and your projects. Bottom line: select someone who can get the job done, make the process enjoyable and make your life easier.

Have a great week,

sig

Are Your Social Media Profile Photos and Icons Up to Date?

We all know how important social media marketing is to our overall marketing strategy. We invest time, money and resources into creating content – copy, photos, graphics, videos – to engage with our audience. But when was the last time you looked at the profile photos and cover images on your social media channels? (True confession! I need to do this myself!)

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but social media websites are constantly tweaking and changing things. Sometimes the changes are for the better. And sometimes, you find that your perfectly crafted square profile picture has been converted to a cut-off circle! Or perhaps the images that looked great on your old phone look blurry on newer, high-resolution screens. The results can look sloppy and unprofessional.

It’s important to pay attention to your social pages and how they look to a first-time visitor. Are your images sized properly and do they communicate your overall brand?

Time for a social media cleanup

Block off an hour and conduct an audit of your social profiles. Here’s a checklist to get you started:

  • Look at your social network profile page as if you were a customer or first-time visitor to that page. Are the profile images the right size and proportion? Are they cut off or hard to read? Bonus question: Do they convey high-level brand messaging that’s easy to understand?
  • Do the images look different in the newsfeed versus the page? For example, when you visit your Facebook page, the profile image is a square. But in the newsfeed, it’s a small circle. Make sure you’ve uploaded a photo that will look good in both places.
  • Don’t forget about your cover photos. Make sure they look good on mobile and on a desktop. Bonus question: On Facebook, did you know you can upload a video as your cover image?
  • Start with high-resolution images. Often when Facebook resizes images they look blurry. That’s especially true if you start with a low-res, grainy photo.
  • Once you’ve updated your business pages, take a look at your personal pages too. Even though you may not promote those as part of your business, people can still find your personal profiles. They may be researching you for a potential project or as part of a job interview. Those profile images should also be sized correctly and be a positive and professional representation of you and your business – especially your LinkedIn page.

Sprout Social has a great guide on social media image sizes. Here you’ll find the exact image sizes on all the major social networks. Remember, though, these networks (especially Facebook) periodically make updates and changes to pages’ appearances. Take note and update your profile images and cover photos accordingly.

Are you promoting your social networks?

The next area you’ll want to audit is how you’re driving traffic to your social networks. Most people include icons on their website, in their email signature and often on print materials, such as fliers, posters or banners. These are all excellent ways to let people know you’re active on certain social networks.

Email providers like MailChimp or website platforms like WordPress and Squarespace typically auto populate social media icons and you simply add your link or handle. But if you’re doing a print product or custom design, you’ll need to add those icons yourself.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Use the official logo for each social network. Don’t just do a quick Google search and grab the first image that pops up. Plus, using an outdated logo indicates you don’t pay attention to changes in social media. That can indicate to potential customers you don’t pay attention to details. You’ll want to download the official icon from the individual network’s brand resource page.
  • Don’t alter the official logo unless you really know what you’re doing. Plus, you’ll want to follow the brand standards laid out by each social network, which may include not cropping or significantly altering the logo.
  • Sometimes it’s problematic to use the social icons in their native colors. A good solution is to convert them all to black and white for unity with your brand colors.  

Periodically review both your own profile images as well as the places where you’re driving traffic to your social profiles to ensure everything is up to date, easy to read and professional. It’s also a good opportunity to delete any social accounts you’re no longer using. Or at least remove any icons/links to those profiles. You don’t want to send people to your social media profiles if you aren’t actively keeping them updated. Good luck!

Have a great week,

sig

How Do I Find Good Stock Photography?

Whether you’re working on a brochure, a website, email newsletter or social media post, you’re going to need some images. In our highly visual world, it’s imperative to have great images, graphics and illustrations to help tell your story.

Stock images and stock photography sites can be an excellent resource. But the downside of stock photography is that it’s, well, stock photography. You and lots of other marketers have access to all the same photos and illustrations, meaning your project isn’t truly original. Pay attention to websites you visit and posts you see on social media – you’ll start to notice stock photos (maybe even some of the same ones) everywhere. In fact, if you want to hear an “insider baseball” rant, ask a graphic designer who their least favorite stock photography model is. They’ll probably have one. I’d post a picture to mine, but I really don’t want to see his face on my blog!

So, how can you incorporate stock images into your work so it still looks graphically pleasing and professional?

If possible, work with a professional graphic designer who can help you select the very best stock images and can skillfully weave together stock shots and custom images taken by a local talented photographer. This allows you to get the best of both worlds and you save a little money over using custom photography exclusively.  If you’re on your own though, here’s some tips.

When mixing custom photos and stock images, keep a few things in mind:

  • As much as possible, keep the lighting consistent.
  • Avoid using too many generic shots, such as hands shaking or a smiling person on a headset. Your project ends up looking like everyone else’s.
  • Use a mix of stock photos and stock graphics, such as designs, illustrations and icons. This is a great way to add visual interest and stave off monotony.
  • Avoid cheesy pictures or images that are obviously stock. If it looks unrealistic, don’t use it. And, when in doubt, get a few opinions.

webpage with red mark up

Here’s an example of how I was able to use a blend of custom and stock photography:

Selecting the best stock photo sites

Choose your stock photo sites wisely. Two sites with a large catalog of images at a good price are ShutterStock.com and AdobeStock.com. These sites do cost money, but are more affordable than they used to be. If you’re planning to use a lot of stock photography, you might want to invest in a subscription versus paying for each photo individually.

If you are fortunate enough to have a big – or unlimited – budget, use GettyImages.com. It’s the gold standard for stock photography but it doesn’t come cheap with a single image starting at $175.

Free, low-cost photo options

OK, so what happens when you have little to no budget or you’re a nonprofit trying to create blog posts and social media content on a dime? A number of free or low-cost stock image sites are available, and some actually aren’t bad depending on your project and specific image needs. Just remember, when it comes to free or low-cost stock sites, the hardest part is combing through all the files to get to what’s good. So set aside some time for sorting, sorting and more sorting – that’s half the battle!

Unsplash.com, DeathtoStockPhoto.com, and BarnImages.com have cool commercial photography available for free. Also check WikiMedia Commons and Flickr where you might find images available for use under public domain or a creative commons license. Some government sites also have images available in the public domain.

Get permission for photo use

Whether you’re using free or paid sites, make sure you’ve looked at the licensing agreements and understand how you can — and most importantly can’t – use the images. Some are available for editorial use only and some require attribution. Do you need a model release? Is there any time limit to when you have to use the images you purchase?

Making certain you have the rights to the images you’re using is critical. Certainly don’t just download any image you find on Google or someone else’s blog or website.

Bottom line

When it comes to creative work, great imagery can take your project to the next level. Even if you’re working with a small budget, there are ways to make your projects look high-end. This is where consulting with a professional graphic designer is helpful. We can come up with creative ways to get around a low photography or stock photo budget.

Here’s an example of how I was able to get creative and use low-cost stock photography for a project that had a small budget for photography:

open spread pages with red mark up

I’d love to hear how you find and use stock images. Do you have a favorite site? Let’s hear about why it works for you.

Have a great week,

sig

How Do I Remove the White Background from a Logo?

Ever tried to overlay a logo or other graphic onto an image only to find there’s an annoying white background behind it? Frustrating for sure.

If you’re looking for a graphic with transparency to use in your design projects, there are three potential solutions. Note, these solutions require that you have access to Adobe Creative Suite. If you don’t, skip on down to solution No. 3.

1) In Illustrator

icon resizingIf your graphic is a professionally created logo, one option is to get access to the original graphic file – preferably an EPS or Adobe Illustrator format. What you want is a vector image, which means the image has been created digitally in such a way that it can be re-scaled up or down without losing its resolution and becoming pixelated.

It’s likely the vector file already has built-in transparency. That pesky white background doesn’t appear until someone saves a version of the graphic in a format like a JPG or GIF to use on the web. Take that EPS or Adobe Illustrator file and save it as a “PNG” file. Make sure you check the box labeled “preserve transparency.”

2) In Photoshop

Open a relatively high-resolution version of the graphic in Adobe Photoshop. Use the pen tool to trace around the object and then create a clipping mask. This is pretty technical and can be challenging if you don’t know your way around Photoshop very well or if the graphic is complicated by features like hair, soft edges and lots of “holes” like those in the letters D, O and R.

pen tool cutting letter

You can sometimes get away with using the “Magic Wand” to select around your logo/graphic especially if the graphic is pretty simple. Once you’ve masked out (or deleted) the unwanted background, export your image as a PNG with transparency preserved. If you don’t preserve the transparency, Photoshop will add white back into the areas you just cleared away.

3) But I don’t have these fancy programs!

If you don’t do a lot of graphic design work, you may not have Photoshop or Illustrator. In that case, try one of these programs:

GIMP is a free Photoshop alternative. It’s powerful, but not the most user-friendly so it might take you a little time to learn your way around this one.

Inkscape is a free vector program will do the trick. As with Gimp, this app is off the beaten path so there may be a steep learning curve.

If you don’t have access to the high-resolution version of your logo or the original files, it’s going to take you a lot of time and energy to do this on your own, especially if all you have is a low-resolution graphic. This might be a good time to hire a professional graphic designer to re-create your logo. Graphic designers then provide you with all the various file formats you could need – saving you a lot of headache in the future.

Need help re-creating a new logo or need additional formats for an existing one? Get in touch at ab@andrewbartondesign for help. 

Have a great week,

sig