Upping Your Print Game: Part 1

3 Reasons to Give Print a Try

These days we consume most advertising and marketing messages online. But that doesn’t mean print marketing is dead. In fact, it can be a novel way to showcase your products or services. Much in the same way, people today cherish receiving a hand-written note in the mail versus an email.

When clients ask me to design a printed product, I get excited. I love the stuff you can hold in your hand: brochures, catalogs, business cards, annual reports, maps and rack cards. I’m forever collecting samples when I’m out and about.

If most of your work lately has been online, consider printed marketing materials for these three reasons:

1. Keep your message simple. A limited amount of space forces you to craft an uber-clear marketing message and communicate that message in a visually appealing way. Unlike websites with unlimited scrolling, something like a postcard or brochure forces you to be concise with your wording and requires an eye-catching design.

2. You can go big or small. From billboards to business cards, you can select a size that fits your business and creative needs.

3. Stand out with your marketing. Everyone has a website, but not everyone has a printed brochure or catalog. Not every business in your industry has a look-book of ideas or a booklet of work samples. This is a great way to separate yourself from your competitors. And, if you really want to go the extra mile, select a high-quality paper, embossed lettering, foil touches or a glossy shine.

Ready to give print collateral another look? Don’t miss next month’s blog post for tips about how to keep print costs at a minimum.

Have a great week,

sig

Do I Need a New Logo?

It’s never a bad idea to evaluate your overall brand and corresponding marketing materials. You want to ensure a clear, consistent message and one that accurately reflects who you are and what you do. It all starts with your logo. A company logo sets the stage for your overall look and feel – it’s the tip of your spear. It’s the flag on your pirate ship, so to speak.

I know a marketing refresh takes both time and money. So it’s important to pause and truly consider (why you might need a new logo) before you start the process.

Let’s start with a few questions to ponder:

  • Do you like your logo? Maybe you bought a business and inherited the logo so it doesn’t feel like “yours”. Or maybe you’ve simply grown tired of your existing logo. If you aren’t exicted about your logo, it’s unlikely your customers (or employees) will be either. If you’re proud of your logo, you’ll want to put it everywhere: t-shirts, car magnets, etc. This extra promotion naturally leads to more conversations about your business, which hopefully leads to more opportunities.
  • Is your logo current and up to date – especially when compared to your competitors? Last month we talked about trends and the importance of not being overly trendy in your designs. But, if your logo looks like it stepped right out of 1995, it’s time for something new (unless, of course, you sell slap bracelets).
  • Is your logo similar to another business in your industry or geographical market? You definitely don’t want your business to be confused with another one because the logos look too similar.
  • Is your logo practical to use? A logo with lots of details and colors can be tough to use on branded materials like hats and pens. A tall logo or a long, horizontal logo is difficult to use as a social media profile. You have to think about all the ways you’ll use your logo so it fits nicely into any marketing situation – that also means having access to a variety of file formats and sizes.

The final — and most critical — question: Is your logo doing its job? Are you working for your logo or is your logo working for you? It has a very important role. Consider your logo to be a member of the marketing and sales team. And like any good team member, it should have a job description, get occasional performance reviews and not drink too much booze at the Christmas party.

The next time you catch your logo in the break room, sit down and ask it these questions:

  • How well are you visually representing our brand (ethos, people, offerings, value, products, etc.)?
  • Are you clear and readable? Do you have a tagline?
  • Do you show up consistently across the “brandscape” (e.g. from the website to the 5K t-shirt)?
  • Do you look great on our social media platforms? Vertical tradeshow banners? Horizontal billboards?
  • Does your aesthetic (typography, colors, style) feel appropriate to our industry?
  • When you “work from home” are you actually just watching TV?

I bet your logo is really quaking in its boots and will spend the rest of the day thinking hard about its performance. Hopefully, you will too. Just like any member of your team, a good logo should make your life easier, not harder.

What if my logo is old, but well recognized in the marketplace? Then you may want to consider a logo refresh. Maybe you just need to choose an updated font or tweak the color. It’s a great way to keep your logo current without sacrificing that hard-earned brand recognition.

Now that you’ve taken some time to assess your current logo, where do you stand? Will you stick with what you have or is it time to try something new?

Have a great week,

sig

Graphic Design Trends for 2019

Whether it’s fashion, food, home decor or technology, we see “trend” lists everywhere. Graphic design is no exception. Whether it’s a hot color or a funky new font, we pay attention to what’s new and how we might incorporate it into ads, websites and logos. Are you excited about any upcoming trends?

I am. It’s fun to think that I can do the same basic task that I did 10 years ago (e.g. make a logo, create a print ad) and make it in a completely new style. That’s the sort of perk that keeps us creative-types excited about our jobs.

swatches from past years

That being said, trends aren’t the be-all end-all. We don’t abandon good design principles and individual client needs just because a trend list says we should. An overly trendy design runs the risk of premature obsolescence. Few companies have the time or the budget to revamp their design materials every few years to keep up. So I like to think of trends as a good starting point.

What’s the balance between trendy and tried n’ true? If I told you that, you wouldn’t need to hire me. 🙂

Get to the Trends Already!!!

Keep your pants on.

That’s a trend now. All the cool kids are “keeping their pants on.”

That was a joke. Here are a few things I’m seeing for 2019:

Pantone Color of the Year

For 20 years, Pantone’s Color of the Year has influenced product development and purchasing decisions in multiple industries, including fashion, home furnishings, and industrial design, as well as product, packaging, and graphic design. The color experts at the Pantone Color Institute search the world for influences – entertainment and art to travel and technology. This year’s selection is “living coral.” Pantone describes this color as “an animating and life-affirming coral hue with a golden undertone that energizes and enlivens with a softer edge.” Look for it everywhere, especially in clothing and decor.

simplified logos

Logo trends don’t really occur on a yearly cycle and they vary drastically according to brand, business size, target market, etc. But there are styles that are interesting to follow. Here’s a great write up on those. A recent trend that you may have noticed is that many big companies are cutting the fat. (images from Brand New)

Hand-drawn

Hand-drawn designs (and maybe 70’s level trippiness) are abounding. A favorite example is email marketing company MailChimp. Its website is filled with hand-drawn – and quirky – illustrations. Because I love drawing myself, this is a trend I embrace wholeheartedly.

Other Resources

Truthfully, I’m not a “bleeding edge” designer. My defaults are more along the lines of timelessness, simplicity and authenticity. So when the moment calls for it, I dig around to see what other designers are doing. While working on this article, I came across some really interesting round ups about 2019. For further reading, I recommend a lot of this and a little of this. And here’s a GREAT video with a ton more detail about what’s trending.

Are you up for taking a trendy chance in 2019? Let’s talk! We can discuss which trends might work well for your business as you enter the new year.

Have a great week,

sig

P.S. Want to know what’s out of style? The old Instagram logo. It’s soooo 2016, yet, I still see it on company websites and marketing materials. Even if you love the old logo, it’s time to embrace this change. ICYMI: I addressed this exact topic in a previous blog post; check it out.

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

Simple Stamp Timebox

I often face a problem in my day to day work life. The problem stems from two separate realities:

  1. Terrible To-do List. There are many many many things I want to create. The list is endless and overwhelming.
  2. Perfectionism – the archenemy of progress. Even with small things, I often won’t take them on until I know I have time to do them perfectly. This prevents me from tackling my Terrible To-Do list. Is all lost?

foreverNot quite. An effective solution is called timeboxing. In short, you choose a task (or deliverable) and give it a set amount of time. At the end of that time, whatever you’ve accomplished is the final deliverable. In other words, you create a deadline and then stick to it no matter what. When your time is up, you’re finished with that project – forever.

Okay not necessarily forever. And it doesn’t work on every task. But for the right projects, I love this technique. It forces you to focus on the essentials and cut the fat. It works especially well if you’re deadline-driven, as I am.

Last week, I had an extra hour or two and I challenged myself to time box a small project I’d been putting off: create (and order) a return address stamp. Since the stamp isn’t expensive or something I’ll use forever, I figured it would be a great project to timebox.

sketch of hand drawn stamp

Here’s how it turned out. First I did the sketch. Then I scanned it. Then I converted it to a digital vector program and played around with it until my time was up. I placed the order just in time to hit my deadline.

handmade return address stamp

Is it perfect? No, but I love how it turned out. I had fun making it. And, of course, now I can cross something off that Terrible To-do list.

Have a great week,

sig

SIDENOTE: One interesting application of the timebox concept is used in creating indie (small time) video games. I’ve participated in a couple of these contests. Both times, I worked with a developer to create a simple, playable computer game in three days. You might be able to play one of them in your browser here (doesn’t work in Chrome).

Fishy Field Trip

The other day, I couldn’t bare to look at my computer screen for one more second. Not one. I blame early spring. I was feeling burned out. So, reluctantly I gave myself permission to go on a field trip. It was 10AM on a Tuesday — very much out of the norm for ABD.

I grabbed my sketchbook and headed down to the local aquarium. It’s an amazing place and their slogan is “Cheaper than a therapist!” Okay it’s not, but it should be.

I lucked out — no screaming kids. For the next couple of hours, I roamed the exhibits, sketched out various creatures that caught my eye and generally tried not to look like the creepy bearded guy by himself. It was a great afternoon and very relaxing.

Here’s some scans from my sketchbook:

aquarium sketches

Fast forward: a few weeks later when I was looking back through my drawings all these ideas just started flowing. I scanned in my drawings and made a short illustrated series for fun.

colored sketches of fish and an eel

colored sketches of fish and a jellyfish

colored sketches of fish

Then a few days after that, I ran out of business cards. Time was short so I grabbed my fishy friends and turned them into some new business cards. Take a look:

andrew barton business card

blue fish with one red fish

side of card

The moral of the story: sometimes it’s okay to give yourself permission to do something out of the ordinary. You never know what kind of creative ideas a little “me time” will spark. Try that on your boss and let me know how it goes.

Have a great week,

sig

PS – I really want to do some creative work for the Aquarium so if you’re reading this, SC Aquarium, swipe right.