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.

Hatman Direct Mailer

Every year I mail out a New Year’s Card. It’s one of my favorite annual projects. Check out previous year’s designs here and here.

For 2017, I wanted to take it to the next level. I also wanted to tie the theme back to Charleston history. At some point during the brainstorming process, my fascination with the lapel pin craze and the Charleston Hatman coalesced into an idea that I was really excited about.

I was riding high until the realization that this project would be double or triple my budget. By this time, I was emotionally attached to my hatman mailer so I reached out to some partners to collaborate. Kimberly Hopkins from RR Donnelly printed the mailer and Michelle Harris from Karst Promo handled the enamel lapel pin. We all serve similar customers and used this opportunity for cross promotion. It was a win win… win.

Here’s how the project turned out:

direct mail front

happy new year design

charleston hatman history

hat man lapel pin

hatman lapel pin

BONUS – Watch a time-lapse video of the making of the Hatman vector artwork:

I was super pleased with the final product.

To summarize – need something printed? Call Kim. Need a customized lapel pin (or anything promotional)? Tell Michelle. Need some graphic design love? Nothing rhymes with Andrew. ? But here’s my number – 843.882.7627.

Have a great week,

sig

 

 

The Dreaded Holiday Card

What’s worse than seeing Christmas decorations on sale before Halloween? Waiting until the last minute to work on your Holiday Card!

So what is your plan for some festive self-promotion over the holidays? A Thanksgiving card? A Christmas basket? Personally, I skip the Christmas, Hannuka, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia fiasco and send a New Years Card instead. I learned this little trick from my time living abroad in Japan in my 20’s. More on my most recent New Years Card later.

Holiday Card Ideas

Good news – you have lots of options. I’ve scoured the web and gathered a few examples of fresh Holiday promotional ideas.

holiday graphic vector

This hipster line art design is great for a trendy holiday card or email blast. (Source: Justin Burns)

hot chocolate

Or you could add some practical value by giving your customers an illustrated recipe. (Source: She Knows)

 

christmas graphic design

Or go minimalist with a simple design and outstanding typography. Bonus points if you get this printed on letterpress. (Source: Jay Roberts)

Or Tell a Story

For the 2016 New Year, I told a story and inspired my clients. I wanted my mailer to be unique and practical. To do this, I ordered custom-printed pocket sketchbooks from Scout Books.

happy new year card

The illustration on the front is an arrow head. Then I added a belly band with a short explanation about the arrowhead. It told a simple story about how I had achieved one of my life goals in the previous year: finding an arrowhead.

hand sewn envelope

Next, I engaged my master-seamstress mother-in-law to create some hand-sewn envelopes out of packaging paper. Finally, I addressed, stamped and mailed them. Done.

pen and envelope

I loved this project and so did my clients. It helped me stand out in a crowded marketplace by making a memorable and personal impression.

So what’s your plan? Don’t wait. Take some time this week and think about how you could take it to the next level. Ask yourself how you could really WOW your clients. Or better yet – let’s do it together. Give me a call – 843.882.7627

Have a good week,

sig

Pulling the Horse

Marketing a business can feel like the Wild Wild West. Your business is this wagon.

wagon

And your logo is the horse.

logo horse

Your logo should be making your journey easier. Like this:

wagon

Your logo should do at least two things:

  1. Symbolically convey your company’s identity
  2. Build trust with your customers by being consistent across all platforms

Sometimes, though, I run into marketers and business owners who’ve got it backwards.

wagon pulling horse

They’re pulling an untamed horse!

Here are a few examples of what that might look like in real life:

  • You don’t have a one color version of your logo for special occasions (e.g. on a charity 5K t-shirt)
  • Your logo is too detailed and doesn’t look good small (e.g. on a promotional pen or a car decal)
  • You don’t have the original files (e.g. you’re always scrambling to find the right format)
  • You don’t have a “locked up” font, color or icon (e.g. the logo on your business card is different than your website)

If you have any of these problems, you’re working harder for your logo than it’s working for you.

It doesn’t have to be that way

Let me suggest that you need a visual identity system (a.k.a. logo) that uses typography, color, space, and icon(s) in a consistent and organized manner. If you’re working for a larger institution, your guidelines could look like Clemson University, Boy Scouts or LinkedIn. If you’re a small biz, you may not need to be that organized, but – whatever you end up with – should be written down, easy to understand and make your life easier. Your guidelines should be an instruction manual that accommodates all of your marketing channels: from tradeshows to letterhead to web apps.

brand guidelines

So take a few minutes, hop down off the wagon and take a good look at your horse. Is it pulling you along or slowing you down?

Might be time to put that horse out to pasture. Start fresh. If so, give me a call. 843.882.7627

See you on the trail,

sig

You Don’t Need WordPress

broken lawnmower illustrationChances are – if you have little to no experience with web development – you don’t need a WordPress website.

To many people, that statement is blasphemy. After all, a quarter of the entire internet runs on WordPress. Surely that many people can’t be wrong, right?

Nope. They are wrong.

But first, just to clarify, I have no problem with WordPress as a platform. These very words are written in a WordPress blog. I’m suggesting that if you are a small business looking to manage your own website, you would be better served with an alternative solution. Why?

WordPress is Like a Lawnmower

I recently got a new 4-cycle lawnmower. It’s a beautiful and efficient grass-slaying machine. It mulches, it bags and the self-propulsion is strong enough to pull a dog sled. With this machine, I’ve harnessed all the benefits of modern engineering. BUT, I’ve also got an engine to maintain. It requires cleaning, fuel, regular oil changes and periodic repair. In short, it’s a total pain. WordPress is the same: tons of power, a total pain.

Here are 5 things you should know about WordPress before you DIY:

ui buttons1. It’s Not New-user-friendly

If you’ve spent any amount of time on the back-end, you’ll know there are a zillion buttons, tabs and menus that are not intuitive. Unless you are using it on a regular basis, you will probably find it challenging.

frankenstein icon2. Turns into Franken-press

While WordPress itself is free and easy to install, the “ease” ends there. To make the platform “yours”, you have to add Plug-ins, pick a Theme, customize widgets, etc – all made by different people. Your site can turn into Frankenstein quickly.

puzzle piece icon3. Plug-in Perils

The plug-ins are great for adding additional functionality and power to your website. BUT, if you haven’t done your research, you may end up with plug-ins that don’t work well, aren’t kept up to date or worse – compromise the security of your site.

hacked icon4. You Might Get HACKED

Not every WP site gets hacked, but if you aren’t regularly updating and monitoring your site, security issues may arise over time. Back to the lawnmower analogy, if you stay on top of your maintenance, you’ll probably be fine. If not, you’ll be calling the mechanic.

support icon5. Lack of Support

What happens when something goes wrong? If you don’t have a support person in place, you’ll spend hours searching web forums for answers. And what if you break something big? NP – revert to one of your backups. Wait – do you have one of those?

In Conclusion

WordPress, like my lawnmower, is an incredible tool. If you’re willing to put in the time to learn it or have an ongoing arrangement with someone who does, you’ll love it. But it’s definitely not for everyone. And if you’re tight on time or otherwise swamped with the many daily tasks it takes to run a small business, I recommend a better tool for your needs. Squarespace or Pagecloud come to mind.

How has your experience been with WordPress?

Have a good week,

sig

 

Lapel Pin Mania

There’s a revolution brewing in collectibles – lapel pins. They’ve been in the ascendant for a few years now and Instagram is flooded with them. Have you noticed?

Are they practical? Not for my wardrobe. Are they cheap? Not really. Are they NSFW? Depends where you work.

But are they cool? Yes. ?

In fact, here are a few that struck me:

 

View this post on Instagram

✨🌵✨ (tap photo for sources!)

A post shared by kaylah stroup (@thedaintysquid) on

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is just a tiny drop in an ocean of cheap metal and plastic. There are so many different kinds. It’s crazy. Go jump on instagram and check out some pin-friendly hashtags like #lapelpin or #pingame (remember, I warned you about the NSFW part).

So what do they cost?

They range in price and start around $10 a piece. To test the margins on this, I whipped up a quick design and got it quoted from a random vendor online. 200 of these puppies cost ~$420.00. So not, perhaps, a mechanism for getting rich quick, but it could be a cool way for you (or your company) to stand out at a tradeshow or reward your people or say “thanks” to your customers.

Here’s the design I submitted if you’re curious.

charleston lapel pin

Maybe, I’ll get in the game.

Have a good week.

sig

 

 

The Importance of Great Photography

camera-flash-animation-gifI’ll bet you’ve done this: you’re writing a Facebook post or designing a brochure. You’ve conceived a brilliant concept or written some snappy copy. You decide you need to decorate it with a photo so you grab whatever’s handy and go with that.

You spent four hours writing 20 words. And four seconds finding the picture – which, as they say, is worth 1,000 words. Ironic?

That doesn’t make sense.

Great photography can make the difference between a lousy brochure and a great one. It’s the difference between a Facebook ad that captivates and an ad no one notices. The tricky thing is that everyone has a camera in their pocket. And that may lead us – especially if you’re the one signing the checks – to think that anyone can take a picture that’s “good enough”. Take a look at the following pictures that your boss might approve, but you know in your heart aren’t quite up to snuff.

fail

Unfortunately, your business portraits have to be distinguishable from your personal profile pictures.

nope

All the components of a great work shot are here, but poor lighting, a frownie face and an oddly distracting post-it note undercut the story.

swipe

Are you trying to get my business or my phone number?

alone

The empty chairs beg the question.

fired

I can’t figure out what she’s trying to communicate with those blue eyes. “Help?” or “I really need this job.” or even “I don’t get paid enough to put up with this”. In any case, the unbalanced lighting on her face gives this picture too much drama.

guilty

Uh oh. This guy should know better. Even yours truly is guilty of using bad photography from time to time. Finally, last year I decided to put my money where my mouth is and hire Stan Foxworthy to take some professional portraits. Here’s a few of them.

me

Now I just have to find the time to update my website! Just remember, an amateur photographer will get lucky from time to time. A professional gets lucky every time. It’s important to know when your organization can do things itself and when it should pay for professional help. Photography is one of those things companies often skimp on. A good designer can tell you how much of a difference great photography can make.

So go ahead, give Stan a call.

sig