Tuesday, March 15, 2011

5 Things To Help You Design Better… Today!

In my line of work I run across a lot of work that teeters on the edge of great, but is held back by one or two bad decisions. I hope this will benefit students, educators, entrepreneurs, innovators, and all DIY designers.

I’d like to speak to those of you who do any kind of graphic marketing or informational print work. You could also call this my list of cliché pet peeves. The sites linked all contain free content, so don’t complain about having no budget.

I know I know… “There are fonts that I should be avoiding?”. The answer is YES. This is the faux pas I notice most. Your choice of font says a lot about what you’re trying to say (sometimes more than your copy). Use sans-serif fonts (like Arial, Calibri, Helvetica, Tahoma, Trebuchet, Verdana) for casual writing. Use serif fonts (like Times, Garamond, Palatino, Bookman) for more formal or business professional writing.

Here’s the tricky part. Sometimes you need to be “creative” or “artsy” with your typeface. This is fine… in headers, titles, and logos.

Please use the fonts listed in the first paragraph freely, but when it comes to picking a “showy” font, visit dafont.com and pick something new. DO NOT (I’m going to repeat that again… and in all caps and bold and underlined) DO NOT use Papyrus or Comic Sans for ANYTHING! I mean it… I’m not being facetious… Don’t use them… delete them. (This is where I usually hear "But I like Papyrus”) If I have to see another spa, or physical therapy clinic, or church, or restaurant use Papyrus, I will have failed.

Here’s what happens. You’ve got a new business. You open Microsoft Word and type the name of your new business. You scale it up, then tab through all the fonts on your machine until you find the “fanciest” one, which in your default options is usually Papyrus. While trying to be creative, you fell headfirst into ClichéVille. It’s not your fault… you just didn’t know that dafont.com existed and was free. Welcome to the revolution.

You’ve got a presentation to make… or you’ve got a bulletin to design… or you’re thinking of making invitations for this event… STOP RIGHT THERE!!!

Please, in the name of all things good, don’t even open the clip art panel. What you’ll find in there is what’s called “vector graphics”. These are images that can be scaled up or down without losing their quality… but they’re bad. The default ones are really bad… they look like... well, clip art.
Trust me, that’s not the look you’re going for. Vectors are used for signage and logo work, not print or presentation work. “Thank you Esther for putting so much time and effort and love into this bulletin that you volunteered to do, but nobody is going to tell you that it looks terrible cuz you’re such a sweet lady”.

What you need are some really good bitmaps (otherwise known as JPGs or PNGs or even BMPs). These are usually photos or detailed graphic images. Just go to www.sxc.hu and type in what you’re looking for. What you’ll find here are photos from professionals that they're offering for free.

Oh, and by the way... no more GIF's.

So you’ve got a photo you want in your layout. Maybe it’s your brochure, or a business card, or your website. You’ve found this perfect image but it doesn’t quite fit. So you click on it, and you notice you can resize it by dragging from the cor… STOP RIGHT THERE!!!

Holy crap! Nothing says “unprofessional crap you don’t wanna buy” than an improperly resized image. And doing it properly is SOOOO EASY!

Fine… drag from the corner, but hold down the ‘Shift’ key while you do it. This constrains proportions (locks the aspect ratio) in all software. This way, you can’t flatten or stretch the image, which yes, is a bad thing.

Rather than pick a color and guess what color goes well with it, use a tool like this...
All you do is decide your base color (the color you know you wanna use), then it'll tell you what colors go well with it.

Also, I use sites like www.colourlovers.com/trends to get a starting place. Sometimes you just never know what colors go well with others until you see it somewhere else.

I do... a lot. Sometimes there just isn't the time to be 100% completely original. Why not spend a few minutes searching the web for work that you're drawn to, and use elements or ideas from it to get you started. Here is a great place to start...

Don't stick to just one element. Don't be afraid to look at logos if you're designing a program... or take a look at posters if you're thinking about designing a magzine ad.

Believe me, the above tips aren't part of some "artistic genetic code"... they're learned. I'm a self taught DIY designer. I started making posters and flyers for my punk band "Plague" in Junior High, by cutting, taping, scribbling, and photo copying 300 times.

Then I upgraded to using Windows Paint for pixel-by-pixel design. In college I was still creating flyers for my band "Counterfist", but now I was using Microsoft Word.

In the end, it was a little piece of software called Photoshop that inspired me to want to do this for a living. I just wish somebody would have given me any of these tips... then maybe those posters would have actually drawn a few fans to our shows.